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When will this conspiracy of silence end?

By Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

The recent and latest – but probably not the last – images of prisoners being abused by Israeli soldiers showed a blindfolded Palestinian woman trying desperately to avoid 21st century brutality in a prison cell with neither bars nor windows. As the seconds ticked by like an eternity it was clear that her body was trying to shrink into itself to avoid the monsters of the modern age, in the land of Jesus Christ, who danced around their victim.

Were the soldiers dancing to celebrate the kidnapping of an Arab girl whose only crime was to struggle for freedom from an illegal occupation? Or were they dancing to celebrate the fact that the international conscience, so vociferous about freedom and human rights in other parts of the world, is so very quiet when it comes to the Palestinians who have been oppressed by Western-backed Israel for more than sixty years?

The young woman in question is Ihsan Dababseh, 24 years old, who has now told of the circumstances surrounding that shameful video. The Israeli soldier who abused her is called Avi Yakobov; he performed what he no doubt thought was a humorous belly-dance and rubbed against Ihsan's bound body in December, 2007 at the Gush Etzion military base. According to Ms. Dababseh, "Another soldier brought a bottle of wine and asked me to drink." Minutes later, she says that the soldiers attacked her like a pack of wolves, using their gun butts: "One soldier kept hitting my head against an iron bar until I blacked out."


Ihsan Dababseh's story is only one of many illustrating the daily lives of more than eleven thousand Palestinian prisoners in what is now clearly the world's sole remaining apartheid regime. Nevertheless, the "civilized" world hardly remembers them, except when evidence of their suffering is leaked. What we see is a mere snapshot of many years of torture and humiliation which goes on without any protest from the "free" Western media, many human rights organizations and the UN Human Rights Council; perhaps they all fear falling prey to the same fate as American TV anchor Rick Sanchez, who was fired by CNN simply for saying that "Jews are not oppressed".

As a result of Western governments' and media collusion with Israel's state terrorism, soldiers of the so-called Israel Defence Forces have arrested more than 90 Palestinian children in one month. The youngest, a boy of 13, was taken out of his family home by court order. Some human rights groups have revealed more than once that Israeli soldiers attack female prisoner and force them to remove their clothes before subjecting them to humiliating inspections. The prisoners are then forced to stand with their arms raised for prolonged periods of up to six hours.

Do the Western politicians who flatter Israeli war criminals like Benjamin Netanyahu and refer to Israel as "an oasis of democracy" know this? Do they want to know this? Why don't the Americans spread freedom and human rights in Palestine instead of supporting and funding torture, murder and illegal settlements? More than one commentator has said that the Americans look at Palestinians as they did their own indigenous population in the past, as people unworthy of human rights and equality as fellow human beings. The Aborigines in Australia suffer likewise.

US and European general silence (and thus complicity) towards atrocious Israeli crimes gives Israeli soldiers and settlers a free hand to kill, torture and even run down in their cars unarmed Palestinian civilians. Their crimes have exceeded those committed by the apartheid regime in South Africa. A holocaust survivor on a recent boat which tried to break the Gaza blockade has likened what is happening to the Palestinians to his own suffering at the hands of the Nazis. The respected Israeli journalist Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz (7 October 2010): "Evidence? Explanations? Common sense? No need. They, after all, are paid a salary by the Israeli taxpayer in order to invent new kinds of punishment and torture." She added, "Today, the sense of shame has disappeared. Society's backing is assured."

I would add that the silence of the international community is assured, because none of the world leaders is "free" any longer, held captive by the Israel lobby which has a massive influence over the US Congress, the media and election funding. That is why no American or European leader, nor even the United Nations, will ever condemn in any meaningful way any crime against the Palestinians as long as the perpetrators are Israelis. Even when the victim of such aggression is the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, Israel will stand unabashed and remain unpunished. The peace activist was heading for Gaza on board the ship Rachel Corrie (named after the young American woman who was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer) when it was hijacked by the Israelis and diverted to Ashkelon. When she returned to Ben-Gurion Airport a few days ago she was detained by the Israeli authorities in the same way that they detained US intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Norman G. Finkelstein and Spanish artist Ivan Prado, secure in the knowledge that no one will dare criticize their actions for fear of being accused of anti-Semitism. Ms. Corrigan-Maguire's "crime" was that several months ago she took part in a demonstration organized by the Bili'in villagers against the racist segregation wall and was twice on board ships trying to break the Gaza blockade.

The crimes committed with impunity by this racist entity against prisoners and peace, freedom, justice and human rights activists have gone so far largely because of the "silence" of "democratic" countries. It is true that Palestinian prisoners and activists are fighting for the freedom and dignity of the Palestinian people, but they actually embody the conscience of free people all over the world. Should we leave them in Israeli jails, as we left Nelson Mandela behind apartheid bars for decades, before turning them into icons of freedom and dignity? Or should we start immediately to work for the release of all political prisoners to enable them to live in freedom and dignity with their families in their homeland? No human rights organization or regime championing human rights and freedom has any credibility as long as eleven thousand Palestinians suffer in the prisons of a hateful criminal occupation while the rest of the world stays silent. When will this conspiracy of silence end?

*Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban is Political and Media Advisor to the Syrian Presidency, and a former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University. She studied for her PhD in English Literature at Britain's Warwick University. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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