The peace talks, for now, are on hold. The settlement construction moratorium ended and Israeli settlers began to once again carve up Palestinian land. US President Obama once again displayed its inability to pressure the Israeli government into anything. The Palestinian leadership once again threatened to walk out of talks, but remains in diplomatic purgatory thanks to, well, American pressure. Throughout all of this, though, is one common thread: at the moment when Palestinians and Israelis should be building confidence in one another, the Israeli government continues to surprise.
The latest surprise came in the newest viral video of an Israeli soldier dancing around, humiliating and abusing a bound and blindfolded Palestinian woman. After the scandal a few weeks back when an Israeli soldier posted photos of Facebook of Palestinian prisoners put in humiliating positions, the new video, see below, should have created immediate, intense and all-encompassing international condemnation and pressure for reform. Yet, despite a wag of the finger, the international community has been largely silent.
The actions of the soldier and the dehumanization of the Palestinian woman typifies the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. The Israeli soldiers, settlers and citizens who treat Palestinians with such disrespect are, largely, born into an occupying state that has not been subjugated, but has continued to impose its will and deny equality to those it occupies. To be sure, not all Israelis view Palestinians with such disgust, but the lack of impunity and general cultural acceptance of the relegation of Palestinians to second and third class citizens makes the entire society culpable for such embarrassing and immoral actions.
To Palestinians, this kind of behavior and degradation has been normalized by the unrelenting occupation. Videos such as the one above are seen by Palestinians as proof that Israel never intends to stop its systematic domination of the Palestinian people. Palestinians inside of Israel are particularly worried about the trends of Israel. Not only are there seemingly daily revelations of increasingly visible and immoral Israeli racism, but such racism is becoming hardened into law.
[tweetmeme] Yesterday the Knesset took a step closer to passing a law requiring all citizens in Israel to submit to a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The law was being pushed by Avigdor Lieberman, the openly racist Foreign Minister who has also recently called for the forced displacement of all Israeli-Arabs in a speech in front of the UN. Richard Silverstein reacted to the soon-to-be new law be comparing it to a hypothetical law in the US, thus displaying the incompatibility of Lieberman’s law with actual democracy:
As for me, I think the U.S.A. English movement had the right idea. Speak English, be Christian. That should be our motto. Forget E Pluribus Unum. Not “out of many, one.” Nuts to that. Out of many, a big fat mess. I say, ‘Out of one, one’–and forget the rest. If Israel can be an uber-Jewish nation despite its 1-million citizens who are not, then this country can be Christian, for Christians and the rest of you suckers be damned.
While the law in itself is disturbing, the ‘leftist’ coalition partner – Labor – has said little about the possible ramifications of the law. Apparently, Labor is content with ringing the final death toll for Israel’s democratic credentials if there is at least some payoff. An unnamed Labor minister responded to the loyalty oath by saying that he “hopes that Netanyahu’s support [for the loyalty oath] is a payoff to Lieberman, so that the prime minister will be able to extend the freeze without breaking apart his coalition.” In other words, Labor is fine with crushing Israeli democracy in exchange for a two-month extension of the settlement freeze.
Yet, public exposure of the brutalities of the occupation and the institutionalization of Israeli racism is not all Palestinians have to fear. In the past two weeks, Israeli politicians and leaders have been trying to outdo each other in boasting hubris, racism and discrimination. A quick review:
Interior Minister Eli Yishai has said that negotiations with the Palestinians are completely pointless; Lieberman has said that peace with Palestine is impossible within the next generation and has suggested a population exchange (not land exchange) – the result of which would be illegal mass displacement of an occupied population; Likud MK Danny Danon flaunted Israel’s impunity and America’s inability to pressure Netanyahu; Jewish settlers continue to underline their belief that the West Bank is their God-given right; Netanyahu continues to claim that Israel will never give up the Jordan Valley and that Israeli troops will be necessary on the Jordanian border; settlers continue to burn mosques and Korans, uproot Palestinian olive trees and generally commit ‘price tag’ terrorism against Palestinian civilians without any word from the government.
All in all, the situation is very gloomy for Palestinians. An occupied people can never forget nor be relieved from such an occupation. If Israel is to remain a functional democracy, there must be some sort of cultural and political reform to reverse the trends of extremism, hatred and racism. Israel must reverse the normalization of actions such as that in the video above and, if Israel is to remain a democracy, the people must force the government to immediately stop codifying racism and to cease the informal policy of impunity of those who commit terrorist acts against Palestinians.