When Palestinians point out the obvious – that Israel is hardly a democracy when it comes to them, they are often cast aside as being motivated by the sinister goal of wanting to destroy Israel. All of Israel’s overused defenses of security, their fight against terrorism, their right to defend the Jewish character of their state are all used and reused until the argument dies down.
Understandably, when it comes to the Palestinians, Israel is not going to be very accommodating. Vilifying the “enemy”, even if this enemy is the people Israel occupies and oppresses, is better than confessing to the unwanted truth.
That is why what happened to 19-year old Lucas Koerner is so significant. He is neither Palestinian nor Israeli. He is American and he is Jewish. He believes in standing up for the oppressed and he now understands that doing so has great risks, especially in the streets of east Jerusalem.
On “Jerusalem Day”, June 1 of every year when Israeli settlers and right-wingers take to the streets of the city to celebrate its capture and “reunification” during the 1967 War, Koerner learned what Israel’s democracy means to those who do not cater to its Zionist dream. After peacefully expressing his views on the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Palestinians’ right to freedom, Koerner was brutally beaten and arrested by Israeli police, charged for “attacking and biting” a police officer and detained for two days before being “advised” to leave the country. The young man can be seen on a video speaking calmly but assertively to the intimidating police officers before they wrestled him to the ground, choked him with his kuffiyeh and threw him into a police car.
Anyone who sees the video will see how unthreatening Koerner is. Yes, he spoke about Palestinian rights but he did not hit or push anyone or even raise his voice. He spoke about being a Jew and how Israel does not represent him. “Israel is occupying the Palestinian people in my name and in the name of world Jewry. That is ethically reprehensible,” he can be heard saying.
So, what kind of democracy is Israel? It is definitely not one that serves the Palestinians and it only serves the Palestinians living inside Israel to a certain extent. It is not even safe to say that Israel is a democracy for the Jews only because Lucas Koerner is a Jew and he was not allowed to exercise his democratic right to free expression. Furthermore, he is hardly the only Jew who has been persecuted for his thoughts on Israel and the Palestinians. Norman Finkelstein, not only Jewish, but the son of a Holocaust survivor, is persona non grata in Israel. Last time he tried to enter Israel in 2008 he was met with a 10-year entry ban.
Also in 2008, UN envoy Richard Falk, also an American Jew, was banned entry into Israel, apparently for comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews.
Of course, there are more. Israel, the self-proclaimed democracy of the Middle East, is intolerant of any opinion that diverts from the image it has fashioned for itself over the years. The powerful tool of propaganda is even more powerful in Israel because it is the fundamental adhesive that holds the illusion together. That is why a 19-year old is beaten and arrested, not because he was a Jew wearing a kuffiyeh and a Palestinian flag calling for the end of Israel’s occupation but because he “attacked and bit a police officer.” Norman Finkelstein was banned from the country, not because he criticizes Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians and even the Jews’ own exploitation of the Holocaust, but because he “met with Hizbullah”. And Richard Falk, a humanitarian UN envoy, was barred from entry, not because he was so verbal about the injustices and Israeli crimes against Palestinians in Gaza but because he called Israelis Nazis and that he did not remain within his “mandate” of human rights.
Israel’s faÃ§ade will not remain intact forever. Palestinian voices are louder than ever and those who stand with them are increasingly determined not to remain silent. People like Lucas Koerner, Richard Falk and Norman Finkelstein among thousands of others are making crack after crack in this faÃ§ade of deceit. It is only a matter of time before it breaks wide open for all to see.