A slightly ‘less crazy’ Israel

A few thoughts on the decision to shut down Israel’s detention facility for African asylum seekers, what the High Court ruling says about the gratuitous and political arrests of Palestinian protesters in Israel, and the assassination that only took place if you read Hebrew.

Darfuri refugees pose for a poster against their deportation from Israel. (Activestills.org)
Darfuri refugees pose for a poster against their deportation from Israel. (Activestills.org)


1. A slightly ‘less crazy’ Israel

Following the Israeli High Court decision on Monday to shut down Holot and cancel the piece of legislation that permitted the indefinite detention of African asylum seekers (the way the law was written, non-African asylum seekers were never in danger of indefinite detention), Darfuri refugee Mutasim Ali wrote in +972: “I am not celebrating this, because this is normal — what should happen.”

I believe what Ali means is that it would have been absolutely crazy if the High Court of Justice, the body to which one turns when seeking justice in this land, had said: “Actually, it’s okay to lock up black people indefinitely and without charge. No problem.” (Let’s forget for a second the fact that the High Court has upheld administrative on numerous occasions.)

Mutasim Ali’s sentiment reminded me of an interview with Chris Rock, in which the comedian says he refuses to describe the current state of race relations in the United States as “progress.”

“When you say it’s progress you’re acting like what happened before wasn’t crazy … We’ve made a lot of progress and we got rid of segregation … but segregation is crazy!” The people who were denying black people their rights, Rock explains, have simply become less crazy.

Of course, it is also crazy that for 47 years millions of people have been living with no civil rights under military occupation with separate and unequal legal systems. We can only look forward to a little less insanity on that front. But hey, a start’s a start.

2. Freedom, dignity and Palestinian protesters in Israel

Out of roughly 1,500 Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel who were arrested by Israeli police this summer during protests and demonstrations, the state has only indicted 350, according to a press release by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

In most of the arrests, Adalah notes, the police had no reason or justification for dispersing the mostly legal demonstrations and therefore, had no basis to make arrests. Other arrests, Adalah wrote, took place even before demonstrations got started.

Israeli police have been taking heat in recent months — both from the courts and the attorney general — for very heavy-handed decisions to file their own indictments against protesters, even when the state prosecutor’s office itself declined to press charges. (Yes, the police can do that in Israel.) Those cases, however, almost entirely involved Jewish social justice protesters who were arrested in Tel Aviv. The chances of such rebukes being made on behalf of Palestinians arrested in Jerusalem or Umm al-Fahm are slim, although not nil.

In the High Court ruling ordering the closure of Holot on Monday, one of the justices wrote in the majority opinion (my translation):

Spending days, weeks and months in a closed facility (prison), means that [one loses control over] every aspect of one’s life — leisure time, the food one eats, the people with whom one spends time and comes into contact … that is a serious blow to freedom and dignity.

In other words, imprisoning somebody who has not committed a crime is a serious infringement on their rights to freedom and human dignity. That is exactly what is happening if you go back a few paragraphs and re-read that only 350 out of 1,500 Palestinian political protesters were charged with a crime. Most of the others were simply arrested for no reason. They were locked up and deprived of their most basic rights for the sake of operational expediency and political disagreement.

3. Assassinated, maybe, if you read Hebrew

The Hebrew-language coverage this morning of the deaths of two primary suspects in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens was very different than the English coverage. Almost all of the Hebrew coverage referred to the killings as “eliminations” or an “assassination.” English-language coverage tended to portray the deaths as being the result of a fire fight during a raid. Not even a raid gone wrong — just a firefight during a raid.

Ynet in English ran a headline that read: “Suspects in murder of Israeli teens killed in West Bank raid”. Ynet in Hebrew’s headline was (my translation): “The score is settled: Israel assassinated the youths’ murderers”.

A subsequent English-language article detailing the raid suggests that the first suspect was killed when he raised his head out of a hole — after the army had bulldozed half of the home he was hiding in — and allegedly brandished a rifle. The second suspect was reportedly killed by grenades that were thrown into the room he was believed to be in. In other words, the second suspect posed no immediate threat to the army forces.

This would be a good time to remember that — even if this was an assassination and not an arrest raid — these two men were not convicted of any crime. It’s entirely possible they were responsible for the kidnapping and murder of three innocent Israelis. But even under Israeli military law, to which all Palestinians are subject, one should be tried before being sentenced. And this is not a case — like the assassinations of Hamas figures in Gaza — where Israel didn’t have the capacity to make arrests. The Israeli commanders on the scene simply decided to carry out the raid “in a way which would not endanger the forces raiding the building,” or in other words, not make any real effort to capture them alive.

A number of Israeli ministers later praised the “assassination” (khisul in Hebrew). Housing Minister Uri Ariel put out a message first thing in the morning, saying, “The success of the security forces in assassinating the disgusting terrorists is the success of the entire State of Israel … I congratulate the security forces on the successful assassination.”