A top military official dubiously declares that a Palestinian teen shot in the head by Israeli soldiers actually just had a bicycle accident. Welcome to a new era of Palestinian dehumanization.
The evidence was there for all to see. Anyone who wanted to know why 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, Ahed Tamimi’s cousin, has only two-thirds of his skull intact could find the answer. There was the bloodied rubber-coated bullet doctors removed from his cranium. There were the eyewitnesses who saw Tamimi as he was shot in the head during a demonstration in his village, Nabi Saleh. There were the medical reports and multiple surgeries in a Ramallah hospital. There was the medically induced coma that lasted for a week.
Evidence wasn’t enough. It hardly ever is.
Maj. Gen. Yoav “Poli” Mordechai, the Israeli army officer charged with running the military government that rules over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank, decided to own the narrative Monday night. Mohammed was not shot in the head, wrote Mordechai in an Arabic-language Facebook post. His injuries were the result of a bicycle accident. According to Mordechai, “the boy” confessed under interrogation by both the police and COGAT (the military government). (It’s not clear why COGAT was present for the interrogation of a minor.) The post included an image of a news story about the initial shooting with the words “Fake News” stamped on it in red Arabic text.
The vast majority of the Hebrew-language media, whose raison d’être should be to hold accountable those in power, did no such thing. As my colleague Haggai Matar noted, one by one, Hebrew-language news outlets published Mordechai’s claims almost verbatim, not even paying lip service to the easily attainable documentation and facts that undermine the official narrative.
The humiliation of Mohammed Tamimi is part of a larger war being waged by Israeli politicians and institutions against the Tamimi family ever since his cousin, Ahed, was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier outside her home — shortly after she heard about the bullet that penetrated Mohammed’s skull. The education minister has called for Ahed to be permanently jailed, while a former Israeli ambassador to the United States accused the Tamimi family of being “fake,” even admitting he initiated a secret parliamentary inquiry into whether they are just a troupe of actors.
To call into question the circumstances of Palestinian casualties is par for the course among defenders of Israel’s military dictatorship. Accusations of “Pallywood,” the staunch belief (and yes, it is a belief) that Palestinians actively stage their own injuries and deaths to garner sympathy on the world stage, have become a core element of occupation ideology. But Mohammed’s arrest, and the brazen lies used to justify it, are exemplary of the new era of Palestinian dehumanization.
There is a basic, almost intuitive refusal by most Israelis to believe Palestinians — about anything. Legless protesters shot dead on the Gaza border, teenagers whose skulls were penetrated by a rubber bullet, or victims of brutal beatings by Israeli soldiers all become fodder for those whose worldview rests on defending military dictatorship at all costs. And while those who propagate such theories view themselves as purveyors of truth, their attacks on victims of the occupation have far more in common with deranged, racist conspiracy theories like birthirism, 9/11 Truthers — even age-old anti-Semitic tropes.
Mohammed Tamimi is not the first victim of the Israel’s deliberate attempts to turn falsehoods into truths. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was famous for his attempts to convince the world that massacres committed under his watch were distortions by anti-Semites and Arab states intent on destroying the Jewish state.
We are 50 years into Israel’s military dictatorship over the Palestinians, and military dictatorship requires its own ideology. It requires believing that the value of one’s humanity rests on devaluing that of the perceived enemy, whether he is an Islamic Jihad militant, an anti-occupation activist, or a 15-year-old boy with half a skull. Defeating that enemy requires, first and foremost, his or her utter dehumanization. Once that is accomplished, you can do anything you want to them.