Sunday, February 05, 2006

Double Standards

For those of you who haven't been following the news, last week Israeli security forces evacuated several buildings in an "illegal outpost" called Amona (which I put in quotation marks not because I don't think it's illegal or an outpost, but because I find it interesting that in some cases they are called "illegal outposts" and in others they are called "unregistered villages," depending on where they are and how they got there and whether the inhabitants are Jews or Arabs, but I digress). A whole bunch of people who support the settlement movement, including a lot of teenagers, went there to protest, and the police beat up a bunch of people, and the people threw rocks at the police -- though which happened first depends somewhat on whom you ask-- and the whole thing was violent and made international news and was very bad.

The news and other bloggers have covered this more accurately and comprehensively than I can (or, at least, in more depth, since part of the reason they are talking about it is that everyone has a different version of what went on), so I'm not going to try to go over facts and details that I don't know enough about and which you can easily access elsewhere.

My two cents to throw in has to do with the nature of the arguing going on. The double standards and hypocrisy flying around are just disgusting. What follows is a simplified version of what I'm seeing. (So please don't tell me I'm generalizing. I just said I am!)

To my left, we have people who say, when Israeli forces (that is, the army and/or police) harm Palestinian or Israeli-Arab civilians "We Israelis are no better than any other people, and like others do, we are abusing our power. Our security forces think they can get away with hurting innocent people, and so they do, because they can. That is sick. Something must be done. Those poor people! Why is the army shooting people in the chest when, in the first intifada, they aimed for the legs? Why don't they make sure more carefully that buildings are completely empty before they are bulldozed? Why did they run over Rachel Corrie? How could they shoot a 13-year-old unarmed girl? This is just sick. We people of conscience must speak up."

But when Israeli forces harm Jewish settlers and their supporters, they say "The police are just doing their job! If you are going to build illegally and fight the forces of the law of a democratic country, what do you think will happen? How dare you put teenagers in the middle of a violent protest! You use your children like that, and then think they won't get hurt? This is a democracy, and the police officers are simply carrying out the wishes of the government, and protecting us from harm, and to think that you can circumvent the needs and wishes of a democratic society is just wrong. And you deserve what you get."

To my right, we have people who say, when Palestinians and/or Israeli Arabs complain about army/police brutality: "Israelis would never, ever hurt someone without just cause. If our forces hurt you, it must be that you either did something evil, or at least stupid, and you paid the price. Those people are there to protect us, and if you are going to break laws, disobey orders, or put yourself somewhere you shouldn't be, then you can't expect any better than what you get. And if you haven't done anything wrong, and are hurt anyway, well, it's your leaders' fault. If they were working harder to root out the terrorists, then we wouldn't have to be on our toes like this when it comes to security. The injuries and deaths of innocent people are regrettable, but unavoidable."

But when the Israeli police beat up Jewish teenagers, they say: "It's a pogrom! The Israeli government is out to get us! Everyone else in Israel hates us, they've marginalized us, and now they are abusing their power! This is sick! They are beating up unarmed children!"

Like I said, this is very simplified. But I'm seeing kernels of it in just about every blog post, and every email, I'm reading about Amona. The ones who are saying that "the settlers were asking for it" are usually the same ones who would never dare to say such a thing about Palestinian school children who are shot by Israeli soldiers. And the ones who are saying "the Israeli police just carried out a pogrom" tend to look the other way when other marginalized people -- Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Haredim-- complain that they are not treated equally under the law.

Personally, I think that probably both groups are correct sometimes, and wrong sometimes, depending on which individuals are on each side of the riot gear or gun, and what exactly happened. Each case is different. Every army officer is different. Every police officer is different. Every settlement is different. Every day is different.

But if you ask me, my feeling, from lots of things I've read and heard over the last couple of years, is that Israeli police (in contrast, usually, to the army), are indeed sometimes (?) / often (?) unnecessarily brutal. Israel is a democracy, but it's not America. At least, not like America of 2006. It's more like . . . Tammany Hall. I wouldn't have wanted to be on the wrong side of the police in New York City in the late 1800's. And I wouldn't have wanted to be an unarmed kid at Amona.

I have more confidence in the orderliness and overall, let's say, good intentions of the army. But . . . I would like to know why, for example, so many Palestinians ended up in the hospital with shot-up chests during this intifada, when in the last intifada they came to the emergency room with shot-up legs. Not because I think everyone shot by the Israeli army is a little angel -- remember, I just wrote how terrified I am of Hamas? How I didn't ride buses until recently because they gave me the heebie jeebies?-- but because if shooting for the legs works, why not stick to that? What is really going on, sometimes?

And yet . . . as a non-marginalized person in Israel, and an American, I recognize that we need the police, and we need the army, and they are there to protect us, and we need people to obey laws in order to have a functioning society. It's just that . . . it looks to me like there is a difference between the way we would like to see our security forces, and how they are. And the circumstances under which people use their rose-colored glasses always seems to depend on who is getting hurt, not on what actually happened.


Lots of troubling thoughts here, and frustration because I feel helpless to do anything about it. Except speak up against hypocrisy. Which I just did.

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