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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Two Stories of Brutality and How Two Cultures React To Them

I have been thinking about two stories I recently read. One--let's call this story A) was about a worker at a Burger King in Tel Aviv, a Bedouin (a Muslim minority in Israel), who was beaten by an undercover border policeman while taking out the garbage from the restaurant, because he allegedly refused to identify himself to this ordinarily-dressed person. 

A screenshot from posted video of the event

The second, let's call it story B) was about nearby Gaza, where inhabitants, struggling to rebuild after the 2014 bombings by Israelis, find themselves terrified by the sounds of new tunnels being built under the homes they are now too frightened to rebuild. 

Story A) echoes U.S. problems of police brutality engulfing an ethnic and religious minority. Data provided by the Abraham Fund, an NGO aimed at equality and coexistence between Arab and Jewish citizens, reported cases of police violence against Arab Israelis has risen sharply, from 15 cases in 2010 to 55 cases in 2015. Those 55 cases were over 60% of all police brutality cases, even though Israeli Arabs make up a fifth of the population there. 

Israeli Arabs aren't the only groups who have been singled out by Israeli police. In demonstrations, Ethiopians, Haredim and hilltop youths--three minorities who are visually different from typical Israelis--have also been harassed or detained by police without cause. (*See below for more information about these minorities.) 

Within the same day as Story A) broke, according to the Jerusalem Post and the Guardian, the justice ministry had begun a probe of the incident outside the Burger King, where Maisam Abu Al-Alqian was beaten by a plainclothes police officer after arguing with him when asked to present an I.D.

Within two days of the beating, Stav Shaffir, the chair of the Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information called a special meeting of the Knesset and requested statistics and a demographic and social breakdown of complaints issued against police, plus a breakdown of how these cases are handled by police. 

She also called on members of the public to contact the committee with information relating to police brutality, in particular if they themselves have been witnesses to or victims of such violence. 

Now, let's return to Story B and how the government of Gaza is helping them deal with another very real crisis. 

The opening of a tunnel discovered by the Israelis military this month.
In February, the New Yorker reported that two Hamas operatives had died from a tunnel collapse and that seven Hamas members were killed when another tunnel caved in, apparently due to heavy rains and flooding. 

Ismaeil Haniyah, a Hamas leader in Gaza, spoke at the funeral of the seven Hamas members. "East of Gaza City, heroes are digging through rock and building tunnels, and to the west, they are experimenting with rockets every day."

This photograph is from the New York Times. 
Here is someone the "heroes" are digging for: a woman living in ruins two years after war destroyed her home. She got a coupon to buy concrete to rebuild, but was told there is no concrete. Yet every night, she hears trucks carrying concrete and building materials rumble by her house and disappear into a tunnel underground. 

She is terrified about the tunnel under her house. "Dear God--we will be torn apart," she says. "I am sure, one million percent, that those with tunnels under their houses cannot sleep, or taste the joy of life." This woman, like others in the NY Times article, would not give her name, for fear of government reprisal, which I guess means for fear that people like Ismaeil Haniyah might attack her. 

Where can these villagers turn? Perhaps to a Human Rights organization. Sari Bashi, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch and an expert on international law regarding warfare said that militant groups have "an obligation to take all feasible measures to protect civilians, including not taking the armed conflict to civilian areas to the extend possible." 

But Ms. Bashi also said that building tunnels in residential neighborhoods is not explicitly prohibited.  Not much help. 

And yet, Ms. Bashi said that while Gaza's density makes it difficult to avoid civilian areas, "it also seems as if armed groups are choosing to dig tunnels in populated areas because it provides cover, and that raises questions."  Raises questions?

What would I do if I were raising children while the ground beneath me shook with tunnel building. What would I do if I was living in a shack, but could not find concrete to build a new home, yet every night, I heard trucks filled with concrete rumbling down into a tunnel beneath my home? 

"We have a Gaza City under the ground and we have nothing up here," said one 23 year old man in Gaza. A neighbor said that he was afraid to rebuild. "I give it 99.5 percent that our house will be destroyed again. I go crazy thinking about it." 

In Johar al-Deek, along Gaza's 32-mile edge, a mother said she had sold four sheep and her gold jewelry, used her savings and borrowed money to scrape up $8750 to buy a quarter of an acre in sight of the border fence with Israel. The land near the border is all she can afford--inland, a plot that size would have cost $20,000. 

This mother knows that there are probably tunnels under the property. A few months ago, a relative slipped into a tunnel after heavy rains and had to be pulled out by passers-by. "We lost our home last time," said this mother. "This time we fear for the souls of our children." 

Back in Israel, the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, an organization advocating Jewish-Arab coexistence, has raised more than $18,500 in crowd funding to cover legal fees and to help pay for the studies of Maisam Abu Alqian, the 19-year-old student who was beaten by a plainclothes border policeman. "I thank all the donors from my heart," Abu Alqian said in a statement on the fundraising page. "Now I know what help is. I'm waiting to utilize my rights and bring back my honor. I hope that what happened to me will lead to a change in the law, so policemen will not be able to beat civilians." 

He has legal rights. He is confident he can fight for them. He has open allies, helping him along. 

The Gazans in this story are not so lucky. They know their government is planning to use their children's bodies for propaganda purposes, and yet, because they fear this government, they cannot complain, speak out or even move. Please understand, I am neither a knee-jerk Palestinian supporter nor a knee-jerk Israeli supporter. I just want people to think. I know many people who think that Palestinians are victims of Evil Israel, plain and simple. Reality, as these stories show us, is far more complicated. 

(*Explanation of Ethiopian, Haredi and Hilltop Youth Jews.)

Required military service has
been a great leveler for Ethiopian Jews.

Ethiopian Jews are a visible minority in Israel, making up just under 2% of the population. Although some Ethiopian Jews emigrated to Israel in 1934, most were brought as refugees in waves from 1960's through today. They came from a subsistence, farming economy with a mostly oral-history culture, and many had very little formal/written education. Their children have mostly assimilated into Israeli society, but there is still an employment problem.  Ethiopian Jews tend to earn less than Israeli Arabs. 
Haredi Jews scuffle with border police

The term Haredi covers a wide spectrum of ultra-Orthodox groups. Today, they make up 13% of the Jewish population of Israel, but because the average Haredi family has five children, by 2030, they will make up 20% of the population. Haredim, also known as "Black hats," shun modernity and live in isolated communities even within cities. Once a tiny remnant of Europe's yeshiva, or religious school, past, and thus excluded from military service--to make sure this history survived--they are now a powerful political bloc, growing ever more conservative in their behavior, in many cases trying to force women to walk on separate sidewalks from men, and often actively opposed to the existence of a Jewish state, claiming that only God can create such a state and God hasn't done so yet. Today, half the haredim population of Israel is under 16 years old. In new Haredi cities, half the population is under age 11. Because their parents' religious beliefs decry most kinds of employment, three-quarters of Haredi children in Israel live below the poverty line. 

 Hilltop youths are hardline, nationalist young people, mostly men, who establish illegal outposts in the West Bank--they are identifiable because they wear long side locks and a large, crocheted kipah and they have been found guilty of hate crimes against Palestinians. 

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