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Why a Jewish state cannot fully protect its non-Jewish citizens

Israeli police’s failure to stop the murder of two young Bedouin sisters highlights the arbitrariness of citizenship and discrimination for Palestinians under occupation – regardless of whether they are citizens.

Israeli police [illustrative photo] (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Abir Dandis, the mother of the two girls found dead in an unrecognized Bedouin village in southern Israel last Tuesday, is not an Israeli citizen. In a more perfect world, her citizenship status wouldn’t matter, considering she is in an abusive relationship and her daughters’ lives were in imminent danger.

But the Israel Police were well aware of her citizenship status when she went to alert them of her concerns for her daughters’ safety and begged them for help, just one day before the two girls were killed. As Dandis told the press, Israeli police ignored her repeated complaints in both the Arad and Ma’ale Adumim stations, because she is Palestinian. This is likely why they didn’t feel responsible for acting on her complaints, and instead referred her to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Coordination and Liaison Committee.

Dandis is from Al-Azaria, a town east of Jerusalem in Area B of the West Bank. Area B is under Palestinian civil authority and Israeli security authority, so the Israel Police are in fact responsible for acting there. Furthermore, the girls’ father, who is the prime suspect in their murder, is an Israeli citizen. On top of that, the crime itself took place inside Israel, so any way you look at it, the Israel Police appears to be responsible – and this is likely why the senior officers involved were almost immediately dismissed. Unfortunately, the fact that police are now assuming responsibility cannot bring the girls back.

This horrible murder is a prime example of how efforts to seek refuge from domestic violence can become entangled and entirely dependent on the fuzzy and Kafkaesque guidelines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Under any reasonable norms, anyone living under Israeli rule should be able to seek protection from the police regardless of their citizenship or residency status. But as Amira Hass points out today in Haaretz, Dandis found herself in the “legal-bureaucratic maze created by the Oslo Accords.” It is a system in which Palestinian police are barred from taking action against Israeli civilians and Israeli police are less than eager to deal with internal Palestinian crime – even in areas under their direct jurisdiction.

Liberal Israelis often argue that Palestinian citizens of Israel – who are discriminated against in nearly all aspects of civilian life because they are not Jews – deserve to be treated equally because they hold citizenship. But is that really possible in a place where nearly all aspects of life are determined by the national security interests of Israeli Jews alone?

Examples of discrimination against non-Jews are abundant on both sides of the Green Line. In the West Bank, Israeli security forces regularly refuse and fail to protect Palestinians from settler violence. Inside Israel, the government is pushing forward plans to displace its own Bedouin citizens so that Jewish settlements can be erected on the remnants of their villages.

In that context of the reality of Israeli rule, the murder of Dandis’s daughters – and the Israeli police’s failure to stop it – highlights the way the Jewish state has succeeded in compartmentalizing control over West Bank Palestinians. Israel has taken all the power over land and resources but almost none of the responsibility for protecting the people there. This is essentially a de facto definition of Israeli occupation.

And after all, doesn’t Abir Dandis deserve to be treated with respect and dignity by Israeli authorities that have direct control over her life, even though she is not a citizen? This is why international law stipulates that the occupying force must protect the occupied population.

In its Basic Laws, Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. The current Knesset is even debating a new law that would prioritize Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic one. When the state actively defines itself as belonging to one people, and not all its citizens, it should come as no surprise that Israeli authorities do not feel responsible for protecting Palestinians, regardless of whether they are citizens.

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    1. Joel

      Good article.


      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      A useless analysis, sorry to say.

      The worst of it is, if you site “it is impossible for a Jewish state to afford equal rights to non-Jews”, you GIVE cover for not trying to.

      Revolutionary fantasy is that bad for reality.

      Reply to Comment
    3. tal

      its a long article about an ugly murder and not even one word about the murderer.
      the police’s blames is clear. and the only jewish state in the worls is un eqwality, thats clear too. the fact that the police chief was released from duty show how disrespectfull this jews police are…
      and the killer? the father (who’s by the way have at least one more wife) that killed hus daughters to revenge (?) there mother- does it says anything about him or about his culture and religion? about the atmosphire in the society which he came from?
      when you see evil and the only blame you see is how jews are bad, what does it makes you?

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        In an Arab society the man would not be charged with anything, so obviously he is not guilty.

        Reply to Comment
      • This article is not accusing the police of failing to act because they happened to be Jewish, but because of a discriminatory system that left this resident of Area B without police protection. Under occupation, the Palestinian police are prohibited from taking action against an Israeli citizen. The Israeli police refused to act. Abir Dandis and her daughters were left in limbo as a result. This is a direct consequence of a system that privileges one group of people over another. Releasing a couple of police officers when the consequences of this came to light cannot redress the inequalities that are embedded into the policing and legal systems. The problem isn’t with individual policemen.

        As for whether culture plays a part in producing violence against women – yes, it undoubtedly does. In the UK alone, two women die every week at the hands of a violent male partner. Worldwide, that figure is one woman every eighteen seconds. People working to save these women’s lives (aka feminists) have been pointing to the cultural factors that contribute to such violence for decades – objectification of women in media and advertising, porn, prostitution, all things that nurture the idea that women can be bought and sold as so much property and beaten and raped as a matter of course. For various other reasons, women suffering domestic abuse can find it difficult to get help and support even without the additional obstacles faced by the Dandis girls. So by all means criticise the cultural factors that help to sustain and even normalise a global culture of male violence against women, and that make it harder for women to get out of abusive homes. It is important to look at this problem holistically. However, when we get down to the specifics of this case, it is undeniable that if it had been a Israeli Jewish woman at the police station, those girls would probably still be alive today. They didn’t receive police help because the regime they live under doesn’t value them as much. They were up against something more than misogyny.

        Reply to Comment
        • Vadim

          Vicky, you say that –

          “This article is not accusing the police of failing to act because they happened to be Jewish” (I think you meant to say not Jewish).

          However, the headline says – “Why a Jewish state cannot fully protect its non-Jewish citizens”

          What we have here is a simple story of Israeli Police impotence that we all know. They mistreat everyone and help only themselves. But people love generalizations, so it became a story about ignoring the woman because “I’m a Palestinian”, occupation etc. But that’s not good enough, so it became a story about how the Jewish state cannot protect its Non-Jewish citizens (!!!).

          There are similar cases all the time. Just a week ago a Jewish woman was murdered because of the same impotence (a policemen came and did nothing). I don’t think any conclusion other than the rotten state of Israeli Police can be found here.

          Reply to Comment
    4. rsgengland

      And would this be why a Muslim State could never be trusted to look after and protect its Jewish Citizens.
      That is why in the space of two generations, a 2500+ years Jewish community in the Arab/Muslim lands was effectively Ethnically Cleansed.
      From a million+ Jews in the Arab/Muslim lands in 1948, to a few thousand today[+/- 4000].
      Minorities in Israel are equal by law [though not always in practice], protected by an Independent Judiciary and more.
      Minorities in the Arab/Muslim lands do Not enjoy these luxuries.

      Reply to Comment
      • You haven’t engaged with any of the points Mairav raises in this article – although you do end up agreeing with her in a back-handed way when you admit that countries run on ethnocratic or theocratic principles can’t fully protect their minorities. I’m not sure you intended to do that.

        Israel has been imposing martial law on Palestinians in the OPT since 1967, and from 1948 until 1966 its own Palestinian citizens were also under military rule. Non-Jews are clearly not equal under the law when there are two separate legal systems in place, with a demonstrable ethnic component. You don’t get to conveniently drape a tablecloth over the Palestinians in the OPT when discussing the rights of non-Jews under Israeli authority – the point is that those people are under Israeli rule, whether they are card-carrying citizens or not, and the treatment they receive must be factored into the analysis of government policies on its non-Jewish mino – majority.

        As for non-Jews being ‘equal by law, if not always in practice’, this could hardly be called a ‘luxury’ even if it were true. There’s nothing particularly luxurious about being equal only on paper, and equality is sometimes lacking even here. There are laws in Israel that discriminate against Palestinian citizens, with the Admissions Committee Law being the most notorious example. This allows communities to screen and reject residents on grounds of ‘social compatibility’, and it happened to be introduced only in the two areas of Israel with the largest Arab populations, the two areas of Israel with an ongoing ‘Judaization’ campaign. You do realise what ‘social compatibility’ is a euphemism for? Even before the law was passed, there were cases of Palestinian citizens of Israel needing to go to court to gain the right to buy houses in certain communities. The law simply formalises ongoing discrimination by making it harder for them to access legal redress if rejected. This is all of a piece with what’s happening to Palestinians in the OPT. Same regime.

        Copying and pasting the same comment you have made on multiple other articles – a comment that boils down to ‘But other countries do it too’ – doesn’t address any of this. Here we have an article about two girls who were murdered because they lived in a legal limbo. The Palestinian police were forbidden to take action against the perpetrator and the Israeli police didn’t want to. A few days ago you wrote, “I am proud of Israel”, yet here you try to exonerate the discriminatory policies that led to this situation by comparing Israel to regimes that are non-democratic and don’t pretend to be otherwise. This causes me to ask what it takes to make you proud, as the threshold doesn’t seem high. These two comments together form a pretty clear illustration of exactly why nationalism gets dangerous. Defending a government becomes a greater priority than facing up to what led to two little girls’ deaths, because the reputation of the nation matters way more than human life. There’s no country on the planet that’s worth that much.

        Reply to Comment
        • rsgengland

          The above article follows a basic pattern in the ‘so called liberal left’ circles; that everything Israel does is greeted with breathless derision, disparagement and vilification, so that one would think that these occurrences are unique to Israel.
          Incidents like this, and others occur to greater, or lesser extent in every single nation, and among every single people on this wonderfully diverse planet of ours.
          The only way we can hope to reduce [impossible to eradicate] occurrences like this, is for peace to break out in the region.
          Once a solution is found to the refugee situation, this may be possible; without a resolution of the refugee issue, I don’t believe peace is remotely attainable.
          As I have said before, the Palestinians can’t/won’t accept anything less than the ‘right of return’; which Israel can’t/won’t accept as it will mean Israels eventual Suicide.
          The Jewish refugees from the Arab/Muslim lands have to factored in as they comprise over 50% of Israels Jewish population.
          It is unlikely that they would want to return to countries where their presence was at best tolerated, and at worst actively discriminated [and worse] against them.

          Reply to Comment
    5. The Israeli State is unequiped to empower equal protection; indeed, much of the active polity is against the principle. Nor is the judiciary truly independent–yet. However, dismissal of senior oversight suggests the contradictions of law are being felt, and that is how things must start.

      I expect (reported) instances like this to rise as socio-economic intergration with the Bank increases. Oslo has been dead for a decade; everything now is Israeli or surrogate rule. The Kafka labyrinth is no excuse.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Vadim

      Israeli Police is incredibly impotent. It’s impotent when it comes to helping Arabs, Jews or anyone else. In fact, the only people who can expect any real assistance from the Police are celebrities.

      Your thoughts may or may not be correct, but you should find something else to base them on. This failure has no deep meaning, just an impotent organization badly doing its job.

      Reply to Comment