Does one crime justify another? Israeli officials seem to think so. Whenever they are criticised for committing crimes against humanity by wiping Palestinian neighbourhoods off the map; bombing hospitals, schools and places of worship; and targeting ambulances, TV stations, power and water plants, roads and bridges, Israelis simply say, "Why do you always attack us? Why do you not say anything about what is going on in Syria?"
It is indeed a good comparison, although in Syria it is a case of a regime killing its own people, while in Palestine it is a colonial-settler government killing the indigenous people. Nevertheless, in both cases, the regimes in question are killing civilians indiscriminately, and both glorify the killers and vilify the victims.
The Syrians, though, are more true to themselves, unlike the Israelis. The former never claim that they are "the only democracy" in the Middle East and the bastion of European civilisation in a rough neighbourhood. The Assad regime in Damascus is willing to do whatever is necessary to stay in power; the Israelis, meanwhile, boast that they are the "Chosen People" and on a mission given to them by God Himself to cleanse the land of Palestine from its own people and set up a "homeland" for the Jews. In their mindset, the Palestinians should be obliged to them.
What's more, not only do the Israelis want a licence to kill the Palestinians with impunity, but they also want them to keep silent while being killed and preferably be thankful. Zionism and its offspring, the state of Israel, have created and popularised a narrative that justifies their occupation of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of its people. Israel and its influential lobbyists in the West have managed to convince international organisations to turn a blind eye to breaches of International law, and even legalise the state's criminality. Thanks to a compliant media and the purchase of political power, especially in the US Congress, many people are now convinced that it is the Palestinians who are trying to take Israeli land, as if victim status is something reserved exclusively for Jews.
With the emergence of social media, a new window of hope opened for all those who suffered from the Zionist monopoly of the mainstream media. Palestinians and their supporters have grabbed the opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless, a people long forgotten and marginalised. For the first time in decades, the real victims' message has been heard across the world, with people in Europe and elsewhere able to find out what is really happening in Palestine.
Public opinion has thus started to change in favour of the Palestinians, albeit gradually. More European parliamentarians, journalists and activists of all faiths and none, including Jews, now speak up for the people of Palestine and condemn Israel's occupation. For its part, Israel is striving to marginalise and criminalise these voices. It has even convinced some Western governments to conflate support for the Palestinians with anti-Semitism, which is outrageous.
However, Israel's main battle is with those who undermine its colonial narrative; those who report Israeli atrocities on the ground, and expose their dark side. It is targeting journalists, social media activists and whoever else happens to be there and is willing to speak out.
Numbers tell the whole story: since 2000, Israel has killed at least 39 journalists in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank, 16 of whom have been killed in the past four months alone. Israeli security forces have physically assaulted 64 journalists among 186 other violations against media personnel in the first six months of this year; 30 have been detained. Since 2008, Israel has bombed around 50 media facilities in Gaza. In 2017, the Israeli occupation forces committed more than 2,100 violations against journalists, including mass detentions, especially during clashes with Palestinians. It is more than fair to assume that all of these actions have been supported by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.
Israel's claim to hegemony extends to social media, particularly Facebook. Many Palestinian activists have been arrested and charged for their opinions against the occupation expressed on their personal Facebook pages. Indeed, activists around the world have seen pro-Palestine posts censored and removed by Facebook staff. No such measure have been taken against pro-Israel Facebook users even though many posts incite violence against the Palestinians.
The fear in Israel is that individual crimes by its armed forces and illegal settlers will be caught on camera and circulated on social media. This happened when Abdul Fattah Al-Sharif was shot in the head as he was already wounded and incapacitated on the ground. Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter — he took deliberate aim and shot him in the head — but was sentenced to just 9 months in prison, much less than the punishment given to Palestinian youths for posting their opinions on Facebook. Azaria received support from senior Israeli politicians and officials, including the Prime Minister.
In an effort to curb such negative publicity, Israel has passed a law criminalising anyone who films or photographs security personnel during such incidents. Those who publishe such images, even on social media, face up to five years in prison. According to Haaretz, this law punishes civil and human rights organisations rather than people like Elor Azaria who can get away, quite literally, with murder.
Israel kills witnesses to its crimes, or otherwise takes them out of the picture, because it doesn't want the world to know what it is doing. This week, Palestinian journalist Lama Khatir was arrested at her home in Hebron in the occupied West Bank in a late night raid. The pictures of her leaving her children are heart-breaking. She will most likely face imprisonment, not because she has committed a crime, but simply because she is a journalist who has done her job by documenting and denouncing the crimes of the Israeli occupation. The Zionist state is anything but a benign presence in the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.