YouTube videos of public executions and broad surveys of public opinion lead to the same conclusion. Israel is now beset by a violent racism that means even Jews of the wrong colour no longer feel safe, writes Michael Brull.
Reader note: This story includes videos of serious and distressing violence.
Since the beginning of the Second Intifada – and in particular since the Gaza massacre of 2008-2009 – a toxic atmosphere of racist chauvinism has gripped Israel. Over the last six months, the stench has gotten thicker, creating an overtly intolerant racist hell, where non-white people, Jewish or otherwise, live in terror of racist mobs.
Major public figures share the blame for this state of affairs. As some of the early stabbings took place in Jerusalem, the Mayor responded by encouraging civilians to carry weapons. As noted in a letter by a coalition of human rights organisations, “Politicians and senior police officers have not only failed to act to calm the public climate of incitement, but on the contrary have openly called for the extrajudicial killing of suspects.” This included the Jerusalem District Police Commander, the Interior Security Minister, and centrist Member of Knesset Yair Lapid, who urged the public to “shoot to kill anyone who pulls out a knife or screwdriver.” The human rights coalition commented that “Much of the media joined in and encouraged a similar approach. The bodies responsible for supervising police operations – the State Attorney’s Office and the Department for the Investigation of Police – remained silent in the face of these comments.”
The result has been the extra-judicial execution of dozens of Palestinians. Human rights organisations vainly documented the unnecessary force used to kill Palestinians, in situations where there was no threat to Israeli lives. This had little impact.
Indeed, the Israeli public enthusiastically supported extra-judicial executions. A survey from November found that 53 per cent of Israeli Jews thought that a “a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack ‘should be killed on the spot, even if he has been apprehended and no longer poses a threat’”, as reported by Natasha Roth. 80 per cent supported punitive home demolitions, destroying the homes of the families of those extra-judicially executed. However, they only supported home demolitions for Palestinian terrorists. Jewish terrorists inspired more sympathy: 53 per cent of the public opposed demolishing the homes of their families.
Thus, when a soldier in Hebron murdered a Palestinian lying on the ground, helpless and harmless, it was natural that the Jewish Israeli public would rally to his side. A survey found that 57 per cent opposed him being arrested and investigated. It doesn’t matter that there is undisputed video footage of him murdering a man lying flat on the ground. The Israeli public is as indifferent as the Israelis at the scene of the murder, who don’t even react to an unarmed man on the ground being shot in the head. His name is Abed al Fatah a-Sharif.
The video – showing murder, without any pretext of danger or self-defence – naturally shocked much of the world. And so, the Israeli government briefly pretended to be shocked. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that what happened “does not represent the values of the” Israeli army, it expects soldiers to “act in accordance with the rules of engagement.” Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Israel has a “moral obligation” to “preserve its humanity”’ “remember the limits of power” and “keep ourselves from immoral behaviour”.
Right-wing Israeli politicians pounced on the opportunity, denouncing Netanyahu and offering solidarity with the murderer. Netanyahu immediately backtracked, declaring that questioning the Israeli army’s morality “is outrageous and unacceptable”.
The investigation into the murder, perhaps influenced by public opinion and the political climate, ended with the soldier being charged with manslaughter, not murder. For his part, he claims he was acting in self-defence. As for his views on the Arabs, his Facebook page is revealing. During the attack on Gaza in 2014, he wrote “Bibi, you faggot, what’s the deal with cease-fire? Get the hell into them!!!” In response to a comment, he replied: “Yes, kill them all”.
A social media survey showed strong support for him. It found an “overwhelming 82 per cent of conversation across a range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and a range of blogs – that were favourable towards the soldier. Over 13,000 people have joined Facebook support groups for him, and 50,000 have signed a petition in his favour.” Another survey found 68 per cent of the public thought Ya’alon, Netanyahu, and the Israeli Army Chief of Staff had done the wrong thing in condemning the murder. 42 per cent considered his actions “responsible”, and another 24 per cent described it as a natural response. Only 24 per cent opposed his actions. The Israeli media is currently debating whether Ya’alon has committed political suicide by opposing the murder of an unarmed man lying on the ground.
An environment supportive of blatant murder is a toxic environment. The kind where a poll of Jewish Israelis showed that 58 per cent support “voluntary transfer” of Palestinians out of the West Bank. Another found 48 per cent agreed that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” 88 per cent supported “family members of terrorists receiving punishments”. And 61 per cent support an economic boycott of Israeli Palestinians. I wonder where they got that idea from.
The boycott has been implemented in various ways. There are towns that ban Palestinian workers from schools. Ha’aretz reported that “Some cities are trying to block the entrance of all Arab workers, while others are seeking to keep out cleaning and maintenance workers”. Other Israeli Jews boycott Arab stores. Shlomi Eldar relates the story of a Palestinian waiter, who was asked to change his name from Yunis to Yoni so that he’ll sound Jewish at work.
Palestinians more generally live in fear. While a survey found 57 per cent of Israeli Jews were afraid for themselves or their families being harmed during this upsurge in violence, 78 per cent of Palestinians felt the same fear. 65 per cent do not feel like they can walk in a Jewish neighbourhood or city safely. This is because of a spate of racist attacks by Jewish terrorists and lynch mobs.
In one incident, a 17-year-old Jewish terrorist stabbed four Palestinians. He was not extra-judicially executed, and his family’s home wasn’t demolished. He was charged with aggravated assault, after being tackled and restrained by a security guard. Police described his attack as “nationalistic”, and characterised it as “retaliation”. He said he did it because “all Arabs are terrorists”.
In another incident, a Jewish terrorist stabbed a Mizrahi Jew in the back. The attacker said, as he stabbed his victim, “You deserve it, you deserve it, you are bastard Arabs!”
Or there is the case of Habtom Zarhum. Zarhum was an Eritrean asylum seeker. After a stabbing occurred in his vicinity, there is video footage of him trying to crawl to safety. A man with a gun then comes and shoots him. People then gather around the injured man, lying on the ground.
Another video clip shows some of what happened next. The angry mob throws a bench on his head, and repeatedly kicks him in the head, as he lies there, helpless, the floor around him covered in blood. Later, CCTV footage was released, showing “nine Israelis, including members of the security forces, prison officials and soldiers both in uniform and in civilian clothes, who can be seen kicking and beating him. Only four of these individuals have since been charged for their acts.”
Magen David Adom arrived eight minutes after he was shot, but ignored him for 10 minutes before offering him medical attention. Their failure can partly be attributed to the hostility of the crowd. Rania Khalek reported for Electronic Intifada that they blocked the medics, yelling out “Death to the Arabs”, “Arabs out”, and “Am Yisrael Chai” (the nation of Israel lives). According to Ha’aretz, “although Zarhum was one of the most seriously injured people at the scene, he was only evacuated to the hospital after all of the other wounded had been taken away.”
As Zarhum lay there dying, he was beaten with a rifle butt, kicked, and spat on. Footage shows one man standing over him and savagely kicking Zarhum in the head. A man in a yellow shirt pushes him away, and he is then assaulted by the kicker, and confronted by others. The yellow-shirt man repeatedly shows courage in defending Zarhum, to little avail. Aside from injuries acquired from the savage assaults, Zarhum was shot eight times, by three different people. Three. For an attack by someone else. Why do you think the shooters and angry mob turned on the black man from Eritrea?
Though Ha’aretz careful analysis of the footage identifies nine people who helped lynch Zarhum, only four were charged. None were extra-judicially murdered. None had their families’ homes demolished. They were charged with aggravated assault.
In this climate, people who aren’t white in Israel live in fear. Eldar reports a conversation with a Jaffa restaurant manager explaining that “Anyone with Arab or Middle Eastern facial features is being very careful”. Upon seeing a man wearing a T-shirt that said, “I’m an Iraqi Jew. Don’t shoot me”, he explained that that wasn’t a joke. “Jews from North African or Middle Eastern origins with those facial features put on shirts saying they are Jews so that nobody will mistake them for Arabs. There are shirts like this for Moroccan, Tunisian and Yemeni [Jews].”
Ma’ariv has reported on the new life of Jews descended from Arab countries. One man in Jerusalem talked about the suspicious and hateful looks he faces walking in the street. When the right-wing extremists of Lehava organised a march, he hid in a coffee shop bathroom: “I can’t cope with them, their racism, their questions aimed at finding out whether you’re a Jew, whether you have an accent. I can’t cope with the fact that I have to ‘prove’ that I’m a good Jew.” Another Jew posted on social media about being attacked by another Jew who thought he was a non-Jewish Arab. He urged “every person who has a Mizrahi appearance and who may be identified as an Arab to show extreme caution when walking around outside — we’re talking about a matter of life and death.”
Yael Arava, a journalist, posted on Facebook about seeing a crowd of about 40 Israeli Jews attacking a small, Arab-looking man in the street. As reported in Forward, “They caught him, beat him to the ground and pepper-sprayed him even as he whispered, ‘I’m not an Arab, I’m a Jew…’”
The situation is even worse for those who aren’t Jewish. In October, Lehava helped organise a march of hundreds of angry Jewish youths in response to a stabbing attack. They chanted things like “death to the Arabs”, and “an Arab is a bastard, a Jew is a good soul”. As reported in Ha’aretz, the “gangs of youth ran amok looking for Arab victims.” Palestinians in Jerusalem were “used to such events, and the vast majority fled home before the rioting” – showing how familiar racist mobs are in Israel. The youths “blocked” the light rail, demanding passengers answer “Are you an Arab? Are you an Arab?” They found a Palestinian outside a café, and sprayed teargas in his face. They attacked a Palestinian taxi driver. They “threatened to assault a Palestinian woman”. In the face of mild police containment, one of the youths yelled “Let the people of Israel enter the gates and kill Arabs”.
Eventually, at 4 a.m., a 19-year-old Palestinian called Fadi Allon arrived at the scene. Police shot him dead, at the encouragement of the racist mob. Police claimed this was in self-defence, he had a knife, and was fleeing after stabbing an Israeli Jew. A video later emerged showing that he had no knife. He was simply murdered, at the encouragement of racist onlookers, yelling “shoot him, bitch!” and “Pepper spray? What kind of policeman are you?” Another teen celebrated the murder by yelling “death to Arabs”. A police officer who refused to shoot the Palestinian teenager was berated for this failure.
Ugly videos of ugly incidents have proliferated since the start of the stabbing intifada. In this case, another Palestinian lying on the ground was shot dead, as a thug in the background urges the soldier to “give him one in the head”. Here you can see a Jewish settler beating and trying to stab a rabbi, the president of Rabbis for Human Rights. Here is a video of a 13-year-old boy, lying on the ground, whimpering, his body contorted and surrounded with blood. Over two minutes, a man repeatedly shouts at him, “die you fucker”, and “die you son of a whore”. He is not given any medical help.
What is the country’s future? A poll was conducted of 11th and 12th grade Israeli Jewish students. 60 per cent opposed trying the Hebron murderer. And 48 per cent thought Palestinians should not be allowed to represent their communities in the Knesset. So there is little prospect of the next generation being the idealistic one that reverses the ugly trends of today. If anything, the current direction of the country is downwards, to depths of depravity it is troubling to even contemplate.
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