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Accepting the truth about Umm al-Hiran killing isn't enough

The slander and lies that accompanied the lethal shooting of a Bedouin teacher in Umm al-Hiran last month were nothing out of the ordinary. Walking it back won’t be enough.

Israeli policemen stand guard in front of the car of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qi'an, who was shot dead by Israeli police in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Israeli policemen stand guard in front of the car of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qi’an, who was shot dead by Israeli police in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

In the end, it took a looming police internal affairs report for one of Israel’s most senior government ministers to even consider walking back his insistent mislabeling of last month’s double killing in Umm al-Hiran as a terrorist attack. For weeks, even as every single detail of the police’s account of the incident withered in the face of witness testimony and video evidence, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan — along with the police — stuck to their characterization of events as terrorism, all while baselessly invoking the ISIS bogeyman.

Police instantly labeled the January 18 incident — in which Umm al-Hiran resident and teacher Yaqoub Abu al-Qi’an, ahead of a spate of home demolitions in the village, was shot while driving his car, subsequently losing control of his vehicle and running over and killing police officer Erez Levi — a car-ramming attack, a narrative unquestioningly picked up by the Israeli media.

Yet even as the media narrative began to change, driven by investigations published on +972 Magazine and Local Call, the police doubled down, as did Erdan; weeks later, he was still claiming that he believed it was a terror attack. He also saw fit to call on the attorney general to open an investigation into several Palestinian Knesset members — among them Joint List head Ayman Odeh, himself the subject of a litany of police lies exposed by +972’s Mairav Zonszein, surrounding the events in Umm al-Hiran that day — for incitement to violence and even murder. Meanwhile, at Levi’s funeral, Israel’s bumbling police commissioner, Roni Alsheikh, repeated the unfounded claim that Abu al-Qi’an was a violent radical.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

It is extremely unlikely that the lone calls for Erdan and Alsheikh’s resignations will be heeded. In a country where the “complexity” of a situation can be cited as justification for giving a soldier an 18-month sentence for executing a Palestinian, authorities are likely to shrug off what will doubtless enter the books as a little name-calling in the wake of a chaotic incident. And inciting against Arabs has, lest we forget, not typically proven a hindrance to a political career in Israel.

But even if both men resign or are fired, it will be meaningless. What happened in Umm al-Hiran — shoot first, don’t ask questions later, and slander to cover your back — is a default, recurring sequence of events on both sides of the Green Line which has claimed the lives of countless Palestinians over the years, while denying justice to their grieving families. The semblance of redress here — an investigation that retrospectively corrects the false characterization of events — is a fig leaf. Just like “Hebron shooter” Elor Azaria’s trial and subsequent sentencing, it is at once an exception that proves the rule and a tokenistic gesture that makes a mockery of the justice it claims to be restoring.

There is a very simple reason why this keeps happening: for the Israeli establishment and security forces, not to mention large sections of society, Palestinians are eternally deserving of suspicion. The cluster of racist assumptions that undergirds Israeli public discourse vis-a-vis Palestinians — that they are by nature violent, driven by mindless anti-Semitism, and value death over life — has evolved effortlessly into the hoax that when Jews are harmed, Palestinians are somehow at fault. Defying both chronological and geographical borders, and bumped along by a heavy dose of Islamophobia, this attitude has given us everything from Netanyahu’s ludicrous comments suggesting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem instigated the Holocaust, to the recent calumny of an “arson intifada” that wasn’t.

Yet aside from the incitement, defamation and the ever-swelling bigotry, the biggest human cost of this racist mindset has been in its creation of a terrible, lethal impulse that underscores Israeli security forces’ open-fire regulations with a de facto “better safe than sorry” policy. This approach, coupled with the extent to which the value of Palestinian lives has been degraded by decades of ethnic cleansing, occupation and racist discourse, has blighted every part of the map of Israel-Palestine — from Gaza to Kafr Kanna, from Beitunia to East Jerusalem, from Nabi Saleh to Umm al-Hiran. Over the years and throughout the country, these extrajudicial killings have been carried out with near-impunity.

And that is why any theoretical firing or resignation of the latest ringleaders of the official incitement against Palestinians would be effectively meaningless. Israel’s political culture and security apparatus are geared up to produce men like Erdan and Alsheikh, and to cultivate the views behind their racist caricaturing of Arabs. The loss of life in Umm al-Hiran and the slander and lies that followed were not an aberration, but evidence of the system running like clockwork. It would take a lot more than a ceremonial changing of the guard to make any real difference.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      Once again – if you go over to the Breaking the Silence website you can find righteous Jews willing to expose the fact that Israel has turned the West Bank into Alabama circa 1900. As the late Leonard Cohen might have said – everybody knows.


      And if you want to talk to people in person who know about this stuff, it’s not hard.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Once again:

        Abbas refuses to negotiate without setting preconditions.

        No negotiations? No peace is possible!

        No peace? No end to the occupation!

        So, since the Palestinian Arabs keep up their terror campaign, using the excuse of “the occupation”, then Israel needs to do what it needs to do in order to protect Israeli citizens. And Breaking the silence as well as other sanctimoneous critics can shove their criticism where the son does not shine if they don’t like the results that come with the need to protect Israeli citizens.

        The thing to remember is that no one else in our shoes would act differently. And many would do worse things than we do in order to protect THEIR citizens.

        Reply to Comment
        • Elisabeth

          “The thing to remember is that no one else in our shoes would act differently. And many would do worse things than we do in order to protect THEIR citizens.”

          The bad Arabs force us to be cruel, but they would be worse in our place, because we celebrate life and they celebrate death. etc. etc. ad nauseam.

          That is the level of the average Israeli contribution to moral thought. Laughable, self congratulatory, racist crap. Truly a light unto the nations among colonial regimes. And as Israel is the world’s self proclaimed ‘Jewish state’, this stuff rubs off on Jews world-wide.

          What a terrible mistake the violent and unjust way in which Israel was created has been for all involved. A tragedy that has dumbed down Jewish communities worldwide, and that will increasingly poison relations between Jews and other communities.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          “since the Palestinian Arabs keep up their terror campaign”

          What “terror campaign” would that be? Diplomatic “terror”? Legal “terror”? The “terror” that serves as Israel’s faithful security handmaiden in the territories?

          Every day and night the IDF and the settlers terrorize the Palestinians. It is the cheapest rhetorical trick to pose this as terror flowing one way (towards you) and it is a further trick to say that the flow of terror from Palestinians to Israelis matches or exceeds the flow of terror the other way. The flow the other way, towards the Palestinians, is much greater.* But you wouldn’t see that, would you?

          So enough with your self-righteousness. You are all wet in that regards. Occupation as protective device is such bullshit that even you must blush writing it. At least Lewis from Afula and Halevy are honest ideological judeofascists. I’ll give them that. Though they make up all sorts of other dishonest stuff in the service of that honestly owned up to ideology.


          *You make the calculation “mistake” of the guy who takes a brief shower once a month and thinks he’s saving water, but at the same time neglects to fix his heavily dripping faucet and does not realize that the steady flow from the constantly, massively leaking faucet, that he is so used to he does not notice it, greatly surpasses the flow from the monthly shower.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “What “terror campaign”

            Benny is playing dumb again. He looks at you innocently, puts his hand on his heart and asks his inane question:

            This terror campaign, Benny:

            “Seventeen months of terror – 13 September 2015 to the present

            In 2016, 12 vehicular ramming attacks and 100 stabbing attacks were thwarted by security forces.
            Since 13 September 2015, 47 people have been killed in terrorist attacks and 659 people (including 4 Palestinians) injured.
            There have been 169 stabbing attacks and 104 attempted stabbings; 133 shootings; 55 vehicular (ramming) attacks; and one vehicle (bus) bombing”

            According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC), beginning in September 2015, there has been a wave of terrorist attacks which began on the Temple Mount and in east Jerusalem. The attacks later spread to Judea and Samaria and even crossed the Green Line into Israel under the battle cry of “Al-Aqsa mosque is in danger.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            It’s not a “campaign.” It’s lone wolf actors or isolated and uncoordinated individuals. Whereas the occupation is most definitely a campaign. Israel’s activities in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem resulted in the deaths of 39 Palestinians and 3,964 injuries in 2013; and in the deaths of 2,314 Palestinians and 17,125 injuries in 2014. According to the annual report by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In the unrest between September 2015 and June 2016, Israeli casualties included 38 killed, 558 injured, while Palestinian casualties included 235 killed, 3917 injured. And 7,955 detained. (Zero Israelis were detained, of course, or if a few were, the physical and legal circumstances were vastly different.) We could quibble endlessly about the details and the numbers of course but the huge disparity, the imbalance, will remain. You still have your terrorism flow accountability issue. The occupation is terrorism. That really just never occurs to you. It never penetrates the thick layers of self-righteousness. So used are you to complaining about being a victim that it never occurs to you, does it?

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “No peace? No end to the occupation!”

            You put the cart before the horse as Mitchell Plitnick explained here”

            But I am interested in your explanation Benny. And it seems to be that you want an end to the occupation BEFORE the Palestinian Arabs sign a peace deal. That will not happen. Especially if the 100 year old terror campaign by the Arabs against Jews continues. If it stops, the best that can happen is some form of autonomy for the Arabs before they sign a peace deal.

            But realistically, the Arabs will insist that such an autonomy would still be occupation and they will use it as an excuse to continue their terrorist attacks against us. Just look at Gaza.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “it seems to be that you want an end to the occupation BEFORE the Palestinian Arabs sign a peace deal.”

            Well, no. You tirelessly confuse things. Your arguments depend upon this kind of basic confusion and mashing everything together. As Plitnick says, “you don’t get an agreement from peace, you get peace from an agreement.”

            The prepositions “before” and “from” mean two different things.

            Reply to Comment