The propaganda goes that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East”. But for anyone familiar with the realities that Israel imposes on the Palestinians and on its neighbours, this has always been a cruel joke.
The West Bank, occupied in violation of international law by Israel since 1967, is for Palestinians a military dictatorship imposed by Israel. The 600,000 or so (estimates vary) violent Israeli colonists that live in the West Bank settlements are the direct beneficiaries of this dictatorship. For the settlers, the West Bank is an anything goes zone. They can literally get away with murder against Palestinians.
There is actually existing apartheid in the West Bank – this is not an analogy, this a fact. There are different sets of laws applied by the same regime – Israel – on different populations depending on their ethnic and religious identities. For Jews, Israeli civil law applies (except in extremely rare circumstances), but Palestinians have military law imposed on them, robbing them of even the most basic rights.
The system of “military justice” that Israel imposes on Palestinians is more accurately described as a kangaroo court system.
The convictions rate is a stark 99.74 per cent.
The situation is so bad that leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem this week declared it would no longer cooperate with the military justice system because of the way it works to “cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators”.
Two recent cases demonstrate this amply.
Majd Yousef Atwan, a 22-year-old beauty school graduate from a village near Bethlehem, was imprisoned for more than a month after allegedly posting “incitement” on Facebook. Israel claimed that she her entry on the social media site praised an April bomb attack that targeted a bus in Jerusalem. She was released last week.
“Your occupation to our land does not need ‘incitement’ for our people to revolt. I am part of an occupied people … so don’t expect me to greet you with flowers instead of anger,” Atwan reportedly said in response to the charges during her trial in Ofer military court.
Needless to say, Israeli settlers who openly call for “death to the Arabs” and routinely speak out in praise of Israeli terrorists such as Baruch Goldstein (who perpetrated the infamous 1994 Hebron mosque massacre) never receive such sentences for “incitement”.
The case of the young poet Dareen Tatour is even more stark.
Tatour’s only “crime” was to write a poem which called for Palestinians to resist the Israeli occupation and the ongoing colonisation of Palestinian land. “Resist, my people, resist them,” the poem stated, going on to condemn the murder last year by settlers of the 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha, who was burned to death along with most of his family. The poem also condemned the killing of Hadil Hashlamoun in Hebron last year, a defenceless young Palestinian woman shot dead by Israeli army murderers.
The poem was cited as “evidence” in the Nazareth court’s case against her. She was arrested in October last year, spent three months in prison, and was moved to house arrest in January. “It is ironic, but not surprising, that I was sent to jail for protesting the killing of my people whereas actual Israeli killers roam free,” Tatour told the Electronic Intifada.
Tatour is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and so theoretically has some protections under Israeli law that Palestinians in the West Bank do not. But her case is an ample demonstration of how even Palestinians within Israel do not have equal citizenship. “My case, and many others, proves yet again that Israel’s democracy is a farce,” she told the Electronic Intifada. “If it is democratic, it’s only democratic towards Jews.”
These cases are only two of more than 150 such cases: Palestinians arrested by Israel over Facebook postings. And 16 journalists have also been imprisoned by Israel for free speech “crimes”. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Commission says that a special Israeli unit monitors Palestinian social media in order to clamp down on expressions of dissent. The Palestinian Authority is also involved in similar repression: arresting and detaining young critics of its regime who express themselves online.
Israel’s claim to be a democracy does not stand up to scrutiny. As long as it continues to deny Palestinians basic rights to life and to speech, the Israeli regime must be opposed.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.