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A Tale of Murder

July 23, 2011

On March 11, 2011, two teenagers from the village of Awarta in the Apartheid ruled West Bank took a kitchen knife and a wire cutter and set to the neighboring Jewish settlement of Itamar under the cover of the night. They cut the wire in the settlement’s security fence and then roamed around, looking for settlers to kill. They then stumbled on the house of the Fogel family who were asleep at the time. They killed the parents, Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their six children, aged 11, 4 and a three months old infant.

It was a gruesome murder. Israel’s “hasbarah” was quick to disseminate around the world gore images of the dead as a proof of Palestinian savagery. Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu quickly approved large scale constructions in the West Bank settlements as a collective punishment for Palestinians and a reward to Jewish settlers groups.

But what happened next helps shed some light on the machinations of Israel’s apartheid rule in the territories, for those of you who are unfamiliar:

Shortly following the news of the murder, the Israeli military set its sights on the Palestinian village of Awarta, located a short walking distance from Itamar, the ultra-nationalist orthodox Jewish settlement built on Palestinian land.

The village of Awarta was quickly sealed and declared a closed military zone (a “closed military zone” in IDF parlance means that reporters are not allowed and the army can do as it pleases, without any legal hindrance). A curfew was imposed and the IDF conducted mass arrests of Palestinians throughout the following days. All men from Awarta were rounded up and questioned. Israeli troops conducted door-to-door searches of all houses in the village, sometimes forcefully breaking into houses, rummaging through basements, cabinets and closets, leaving their homes in shambles. Israeli armored vehicles patrolled the village’s streets, and troops were deployed on the hilltops around the village. The city of Nablus, home to 125,000 Palestinians was put under closure. On March 29, 2011, Israeli forces initiated a second wave of arrests in Awarta, detaining 60 Palestinians, including the Deputy Mayor of Awarta.  A week later, the IDF arrested more than 100 women from the village, placing them in a camp where they were fingerprinted and DNA samples were taken. On April 11, daily IDF raids continued in the village, and troops continued to maintain roadblocks at the entrance. Soldiers humiliated residents and damaged large amounts of property. Just as it had been the modus operandi in the past 44 years of colonization, Israel seized land around the village to expand nearby Jewish settlements.

Eventually, the raids and interrogations led to the arrest of Amjad Mahmad Awad and Hakim Mazen Awad, two teenagers from the village of Awarta, who confessed the crime.

To the vast majority of Israelis, the above portrayal of the manhunt seems quite natural, they will read about it without batting an eyelid – after all, most Israelis alive today were born into the de-facto Apartheid regime, existing since 1967 where Palestinians are  considered some sort of a “foreign hostile population” living on “our land” who have an irrational hatred of Jews and are inherently savages, bound to be violent.

When I lived in Israel, I remember hearing occasionally on the news about the IDF demolishing a Palestinian family’s home as a punitive measure – a barbaric practice that collectively punishes innocents, let alone a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention. You hear about it and you don’t blink an eye. Growing up into the reality of Apartheid, this sounds to you as normal as the sun rising in the morning. After all, the IDF demolishes only “their” houses and it is done for “our” security. Those mantras are never questioned.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that to most Israelis, the fact that you do not need search warrants or arrest warrants to detain Palestinians and rummage through their homes, does not even sound strange.  A Jewish family living in Itamar has the full protection of the law and the military, while a Palestinian family that lives only a few hundred yards away has none. Raids into Palestinian homes are conducted by army troops, not police. Curfews are imposed on Palestinians, never on Jews. Collective punishment of Palestinians is accepted by most Israeli society without questioning. At the command of a local military commander, the IDF can break into their house, order the inhabitants out, and use it as an outpost. He can also confiscate their land for “security purposes” or hand it to the nearest Jewish settlement. There is no court or police they can appeal to. There are no lawyers, due process or juries, except for military kangaroo courts. Torture is practiced regularly by Israel’s security services, naturally, only against Palestinians. They can be summarily rounded up and put in a detention camp without trial or a hearing.

A murder of a Palestinian by a settler on the other hand, will be dealt by the police, with full due process and the settler’s sentence will most likely be commuted or the investigation whitewashed. This is the reality of Apartheid where different sets of laws apply to different groups of people living on the same land. One group dispossesses, the other is dispossessed.

Israel's system of Apartheid - different laws for settlers of Itamar and residents of Awarta who live next to each other. Click for larger image.

So when a couple of teenagers – who were born and grew up their entire life under Israel’s system of oppression, who have watched their village’s lands confiscated for the building of “Jew only” settlements of hard core religious Jewish nationalists who regularly abuse them, who have seen their relatives humiliated, detained, tortured and killed by the IDF – when someone eventually snaps – Israel seizes the opportunity for propaganda, both abroad and at home,  to prove the “savagery of Palestinians”. The apartheid (or “occupation” as some people prefer to call it) is then justified by Palestinian violence, as has been the Israeli government claim, turning around a simple cause and effect in a cynical way.

One day, after being pushed a bit in a heated debate, my mother – who by no means could be suspected of being a “bleeding heart liberal Jew” – admitted that “what is done to Palestinians is what had been done to Native Americans”. I was shocked at such an admission by someone who buys Israeli propaganda lock stock and barrel and believes in every one of the Zionist myths taught in Jewish schools. That proved to me that most Israelis deep in their hearts realize that the Palestinians are victims, put into a no-win situation; they are offered only the choice between the stick and the bigger stick. There is no room for them in the grand Zionist plan. You either stay put and your lands get confiscated, you continue living in a brutal apartheid regime indefinitely without any basic human rights, or you resist and then the Israelis escalate their heavy handed tactics, unleashing their American supplied military power and accelerating their colonization of your land, claiming to be victims of Palestinian savagery.

My mother was right of course. But as it is for most Jews in Israel, it is more convenient to imagine yourself as a victim, part of a “benevolent and humane society reluctantly forced to commit crimes” by Palestinian behavior. So ingrained is the human desire to believe that “we are the good guys” that you eagerly embrace any argument that justifies the crime and oppression, no matter how ridiculous it is.

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