By Kim Bullimore
In the midst of Israel’s massacre of more than 800 people in Gaza, including more than 200 children and 100 women, as well as 3000 injured, apologists for Israel’s war crimes have sought to defend the Zionist state. Not only have many of them sort to blame the Palestinian people for Israel’s massacre in Gaza, ignoring the fact that Palestinians have suffered 60 years of non-stop aggression at the hands of the Israeli Zionist state, many of them have they have also sought to paint Israel as the beacon of democracy and pluralism in order to silence Israel’s critics.
A recent example of this can be found in the article which appeared on January 9 in Australia’s only national newspaper, The Australian. In the article, Propaganda Does Nothing for Peace, Niv Horesh – an Israeli-Australian – seeks, in part, to shut down critics of Israel’s policies and actions in Gaza by regaling us with examples of Israel’s supposed democratic credentials .
In the article, Horesh writes, "There are very few countries in the world that would allow demonstrators to denounce their government while hoisting enemy flags in the midst of war. Yet, this is precisely what happened last week in Tel Aviv: not a single Israeli flag was in sight amid hundreds of Palestinian, communist and anarchist banners. Such is the strength of Israeli democracy that not a single incident interrupted the demonstration".
What Horesh and other Israeli apologists conveniently leave out is the Israel’s security forces have been dragging in for questioning Palestinian citizens of Israel who have opposed the war, as well Israeli Jewish activists, who have taken a stand against the brutal massacre in Gaza. In the past two weeks, hundreds of Palestinian Israeli and Jewish Israeli activists and citizens opposed to the war have been arrested, jailed and prosecuted for speaking out and taking a stand.
According to the Haifa based, Mossawa Centre, which advocates on behalf of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, more than 200 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship alone had been arrested by the Israeli state for demonstrating between December 27 and December 31 .
On January 6, Palestinian News Agency, Maan News, reported that the number had increased substantially and that more than 300 Palestinian Israeli youth had been arrested by Israeli police. Maan noted that "the youth had been placed for the most part in administrative detention [detention without charge or trail] or put away on minor charges for short periods of time" .
On January 2, this beacon of democracy arrested and jailed for almost three days more than 20 Israeli anti-war demonstrators, who demonstrated outside Sde Dov airbase. The Israel state, claiming that the anti-war demonstrators were a threat to the security of the state, sought to have the three day incarceration extended until the end of legal proceedings, which could take several weeks or months to conclude. The request for the extension, however, was over ruled by the presiding judge .
At Haifa University on January 6, hundreds of Israeli Border Police – the Israeli security force that regularly brutalises Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – stormed the campus, attacked students, arresting 15 anti-war student activists . According to students who were at the demonstration more than 250 Border Police attacked the anti-war protest without provocation.
Israeli anti-occupation group, Anarchists Against the Wall, who were recently jointly awarded the Carl Von Ossietzky Human Rights medal in Berlin with the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, have reported that many of their members and supporters, as well as other Israeli anti-occupation activists are being harassed, arrested and had their houses raided by the police as a result of being involved in anti-war activism.
On January 7, in an editorial titled "The Right to Express Protest", Israel’s Haaretz newspaper noted that "in the last few days, the Shin Bet security service questioned dozens of Arab Israelis, while others were subjected to warnings aimed at deterring them from participating in demonstrations against the Israel Defense Forces operation in the Gaza Strip" . The editorial went onto note that Israeli "security services are using intimidation tactics to prevent legitimate protest against the current campaign [in Gaza].
Just one day after the editorial appeared, Haaretz ran a news article which outlined how four Palestinian citizens of Israel, aged between 19 and 26 years, had been arrested by the Israeli state for holding a demonstration outside the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv. According to the January 8 report, Israeli state prosecutors sought to restrict the movement of the anti-war protesters, saying their protest during a time of war "damages national morale" .
Israel far from being a "beacon of democracy" has sought to harass, intimidate, threaten and brutalise its own citizens, who have spoken out against not only the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories but also the massacre taking place in Gaza.
Those who seek to wave Israel’s democratic credentials in the face of those who oppose the mass murder in Gaza of hundreds of civilians ignore this, just as the conveniently ignore the fact that Israel’s current war is a direct result of the refusal of Israel, the US and the international community, as well the leadership of the Fatah party in Palestine, to accept the democratic will of the Palestinian people.
In 2006, the Palestinian people elected Hamas to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority in what were the most democratic elections ever to be held in an Arab country. In these elections, Hamas won 44% of the vote to Fatah’s 41%, giving them 76 seats of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Since Hamas’ democratic election, however, the Israeli Zionist state sought to put the Palestinian people, in the words of senior Israeli government advisor Dov Weisglass, "on a diet".
In the past three years, Israel has sought to strangle and starve the Palestinian people into submission for their democratic choice, deepening their occupation and initially placing all of the Occupied Palestinian Territories under siege. Israel was only to release its grip slightly on the West Bank, when Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, eagerly took on the role of Israel’s quisling in the territory. In doing so he abandoned completely his people in Gaza to the capricious dictates of the Israeli state.
For the past two years, Israel has been tightening the noose on Gaza, cutting off power, electricity, fuel supplies, medicine and food in the hope it would turn the Gazan population on their democratically elected representatives. When this didn’t work, Israel began its most recent bombing campaigning, killing indiscriminately in order to teach the Palestinian people that "real democracy" – the type that Israel, the US and the international community support – consists of bowing to the dictates of their occupier and oppressor, never defending themselves and dying silently while they are starved, beaten, abused and bombed to death.
And for those supporters of Israel, who seemed surprised at Israel’s current behaviour and lament the corrosion of Israel’s democracy as a result of its mass murder in Gaza, it is time to point out to them that Israel’s supposed democratic record during so-called "peace time" is equally appalling.
For the past 41 years, "the only democracy in the Middle East" has been engaging in a military dictatorship in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, which suspends indefinitely the right of Palestinian people to democracy and human rights .
For the past 41 years, the 5 million Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem have been subject to military law, which allows the Israel state and its military to do whatever it likes, including removing democratically elected officials from office, forbidding the election of trade union officials, as well as being able to control and oversee the election of trade union officials (including being able to demand a list of nominees and removing nominees from running).
The very undemocratic Israeli military dictatorship in the Occupied Palestinian Territories can also prohibit the publication of anything political in any medium, including painting, videos, films, poems and novels, whether it pertains to Palestine or not. This same military dictatorship also has the power to prohibit the display of the Palestinian flag and can arrest and detain anyone displaying it and to censor and prohibit what books are utilised by Palestinian schools (in recent years, up to 60 books have been prohibited by the Israeli military and state). In addition, the Israeli security forces can and does use "arbitrary detention" to detain Palestinians indefinitely without charge or trail. Those detained, along with their lawyers, have no right to know what they are charged with or what evidence there is against them.
Under Israel’s military dictatorship in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Palestinian people have no input or democratic protection regarding Israeli military law, including how or why these laws are written, how or why they are implemented, how or when they come into effect. There is also very few avenues for appeal against these laws or for review of them.
Within Israel itself, where supposedly democracy for all prevails, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are systematically discriminated against. Many people are not aware that Israel has no constitution; instead it simply has Basic Laws, which supposedly act a mini-bill of rights. However, these Basic Laws do not explicitly protect the right to equality and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are regularly discriminated against. Instead as Adalah, the Israeli Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel notes since its creation Israel has never sought to integrate its Palestinian citizens, instead it has treated them "as second-class citizens and excluding them from public life and the public sphere" . In 2001, in a report to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Adalah identified more than 20 Israeli laws which result in the systematic and institutionalised discrimination against Palestinian Israelis, including in the areas of education, culture, employment, land, economics and political participation.
In the broader democratic arena, over the years, Israel has also sought to introduce legislation which has restricted the political participation of anyone who does not agree with the "Jewish character" of the Israeli state. Since 1985, when Israel amended its Basic Laws, no political parties or political candidate are able run for political office if they advocate that Israel become a secular, democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens.
The apartheid nature of the Israeli state and its discriminatory and undemocratic policies, which are enacted both inside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories are regularly and systematically ignored by Israel’s apologists. Instead, they seek to silence critics of Israel’s occupation policies, human rights abuses and war crimes by waving the "democracy" card. A democracy in the modern sense of the word, however, can be defined as a system which guarantees basic human rights for all it citizens, including equal rights in the civil, social, economic and political spheres, while also guaranteeing freedom of speech, expression and assembly and allows religious freedom for all its citizens. To argue that Israel meets these requirements, either in times of war such as now or so-called peace times is nothing short of propaganda. And the one thing that Niv Horesh does get right in his article is that "propaganda does nothing for peace".
– Kim Bullimore has recently spent 12 months living and working in the Occupied West Bank with the International Women’s Peace Service www.iwps.info . Kim writes regularly on the Palestine-Israel conflict for the Australian newspaper, Direct Action www.directaction.org.au and has a blog at www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
 Horesh, N., Propaganda does nothing for peace, The Australian, 9 January, 2009.
 Mossawa Centre.
 Israeli police arrested 300 Palestinian-Israelis since Gaza attacks began, Maan News, 6 January, 2009.
 Police arrest 21 left-wing activists protesting Gaza op at Sde Dov IAF base, Jerusalem Post, 2 January, 2009.
 Clashes break out between Arab students and police in the Israeli universities, Menassat, Arab Media Network, 8 January, 2009.
 The Right to Express Protest, Haaretz editorial, 7 January, 2009.
 Edelman, O., (2009) Tel Aviv judge defends right of Arab anti-war protesters, Haaretz.
 Kirshbaum, D.A., (2007) Israeli military oppression and exploitation of Palestinian society in Gaza and the West Bank: How it works.