Throughout the last couple weeks, we have been inundated with media commentaries and news reports highlighting Israel’s daily war against “terrorism.” Their war has become our war, it is being said. But is there symmetry?
September 11 is a day that will live in infamy for Americans. But comparing attacks on Israeli targets to an attack that killed nearly 7,000 innocent people is as outrageous as someone comparing every massacre around the world to the Jewish Holocaust. Israelis and Jews around the world would be rightfully angry, and so should we be angry at this attempt at symmetry. As the French ambassador to Israel recently pointed out, the attacks in Israel are done within the context of a conflict. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as using commercial airliners, were not carried out within a conflict. Big difference.
Some are saying that Israel is the target of attacks because it is Western and it is a democracy. Apparently, a brutal occupation of Palestinians has little to do with this. Go figure. The issue of Westernization is certainly up for discussion in certain areas of the Arab World. But visit Amman with major American franchises, Beirut with a Hard Rock Café, Starbucks in Cairo, and American-clothed Palestinian university students in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem — the Western influence is everywhere and it continues to grow, happily. The populations in the Middle East do have serious, legitimate issue with our US foreign policy, which offers blind support for Israel. But to say that Israel’s western style of life makes it the object of hatred is really a stretch. As are the claims by terror experts in the US that “we are hated because they are jealous of our life style.”
As to the issue of democracy, Israel is a democracy…for its Jewish citizens. Discrimination against Palestinian Christians and Muslims living inside Israel is renowned and was recently condemned by Amnesty International. In terms of how Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are living? Imagine Israeli tanks outside of every city, bulldozers making their regular rounds and demolishing homes, the restriction of travel even to medical facilities during emergencies, turning Palestinian schools into Israeli military bases, not being able to go to work, food and medicine are in dire need, etc. Do democratic countries do this?
With the daily symmetry to Israel’s security issues comes an increased focus of the Israeli system of fighting terror. But we need to be careful. Israel has a history of torturing Palestinians in the name of security, and most recently Palestinian youth é according to Israel’s own B’tselem. Despite a ban on torture by Israel’s High Court of Justice in 1999, the torture never stopped. Enough loopholes were given to Israeli interrogators. According to one article, nearly 80% of Palestinians who have been tortured were never prosecuted for crimes. Israel says it is necessary as they have produced confessions. Who isn’t going to confess to a crime when scalding hot water is poured over their bodies, they are deprived of sleep, are told that their mothers and sisters are going to be raped, or are placed in contorted positions for days? What will our country become should it adopt such uncivilized measures?
The David Ben-Gurion Airport has been highlighted and lauded in media reports. The strict security measures, unfortunately, are only administered to those of Arab descent or supporters of known Palestinian human rights. Arabs are often separated and subjected to strip searches. Jews are not. One Michigan grandmother, who accommodated a delegation of American Christians and Palestinians, was separated and told to take off her removable cast. There is nothing admirable about a system that bases a security system based on one’s ethnicity or support for a particular group’s rights. Even though a recent, disturbing poll shows that most Americans now support racial profiling of Arab-Americans, is it possible that we would also support strip searches and humiliating interrogations? Our love for liberties and dignity would hopefully win out.
At a time when Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans have already encountered violence, threats, vandalism, and intimidation, it is important that we not glorify systems that have been deemed barbaric from as far away as Denmark. Recently, Danes protested against the Israeli ambassador, Carmi Gillon for supportive comments of torture. Our nation is in mourning. Changes are required. But if we change our system to one that tortures people and officially discriminates against certain groups, then we will have lost our nation forever.
Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American activist, lawyer, and freelance journalist.