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The value of Palestinian life is clear in Israel

March 29, 2016 at 3:57 pm

It is clear in the way Israeli soldiers act toward Palestinians.

It is clear in the way these soldiers speak to Palestinians. Dead or alive.

But it is equally clear in the manner in which state officials and the public react with great support in the aftermath of military impunity.

Last week’s recording of the shooting and killing of a Palestinian man in Hebron is a case in point. The graphic video released by B’tselem shows an Israeli soldier asking, “is the dog alive?” before executing Ramzi Al-Qasrawi.

The wounded Palestinian had allegedly carried out a stabbing attack earlier and can be seen lying on the ground when the soldier shoots him in the head. The video also features Israeli medics treating an injured Israeli soldier while two Palestinians lie on the ground, severely injured. The medics do not show any sign of urgency to get to the wounded Palestinian.

What followed the tapped episode was even more heart wrenching. At the official level, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly supported the Israeli soldiers who committed the crime claiming: “Any challenge to the morality of the IDF is outrageous and unacceptable. The soldiers of the IDF, our children, maintain high ethical values while courageously fighting against bloodthirsty murderers under difficult operational conditions.” On the law and enforcement level, far-right settlers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bentzi Gopstein, have filed a complaint with Israeli police against Emad Abu Shamsiya, the Palestinian videographer who captured the footage.

Support did not stop there. A poll by Israel TV news channel Aruzt Sheva found that 82 per cent of Israelis support the soldier who killed the wounded Al-Qasrawi. This number coincides with a poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute that found 53 per cent of Jewish Israelis support killing alleged attackers on-the-spot, even after their arrest and when they no longer pose a threat.

In fact, Israeli civilians have both incited soldiers and police to execute Palestinians on-the-spot and have participated in the bullying of Palestinians. In October 2015, for example, Israeli settlers were caught on tape surrounding 13-year-old Ahmad Manasra as he was lying on the ground in Jerusalem, dying. Again here, medics just stood there, doing nothing. No one attempted to stop the Israeli settler who was directly screaming at Ahmad: “Die you son of a whore, die.”

Law enforcement authorities are by and large turning a blind eye to repeated grave suspicions of extrajudicial killings by security forces. In October 2015, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor released a report summarising Israel’s arbitrary killings and its system of structural violence. A video released with the report showcased six different cases where the military was caught on tape undisputedly shooting to kill Palestinians. But the violent attacks and killings are not limited to the military.

The language used when directly addressing inanimated Palestinian bodies is representative of the systematic violent posture of Israeli society towards the people whose lands they occupy. Even as Palestinians lay lifeless on occupied land, Israeli soldiers find the need to transgress and violate them.

The normalisation of this culture of violence is not exclusive to the Israeli military. It is not an individual act by Israeli soldiers or settlers. This is a collective and national disregard for Palestinian life that pushes at both the policy and community level in Israel. It even extends well beyond Israel’s borders. Indeed, mapping out the presence of external actors is just as important to understand the level of the deep-rooted violence.

Take Joe Biden’s most recent visit to Jerusalem on 9 March. He took the time to talk about the Israeli wounded from a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv that injured 10, including an American. Biden and Bibi even paid a visit to the wounded. “Let’s go see; let’s go touch; let’s go let those families know how much we care about them; let them know that that expression ‘if you don’t go get the terrorist, they’ll come to you,” he said during a press conference.

He took the time to reassure Israel: “We’ve done more to bolster, help bolster Israel’s security than any other administration in history. Across the board we’ve raised our security cooperation and military intelligence fields to unprecedented levels. And we’ve provided a historical amount of security assistance. We’ve ensured Israel has the most advanced weapons, including one of the most effective missile defence systems in the world.” Not one mention of the Palestinians killed. Not one mention of even a possibility of Israeli impunity.

Yet, since the wave of violence began in October 2015, 203 Palestinians have been killed in addition to 30 Israelis. But Biden did not feel the need to mention the loss of Palestinian lives. Not once did he hint that the Israeli military is responsible for war crimes and breaches of international law under its unwritten “shot-to-kill” policy.

Why is it inconceivable that the Palestinian people also need protection? Why is it not taken for granted that the shooting and killing of Palestinians is something that should be condemned without timidness? Why is it that the only time we speak of Palestinians in security related issues, is either as a threat, or with the objection of further reinforcing Israeli security? Why is Palestinian security – the protection of Palestinian lives – not a concern?

In a world where every week someone is bombing a city in Pakistan, in Iraq, in Nigeria, in Turkey but international collective outcry is only able to be felt when similar attacks occur in Belgium, England or France, there is a wider question of why some bodies are able to reach people’s hearts while others are insignificant.

The Palestinian experience speaks to this hypocrisy of universalism. Israel’s bluntness about how it disregards Palestinians’ humanity speaks to a broader conversation that needs to take place among policy circles specifically, and between peoples more broader. A conversation that invites them to reassess their moral compasses when it comes to formulating their ideas and norms pertaining to human life, bodies worth protecting and bodies worth mourning.

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