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It's time for Israelis to acknowledge that Arab lives matter

As Israelis debate whether an Israeli soldier should or shouldn’t have killed an incapacitated Palestinian, it becomes clear that we know close to nothing about the victims of the occupation.

By Orit Kamir

Elor Azaria is an Israeli soldier, a paramedic, who shot and killed a Palestinian civilian that had previously tried to stab Israeli soldiers in Hebron. Azaria shot the Palestinian in the head when the man was lying on the ground, at Azaria’s feet, helpless and defenseless. Since the event was photographed and publicized, Elor Azaria has been put on trial for manslaughter. His trial is the talk of the town and the country is up in arms over it. Many Israelis — including leading politicians and government members — support Azaria and consider him a hero. Prime Minister Netanyahu called his parents to express his support and sympathy. Israeli media and public discourse never tire of scrutinizing every little detail related to him. Yet no one seems to remember his victim, the young man whose life he took: Abdel Fatah al-Sharif.

Having read media coverage of Azaria’s ADHD, it suddenly hit me that I knew nothing, not a single thing, of his victim; the person whose killing seems to be shaking Israeli society to its core. I know not where he lived, what his life was like, what caused him to go out on his suicide mission. I have no idea what his face looked like; what his eyes conveyed: no one bothered to supply me with his photo. A lengthy search on the internet revealed little: al-Sharif was 21 years old when he died. His body was returned by Israel to his family, and his funeral gave rise to anti-Israeli sentiment. That’s it. That’s all I could find. Apparently, that’s all we, Israelis, want to know about the victim of the killing that supposedly has us exasperated.

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (center), who has been charged with manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect in Hebron, is escorted into military court, March 29, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (center), who has been charged with manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect in Hebron, is escorted into military court, March 29, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Was al-Sharif enraged by the killing of a family member at the hands of Israeli soldiers? Had he lost his job? Did he seek a hero’s death, as did other young Palestinians? Was he influenced by religious ideology? It seems that we, Israelis, couldn’t care less who Abdel Fatah al-Sharif was, and what drove him. To my astonishment, not a single journalist has taken the time to look into these questions, attempting to provide us with even the bare minimum information. We — the public and its media — are busy trying to understand the soldier who shot al-Sharif, his family members, his supporters, the politicians who incited him — everyone but his victim.

The total silence surrounding Abdel Fatah al-Sharif makes clear exactly what has us up in arms. It isn’t the fact that his blood was shed, or that his young life was taken unnecessarily. We are upset about our soldiers opening fire against regulations; about discipline and obedience to army commands; about our international prestige; about political-moral issues such as whether every Palestinian who holds a knife automatically loses his right to live. But Abdel Fatah al-Sharif himself does not interest us, and his death does not affect us. For us he is simply a “terrorist.” As if that title deprives him of his humanity. As if once a “terrorist” — he is no longer Abdel Fatah al-Sharif, a victim of an unnecessary killing; a fellow human deserving of our interest and care.

Abdel Fatah al-Sharif was not a “terrorist”: he did not attack innocent civilians, but rather armed soldiers on occupied territory. Yet we are blind to such “fine distinctions.” To us he was merely a “terrorist” — no one worth thinking or worry about.

The most powerful contemporary slogan in the United States is “Black Lives Matter.” Its purpose is to remind us that while, in fact, the lives of black people do not matter, blacks do have human dignity and deserve full human rights. It is time that we adopt this slogan in Israel and declare, once and for all, that Arab lives matter.

This article has been amended to better reflect the spirit of the original Hebrew.

Dr. Orit Kamir is the head of the Israeli Center for Human Dignity. A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. i_like_ike52

      Considering that many Palestinian leaders, including Abbas himself, have said that all Jews (you know, the people with “Filthy feet”) are fair game to be killed (G-d forbid!) and that any Palestinian who kills any Jew under any circumstances, is considered a hero by official Palestinian society and has streets and parks and other locations named in his honor, then it is no surprise that many terrorist looking for fame in Palestinian society are being killed as we Israeli Jews defend ourselves. Were the Palestinians to turn away from such destructive thinking and policies, the number of Palestinians killed by Israelis would immediately drop to zero. Maybe the Palestinians should give it a try.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Carmen

      Filthy feet entering Muslim holy places you mean? It is a well-known but not honored custom to remove one’s shoes before entering the mosque.

      Do you really want to have named all the streets, schools, airport, etc., named after zionist terrorists? Really?

      How Israel honors the murderers in its midst
      Stanley Heller The Electronic Intifada 31 August 2015

      Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      What “Moslem Holy Places”? The Temple Mount was holy to Jews over 1000 years before the Arab imperialists conquered Eretz Israel in their war of aggression. Jews DO NO enter the mosque and the Dome of the Rock were the shoe removal is mandated by Islamic tradition, Jews only want to pray outside the buildings and there is no Islamic right to control those open places.

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    4. Ben

      Ike, I love the way you’re obsessed with denying the “Islamic right to control open spaces” but think it just fine and dandy to exercise this Jewish Right you think you have to control the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem. Hypocrisy, much? People clinging to this mindset are part of the problem not the solution. The solution cannot come from such dishonesty:
      Saying Israelis and Palestinians can reach peace without outside intervention is like saying George Wallace and MLK could have ended discrimination without federal help.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      Just look at the last dozen articles on this site. And look at +972’s “License to Kill” series. What they document is unified by one theme: In the state of Israel and the territories it occupies, only Jewish lives matter.

      As for the lie that “the number of Palestinians killed by Israelis would immediately drop to zero” if lone teenagers stopped doing desperate things, I’m afraid the purveyor of this nonsense has some reading to do. The Israeli army and settlers kill innocent Palestinians all the time. Israel Hayom, Arutz Sheva and the JPost don’t carry those news items, but I had thought that commenters here actually read +972, and do not just drop by to drop off messages from the far right. It is in fact IDF personnel that call the emptying of an entire magazine on an innocent and harmless person “a celebration.” ==>

      Reply to Comment