By Jeremy Salt
In the late medieval period ‘pale’ was the word used by the English to describe their colony in Ireland. They lived within the ‘pale’ (from the Latin ‘palus’), a line of settlement bounded by castles and fortresses. Beyond the pale lived the invaded and therefore dangerous Irish.
Centuries later Jews had to live within what was called the ‘pale of settlement’ in European Russia. Confined in their cities, towns and villages, they were subject to regular harassment by the Tsar’s Cossack soldiers. The word used for these occasions was ‘pogrom.’ Not coincidentally, because of the similarities between a defenseless people subject to the brutality of the state, the same word has been used, in Haaretz by the journalist Gideon Levy, to describe attacks by troops, border police and settlers on the Palestinian people of Hebron.
With some exceptions Jews were not allowed to live outside the Russian pale of settlement. They could escape if they had the money and left in waves after each pogrom, heading for Europe, for the United States, the dream of many, and for the Zionists among them, for Palestine.
While superiority has been ascribed historically both to those living within and beyond a pale of settlement, it is only the phrase ‘beyond the pale’ that has come to mean people whose behavior is outrageous, deplorable and intolerable. All of these words are fitting to describe the attitudes and behavior of many Israelis in recent weeks. Torrents of pure hatred have been directed by soldiers, police and civilians against Palestinians accused of stabbing Jewish Israelis, many of them East Jerusalem or West Bank settlers. Unarmed Palestinians have been killed. Even children have been shot dead or wounded, with one cursed by onlookers even as he lay in a pool of his own blood.
Hadil Hashlamun, 18, was shot at a checkpoint in Shuhada (Martyrs) Street in Hebron, the epicenter of settler violence in the city. She appears not to have understood the Hebrew being shouted at her by a soldier but there was no evidence of the knife the occupation forces alleged she used in the attempt to stab a soldier. She was feet away from the nearest soldier and standing motionless when she was shot ten times. She was left lying on the ground for half an hour before being dragged away by her feet and taken to hospital, where she died later. It was not just that she was defenseless when shot but the utterly callous and disrespectful way a seriously wounded person was treated.
Isra Abed, 28, of Nazareth was standing in the Afula bus station when she was shot by a policeman running towards her through a crowd of shouting men. She was raising her hands in apparent panic. There was nothing in them except for sunglasses which were kicked away when she fell to the ground. There was no evidence of a knife despite the claims of the media that she was ‘a female terrorist’ who was ‘armed with a knife’ or was ‘holding a knife in one hand.’ She allegedly threatened a female soldier before her killer was ‘able to shoot her before she could attack.’
Marah al Bakri, 17, was shot just after leaving her school in East Jerusalem. She and other girls were abused by a group of settlers, one of whom, according to one report, threw a knife on the ground and started screaming that she had tried to stab him. She was surrounded by ten men and shot repeatedly but survived. The police account says she was ‘neutralized’ after a ‘stabbing attack.’ In the video clip of her sitting wounded on the ground there is no sign of a knife anywhere near her and no evidence that she stabbed anyone. According to a classmate: ‘We were at school. The teachers were letting us out in one group after another. Not one of the girls went out alone. The girl was waiting in the bus station like any other schoolgirl. An Israeli settler passed by her and they claimed she tried to attack him with a knife. The police came from everywhere. She began to cry and scream. They shot her. We heard the shooting several times – maybe ten times. It happened fast. Everyone began to cry and scream.’
Mustafa Adil al Khatib, of Sur Bahar village, was stopped by paramilitary border police at a checkpoint in East Jerusalem. As he stepped out his car he put his hand in his pocket and was shot ten times and killed. The police first claimed that he had stabbed a settler, then that he had refused to obey the border police order to be searched, then that he was hiding a knife in his pocket and was reaching for it when he was shot and then that he had attempted to stab a soldier. There was no evidence of a knife at the scene and no evidence that he had one.
Muhammad Faris Abdullah al Jabari, 19, was shot dead near the Kiryat Arba settlement outside Hebron after allegedly attacking a border policeman with a knife. As his body lay on the stretcher a settler dropped a piece on to the face while saying that ‘just in case you don’t know it they really love pig meat’ and that the dying man ‘can enjoy it with his virgins.’ The head of the Kiryat Arba settlement, where Baruch Goldstein, the murderer of 29 Palestinians in the Ibrahimi mosque in 1994, lived and is commemorated with a plaque, said the bodies of all Palestinian ‘terrorists’ should be thrown into the sea.
Ahmad Manasra was alleged to have carried out a knife attack with his cousin but was still only 13 when surrounded by settlers screaming abuse at him as he lay on the ground bleeding heavily and badly hurt, his broken legs buckled under him after being rammed by a car. The settlers crowding around curse him: ‘Die you fucker … shoot him in the head the son of a bitch ..’ A policeman can be seen pushing a boot into his side. Ahmad survived but his cousin was shot dead.
Ahmad Shaaban, 23, was accused of attacking a woman but according to a Jewish Israeli eyewitness was doing nothing when shot: ’Central bus station in Jerusalem, just now a terrorist was eliminated in front of my eyes. In front of my eyes! Ten rounds they fired at him. What chaos! He didn’t touch anyone. He didn’t have a knife. Everyone shouted ‘terrorist’ and the security guard fired. In front of my eyes. Ten rounds! My head hurts.’ Even though the eyewitness says Shaaban had attacked no-one he still calls himself a ‘terrorist’. This and other killings only consolidate the Zionist state’s long history of ‘summary’ or ‘field’ executions, the deliberate killing of wounded or captured Palestinians.
Across several weeks of violence 32 Palestinians were shot dead, in East Jerusalem, on the West Bank and across the fence into the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of others were beaten or arrested or both. In the same space of time eight settlers were killed on the West Bank or in East Jerusalem. Settlers exploited the chaos by going on the rampage across the West Bank, attacking Palestinian farmers and cutting down olive trees. Police protected them as they attacked Palestinians and even joined in. The use of undercover agents (musta’arabim) to provoke and entrap the Palestinians was another tactic used yet again by the ‘security’ forces.
The ultimate source of the rage and hatred on full display in Israel is ideology. Any ideology based on marginalization or discrimination must lead to where Zionism has led. The obverse of ‘this land is ours’ is that ‘this land is not theirs.’ The arguments are built up generation after generation. ‘God gave us this land. It was empty when we came. We made it bloom. We did not drive the Arabs out. They ran away. We did not start the wars. They did. Their infiltrators and terrorists just want to kill us because we are Jews. The problem is not occupation. Anyway, what are they talking about when they speak of ‘occupation’? This is our land. God gave it us …..’ And inevitably the enemy is not just an enemy but turned into snakes or Rafael Eitan’s ‘drugged roaches in a bottle.’
The insidious long-term effect of this racist dehumanization turns up in opinion polls even amongst schoolchildren. Idan Yaron and Yoram Harpaz spent three years doing field research at an ‘average’ Israeli high school for their book Scenes from School Life. The hatred and calls for murder and even genocide they uncovered can be crystallized in this statement by a female student:
‘For me, personally, Arabs are something I can’t look at and can’t stand. I am tremendously racist. I come from a racist home. If I get the chance in the army to shoot one of them, I won’t think twice. I’m ready to kill someone with my hands, and it’s an Arab. In my education I learned that … their education is to be terrorists, and there is no belief in them. I live in an area of Arabs, and every day I see these Ishmaelites, who pass by the [bus] station and whistle. I wish them death.’
It must be emphasised that these findings are not exceptional but fit into a matrix of discrimination and hatred extending across the whole of Israeli Jewish society. The source is secular ideology fortified by religious teaching.
It does not matter to many if not most Jewish Israelis that the rest of the world regards the territories seized in 1967 as occupied and believes that the occupation is the cause of violence. They endlessly repeat the claim that ‘the Arabs’ want to kill them just because they are Jews. They say this as if living as some of their forebears did, within the pale of settlement, when Cossacks did attack and humiliate Jews just because they were Jews. They are unable to see that now it is the Palestinians who are trapped within a Zionist-imposed pale of settlement – behind fences in Gaza and trapped behind a wall on the West Bank – and that it is their soldiers, police and settlers who are the Cossacks and that the government that protects, funds and arms them and justifies or ignores their crimes that has taken on the role of the Tsar’s government. This twisted replay of history on a new stage has culminated in double-ghettoisation, with Zionists fencing themselves in and fencing the Palestinians out.
As the government of Israel describes itself as Jewish, as it describes the state as Jewish, as the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlers describe themselves first and foremost as Jews, as the tanks and planes attacking Gaza are embossed with the star of David, as the same symbol is scrawled on the walls of Gaza and the walls of the West Bank, it is hardly surprising that many Palestinians have come to see Jews per se as the enemy. Of course, this is what the Netanyahu government wants the world to believe: it is Jews who are under threat and not Zionists who have taken the land and usurped the rights of another people.
The brutality of recent weeks is shocking but not surprising and even minimal compared to the brutality of the past. Brutality is how the Zionists took Palestine in the first place and how they have maintained their grip on it ever since. ‘Field executions’ have a long history and so does the collective punishment now being directed against the Palestinian families of ‘terrorists.’ Their homes will be destroyed immediately and they will be deprived of ‘residency permits’, a punishment which dovetails with the long campaign to shrink Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem, sections of which have now been closed off. Collective punishment will only be applied against Palestinian ‘terrorists’ because when a Jewish citizen of Israel strikes down a Palestinian his motives are regarded as ‘nationalistic’ and by implication have to be understood. Lawyers are already making pleas before the courts that Jews who have stabbed Palestinians (and in one case stabbed another Jew by mistake, calling him a ‘bastard Arab’) have psychological problems and should not go to trial.
Zionism remains a state-building ideology. Compassion is a weakness and there can be no possibility of pity for the Palestinians until they have been comprehensively and absolutely defeated. Like the indigenous people of the United States, only when the Palestinians have been reduced to an atomized ethnic minority will it be safe to admit the ‘mistakes’ of the past and acknowledge the crimes of the forefathers. As the events of the past few weeks have shown, even after nearly seven decades since the establishment of Israel this point is still far from being reached.
The soldiers of Israel’s so-called ‘defense forces’ who shit in the kitchens and dining rooms of Palestinian homes they have vandalized in the Gaza Strip are no better than the settler who dropped pork on to the face of a dying Palestinian and no better than the settlers who scrawl ‘death to the Arabs’ or ‘gas the Arabs’ on the walls of Hebron or other Palestinian towns. These awful phrases cannot be regarded as a rhetorical flourish any more than anti-Jewish slogans scrawled on the walls and windows of Jewish shops in Munich or Berlin in the 1930s. What Moshe Menuhin, the father of Yehudi, called ‘the decadence of Judaism in our time’ more than half a century ago, continues unabated.
– Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.