The reality of Israel

The reality of Israel

 Israelis, often thoroughly absorbed in their collective sanctimony and self-righteousness, seem never to stop repeating the eternal mantra that the Jews are a "light unto the nations" and Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle East". This week, several events occurring in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories highlighted the stark gap between what Israelis think about themselves and the reality.

On Sunday, five Jewish settlers from the Gush Itzion settlement south of Bethlehem slipped into the nearby Palestinian village of Beit Fajjar under cover of darkness in order to torch the Masjid Al-Anbiyaa (Mosque of the Prophets). The blaze gutted much of the interior of the mosque, including the carpet, and consumed as many as 15 copies of the Quran .

Before leaving the mosque, the attackers scrawled the words "revenge" and "price tag mosque", on the building in an act that was the fourth time in as many months that Israeli settlers had set Muslim places of worship on fire.

The settlers’ reasoning for carrying out these mindless acts is mind-boggling. Settler leaders call these criminal attacks "a price- tag policy", in which Palestinian targets, for example mosques, are attacked every time the Israeli government decides to dismantle a settlement outpost or prevent settlers from seizing Palestinian property.

In other words, the Palestinians are made to pay for decisions and policies made by the Israeli government and deemed unacceptable by the settlers.

While the Israeli government did condemn the attack in Beit Fajjar, with Defence Minister Ehud Barak calling the perpetrators "terrorists", denouncing the culprits is one thing and catching and prosecuting them is quite another.

So far, not a single Israeli settler has been arrested in connection with the three previous mosque arsons committed by settlers. Even the Israeli media agree that there is "foul play" going on somewhere.

For their part, many Palestinians are convinced that the Israeli army and intelligence know the identity of the perpetrators. As one Palestinian Waqf official commented, "the snake doesn’t bite its own tail." In a comment made to Al-Ahram Weekly, an official from Beit Fajjar’s municipal council said that the Israeli government and the Jewish settlers were "two sides of the same coin".

"What do you expect this government to do? This is a settler government par excellence. Settlers torch the mosques, settlers carry out the investigation, and a settler judge eventually acquits the perpetrators of any wrongdoing. This is what is happening."

Such cover-ups and lies have long been the Israeli authorities’ modus operandi where Palestinians are concerned. Also last week, an Israeli policeman shot and killed a Palestinian labourer in cold blood, when 39- year-old Saleh Kawazbeh, a father of five from the town of Sair north of Hebron, was looking for work in Jerusalem.

Initially, the policeman claimed that his gun had misfired, before claiming that he had thought his life was at risk. Eventually, however, he admitted that he "just hated Arabs". Kawazbeh’s name has thus been added to the long list of Palestinian workers shot and killed because they tried to "enter Israel illegally".

In such cases the killers usually receive little more than a slap on the wrist from Israel’s inherently racist justice system, which accords little respect to the lives of non- Jews. The murderer of Kawazbeh has been put under "house-arrest" for five days, for example, "pending investigations".

When things calm down, he will return to work, awaiting another opportunity to murder another Palestinian victim.

Just 24 hours after Kawazbeh was murdered in Jerusalem, another Palestinian worker died of a heart attack as a group of Palestinian labourers was being chased by Israel’s paramilitary border guards, the Mishmar Gvul.

This worker’s death captured the tragic situation facing tens of thousands of Palestinian workers, desperately trying to make ends meet even by throwing themselves in the path of death and destruction.

Yet casual killings are only one element of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Humiliation comes next. This week, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz put a YouTube video on its Internet site showing an Israeli soldier dancing and making explicit sexual signs near a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian woman.

A few weeks ago, an Israeli female soldier did something similar, this time with two handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainees. The soldier, a Jew of Moroccan origin, described the experience as "sexy".

"In war, nothing is outlawed and nothing is illegal," she said.

Ordinarily, the Israeli army only gives the slightest rebuke to soldiers engaging in such activities, thereby encouraging others to indulge in similar behaviour.

The prevailing culture in Israel, where anti-Arab racism has reached the highest levels imaginable, is permissive when it comes to violating the rights, dignity and lives of Palestinians. In the words of one Jewish human rights activist, these things are "taken for granted" by the vast majority of Israeli Jews.

Then there is the story of Rabbi Ari Shvat who has ruled that illicit sex for the sake of national security, as reported by the Israeli Tzomet Institute, is perfectly legal. The Rabbi said that Israeli women, married or unmarried, may sleep with enemy men if this helps Israeli security.

The ruling, appearing as part of a study on "Illicit Sex for the Sake of National Security," claimed that so-called "honey-pot missions" were rooted in the Bible.

"If it is necessary to use a married woman, it would be best [for] her husband to divorce her. After the sex act, he would be entitled to bring her back," the Rabbi wrote.

According to the Rabbi, male agents of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad apparently have no limitations on sleeping with the female enemy. The Rabbi did not explain the Talmudic reasoning behind male exceptionalism in this regard.

However, some prominent Jewish authorities consider that sexual intercourse between a Jewish male and a gentile female constitutes the "sin of bestiality" since non-Jews are not viewed as bona fide human beings.

Lastly, the Israeli high court also decided this week to expel Irish Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire on the grounds that she had entered Israel illegally.

In response, Maguire challenged the Israeli court to treat Palestinians as Jews would want non-Jews to treat them. She called Israel "a clear-cut case of apartheid", infuriating the court and leading to her expulsion.

Maguire said she would continue to defend the human rights of the Palestinian people, adding that Israel had no right whatsoever to torment and besiege more than 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by invoking a mantra called Hamas.

* Khalid Amayreh a journalist based in the Occupied Palestinian town of Dura. He obtained his MA in journalism from the University of Southern Illinois in 1983.