By Khaled Diab
The rise in violent Jewish extremism shows how safeguarding justice only for a minority is leading to a situation of injustice for the majority.
Monday 3 August 2015
We had intended to join Jerusalem's annual gay pride parade, but my son and his new friend had other ideas. They were having too much fun playing on the grass in the park where the march was due to start.
Sadly, rather than pride and tolerance, prejudice and hate won the day. Yishai Schlissel, a Jewish religious extremist, stabbed six people participating in the march. The Haredi fanatic had a history of committing hate crimes and had only recently been released from prison for a similar attack on the pride parade in 2005.
“We must ensure that in Israel, every man and woman lives in security in any way they choose,” said Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, despite the active efforts of his far-right coalitions to undermine said security and demonise leftists and progressives.
While our children played, we discussed the sad but uplifting story of another child. In 2005, Ahmed Khatib, a 12-year-old from Jenin, was shot by an Israeli soldier who mistook the toy gun in his hand for a real one.
When Ahmed died in hospital, his parents did not succumb to bitterness and hate and decided that their son's death should bring life and hope to others. Four Jews and two Arabs received his organs. “Six Israelis now have a part of a Palestinian in them, and maybe he is still alive in them,” Ahmed's grieving father said at the time. “Children have nothing to do with this conflict.”
Despite these praiseworthy words, children on both side of the divide are, sadly, caught in the crossfire of this bitter, generations-old conflict. The latest example of this occurred shortly after the attacks at the parade.
Not so far away, a group of Israeli settlers firebombed two homes in the Palestinian village of Doma, near Nablus. The attack killed Ali Saad Dawabsha, a toddler aged just 18 months, and injured his four-year-old brother and parents, as well as a neighbour.
“This attack against civilians is nothing short of a barbaric act of terrorism,” said Israeli army spokesperson Peter Lerner. “A comprehensive investigation is underway in order to find the terrorists and bring them to justice.”
While the Israeli military's condemnation and its willingness to describe the attack as an “act of terrorism” is welcome, it is Israel's longstanding inaction against settler violence, and its facilitation of the settlement enterprise, that has bred a toxic atmosphere of impunity amongst radical settlers and what many describe as the Wild West Bank mentality.
The consequences of this attack are difficult to gauge. If the summer of 2014 is any indication, this firebombing could easily and rapidly spread and become a wild fire, especially since little to nothing has shifted fundamentally since last year's eruption of violence and protest. And the widespread protest and clashes at the weekend suggest that the situation is heating up fast.
If the Israeli authorities take prompt action to bring the perpetrators to justice, as Lerner claimed they would do, then the escalation of the situation can be arrested… at least for the time being.
But that, in and of itself, will not be enough. Wider justice also needs to be set in motion. With the occupation unlikely to end anytime in the foreseeable future, Israel needs to stop living by two laws: one for Israelis and the other for Palestinians.
Martial law must end in the West Bank, and all Israelis and Palestinians must be held to the same legal standards and enjoy the same legal rights. This is not only good for Palestinians, it is also essential for Israelis.
The dual legal system has helped create a mentality of superiority and even supremacy among many Israelis in the West Bank and Jerusalem. At first, the victims of this were overwhelmingly Palestinians but Jews are increasingly falling victim to this sense of exceptionalism felt by the Israeli far-right, as reflected in the growing phenomenon of price tagging and hate crimes targeted at leftist Jews, peace activists and those who are different.
Safeguarding justice only for a minority will eventually lead to a situation of injustice for the majority.
Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.
This article first appeared in Italian in Corriere della Sera on 1 August 2015.