By Ramzy Baroud
Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif was killed. In the style typical of Israeli aggression against unarmed Palestinians, he was first wounded after allegedly attempting to stab an Israel occupation soldier in the occupied city of Hebron.
He lies on his back, his arms stretched across the road, and his head moving about. A soldier confers with his superior officer, before moving to “confirm the kill” – a term used by the Israeli military in reference to field executions of Palestinians.
The soldier walks to Abed, lying on the ground and clearly posing no threat to anyone – and, in full view of onlookers, shoots him in the head.
The above scene would have been relegated to the annals of the many “contested” killings by Israeli soldiers, were it not for a Palestinian field worker with Israel’s human rights group, B’Tselem, who filmed the bloody event.
Culture of Impunity
The incident once more highlights a culture of impunity that exists in the Israeli army which is not a new phenomenon.
Decades ago, there was no equivalent to media such as B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, or Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch, no social media to spread the news, and few international groups that cared to report on Israel’s violent birth.
Instead, thousands of Jewish militiamen roamed Palestinian towns and villages, armed with a mandate to ethnically cleanse an entire nation within months.
Thousands of Palestinians were killed in the “cleansing” process, so Israel could proclaim itself independent. Israeli poet, Natan Alterman, attempted to convey an instance of the horror inflicted by Jewish gangs, which later formed the Israeli army, proclaimed by some as the “most moral army in the world“:
“Across the vanquished city in a jeep he did speed –
A lad bold and armed, a young lion of a lad!
And an old man and a woman on that very street
Cowered against a wall, in fear of him clad.
Said the lad smiling, milk teeth shining:
‘I’ll try the machinegun’ … and put it into play!
To hide his face in his hands, the old man barely had time
When his blood on the wall was sprayed.”
The poem entitled About This was published on November 19, 1948, when Israel had almost completely secured the self-imposed borders of its new state, assigning Palestinians to perpetual exile – a journey of pain and blood that is yet to conclude.
Natan Alterman, tried, although failed, to “break the silence” on Israeli impunity.
Since then, despite their insistence on embracing life with hope, Palestinian history continues to be delineated by charts crowded with endless bloody statistics.
Palestinians are under attack – systematic, government-led, ordered, or encouraged attacks that point at only one unmistakable conclusion: Israel strives to perpetuate violence and war.
This is a grounded in the fact that Israel has been created through war, and has convinced itself that it can only survive through war.
The result is a terrifying culture of violence and impunity – of men and women armed with machine guns, and children who are taught that violence is the only language that their Arab enemies understand. The Palestinian, for them, only exists to be subdued, controlled, “cleansed” and – when necessary – killed.
Recently, Israel’s chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef had called on Israelis to kill any Palestinian they believe poses a threat, with no regard for the law or the High Court of Justice.
But, for Yosef, the “High Court of Justice”, is already on his side. Indeed, it was Israel’s judiciary that had approved “targeted killings” of Palestinians suspected of allegedly committing or planning to commit acts of violence.
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), between September 2000 and March 2008, 500 Palestinians were assassinated by the Israeli army; 228 Palestinian civilians were also killed in what was consigned as “collateral damage”. Among those pulverised by Israeli missiles were 77 children.
No one was ever held accountable for those murders.
If one is to list the crimes that are committed routinely by the Israeli army, the list would be endless. The above statistics are a mere glance at a culture that has no regard for Palestinians, thus violating every written or implied rule of war of military ethics or occupation under international law.
Armed settlers rampage through villages of occupied West Bank and the neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem. The number of their violent crimes have grown tremendously in recent years, and even doubled since 2009.
In August 2015, months before the current uprising, Human Rights Watch senior researcher, Bill Van Esveld, wrote:
“Settlers attack Palestinians and their property on a near-daily basis; there were more than 300 such attacks last year, but few attackers faced justice. In the past decade, less than two percent of investigations into settler attacks ended with convictions.”
These settlers complete the violent rule expected of them, alongside the more violent Israeli army.
In December 2015 Israel’s 972Mag wrote about the hundreds of violent incidents of Israeli forces targeting Palestinian medical staff. Palestinian rights group, Al-Haq, documented 56 cases in which “ambulances were attacked”, and 116 assaults against medical staff while on duty.
No One is Immune to Violence
In Palestine, no one is immune to violence. Young and old are shot for the mere suspicion that they may pose danger to the life of Israeli Jews; and Israelis who dare report on these very incidents are shunned by their own society.
Israel’s Defence Minister, Moshe Yaalon, recently accused Breaking the Silence of committing treason. The supposedly traitorous act of that small Israeli NGO –powered mostly by volunteers – was collecting testimonies by Israeli soldiers and whistle-blowers as evidence that the army is violating Israeli and international law.
Meanwhile, the government is itself actively pushing for yet new laws that criminalise dissent in Israel. One of such bills, championed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, would allow elected members of the Knesset to vote to oust their own elected peers.
While Israel’s culture of license to do as it pleases is older than the state itself, it is fed by a right-wing ruling elite that incessantly promotes fear and disseminates a confining siege mentality.
“At the end, in the State of Israel, as I see it, there will be a fence that spans it all,”said Netanyahu in February. “In the area that we live, we must defend ourselves against the wild beasts.”
Netanyahu is of course, never a fan of the truth or common sense. His last war on Gaza in the summer of 2014 had killed a total of 2,251 Palestinians – including 1,462 civilians, among them 551 children, according to a report prepared by the UN Human Rights Council.
During that war, only six Israeli civilians were killed, and 60 soldiers. Who, then, is truly the “wild beast”?
This impunity began seven decades ago, and it will not end without international intervention, and concerted efforts to hold Israel accountable and bring the agony of Palestinians to a halt.
(This article was first published in Al Jazeera)
– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.