The Seeds of Fascism
Photo by Andrea DiCenzo
Blasting a military that continues to act with impunity and a willfully blind judiciary that continues to serve as "the Occupation's fig leaf," Israel's foremost human rights organization B’Tselem has declared that “there is no longer any point” in seeking justice for Palestinians through complaints to military courts they long hoped would serve as "a path to accountability." The decision to stop cooperating with an intransigent military judicial system is the latest sign - along with the appointment of uber-hawk defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and the growing power of zealous settlers - that Israel is still moving inexorably toward its most right-wing incarnation ever.
The move by B’Tselem ends 25 years of fierce advocacy, primarily through bringing cases to Israel’s military court and supporting investigations into the killings of Palestinians, who cannot file complaints directly against the Israeli military. It follows stalled investigations in over 700 cases, which resulted in a 3% conviction rate; in many, B’Tselem charges, authorities "literally bent over backwards to not prosecute." In a typical case, after a 17-year old Palestinian was shot dead for what the IDF said was launching a barrage of stones at an army Jeep, B’Tselem gave investigators evidence the boy had lobbed a single stone; nothing happened, confirming the findings of a recent report that Israeli law enforcement is "a whitewash mechanism" for the Occupation. Most disturbingly, B’Tselem ended up not just abandoning belief in "the system’s ability to correct itself," but feeling they were victimizing grieving families twice: “We started to feel shame (when) we took testimonies, (like) they are experiencing the death twice, said one member. "Why should we give the Israeli investigators a gun with which to shoot the victims again?”
B’Tselem will continue documenting human rights violations, like its filming of the March killing in Hebron of an unarmed Palestinian shot point blank by a soldier; its release led to his standing trial for what the U.N. called an “apparent extra-judicial execution." Still, some worry that a lower profile for B’Tselem, coupled with a crackdown on other human rights groups like Breaking the Silence, will help Israel "ignore what their leaders are trying to suppress." The fear of a rogue nation that ignores not only international laws but its own has been re-enforced with the recent wave of Israeli killings of desperate lone-ranger Palestinian attacks against their occupiers. While many Israeli leaders bluntly defend such killings - "You should shoot to kill, don't think twice," “Someone with a knife comes, it’s a mitzvah (commandment) to kill him" - so much blood has been spilled that the I.D.F.'s Gadi Eisenkot felt the need to clarify it's not always necessary to “empty a magazine into a teen-age girl carrying scissors.” He was quickly reprimanded.
The ideological battle over the attacks and what they say about the Occupation has led to a few startling acts of defiance. On Holocaust Memorial Day, I.D.F. deputy chief of staff Yair Golan caused an uproar when he suggested parallels between today's Israel and Nazi Germany; shortly after, defense minister Moshe Ya’alon - who helped crush the Al-Aqsa intifada and ran the last Gaza war - likewise argued Israel was drifting into extremism and urged military leaders to map strategy with "a compass as well as their consciences.” Outraged by "the festival of self-flagellation," Netanyahu gave in to the rightist drift and replaced Ya’alon with Avigdor Lieberman, a hard-liner who has said Israel should “cut off the head” of any disloyal Arab citizen. For now - unsurprisingly, with Netanyahu in charge - reason has lost out. But many believe Israel has ventured into the untenable. “(Israel) has been infected by the seeds of fascism,” says former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. “This government needs to be brought down before it brings all of us down.”
Going to school in Gaza. Photo by Images from Palestine