Let’s contrast the wave of social upheaval, rage and anguish sweeping across American cities in the wake of the killing of a 46-year-old black man in police custody two weeks ago to its counterpart that had been sweeping the Palestinian occupied territories, without let-up, for the last 53 years.
Let’s find out what it tells us about the political culture in the US and — don’t laugh yet again at the hackneyed pet name given Israel — that in “the only democracy in the Middle East". And let’s not report so much as distil the facts.
When in the United States an act of wanton brutality is perpetrated by policemen or National Guardsmen against people — and not necessarily always black people, as in the case of George Floyd in Minneapolis — it can traumatise, if does not polarise the whole nation.
Last Saturday, in occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli police shot to death Iyad Halaq, a 32-year-old Palestinian who had autism, as he was heading to school for students with special needs. The three policemen involved in the incident claimed that Halaq, a bewildered man with autistic disorder, was “suspected of carrying a gun” — and shot him twice in the chest
Beyond causing widespread outrage, the event becomes part of the public discourse, enlarging society’s spheres of self-scrutiny, reason and order.
Consider in this regard the Kent State University shootings on May 4, 1970, when National Guardsmen killed four students on campus who were protesting the war in Vietnam. The incident shocked the nation to its core, and to this day, half a century after the fact, it continues to resonate.
How could anyone shoot demonstrators exercising their constitutional right — a right cherished by Americans, a right encoded in the First Amendment — to “peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of their grievances”? Unthinkable.
“The shooting of political demonstrators at Kent State will hopefully be remembered in American history as both an aberration and an anomaly”, Drew Tiene, a retired professor from Kent State who wrote a piece last month commemorating the 50th anniversary of the event. (Imagine if the professor knew that is how many Palestinians the Israelis kill on a slow weekend.)
Spasms of soul-searching
From that time up to the Black Lives Matter movement, every act of police brutality has seared the nation’s consciousness and drove it into spasms of soul-searching. To Americans, the issue mattered. Loss of life mattered. And in a civilised polity, moral values have always mattered.
Now fade out, cinematically, as it were, from these scenes of hand-wringing in the US to those in occupied Palestine, and recall the Ibrahimi Mosque killings in Hebron in February 1994, during the blessed month of Ramadan, when one Baruch Goldstein, a far-right Israeli extremist who lived in a colony in the heart of the Palestinian town, opened fire on Palestinian worshippers engaged in dawn
prayers, slaughtering 29 of them, several as young as twelve, and wounding 125 others. (The gunman was later overpowered, disarmed and beaten to death by the survivors.)
Goldstein is not the topic at hand here. What happened later that day is.
The massacre at the mosque, predictably, set off widespread protests throughout the West Bank. The protesters threw stones at the occupation soldiers, but they were clearly unarmed. Still, by early evening, 24 Palestinians were shot dead and 120 were injured.
None of the soldiers was ever reprimanded, let alone prosecuted. To be sure, no trigger-happy occupation soldier or policeman, known to have wantonly killed demonstrators, has ever — not seriously, at any rate — been indicted, tried, convicted and made to serve time behind bars.
Twenty four Palestinian protesters butchered and one hundred and twenty others injured without anyone giving a hoot! How could that be? Is Palestine in the Twilight Zone?
Now fast-forward to May 14, 2018, during the Great March of Return protest campaign, staged each Friday at the Gaza border. The needle that the protesters were trying to thread in that campaign was similar to that which activists in the first intifada thirty eight years earlier had aimed at threading: Advance your cause with a minimum of or no resort to violence — that is, in the language of the 1960s, “shock the conscience of the world”.
Yet that day, in one hour, Israeli snipers, perched on mounds across the border, killed 60 protesters. They killed sixty protesters in one hour, reportedly with many of the snippers letting out whoops and whistles as their victims fell to the ground!
It takes hideous disregard for human life to kill 24 Palestinians in one day in the West Bank and Zionist chutzpah to kill sixty others in one hour in Gaza.
In between, of course, there were countless other killings — countless because one has lost count of these quotidian massacres — that always went largely unnoticed by the outside world and totally unpunished by the Israeli judicial system.
Last Saturday, in occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli police shot to death Iyad Halaq, a 32-year-old Palestinian who had autism, as he was heading to school for students with special needs. The three policemen involved in the incident claimed that Halaq, a bewildered man with autistic disorder, was “suspected of carrying a gun” — and shot him twice in the chest.
Dollars to doughnuts the policemen will not only get off scot-free but fight shy of even disciplinary action of any kind, You see, Israel’s worst excesses continue to shock but have ceased to surprise.
In the US, African Americans are protesting — and well they might — the murder of one of their own from a knee pressed hard on his neck for well over five minutes. Now consider the case of Palestine, a nation that has had a boot on its neck for well over five decades, as it hollers, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.