When ‘Good Men’ do Nothing


The events that transpired at the Ketziot Detention Center in the Negev Desert on October 22 sound off more than one alarm bell. The most obvious and most devastating is the fact that a 23-year-old Palestinian political prisoner is now dead and 250 others injured as a result of the violent encounter. But the tragic death of Mohammed Al Ashqar is not the only disturbing factor in this recent event. Once again, Israel, which considers itself above the law [international and otherwise] when dealing with the Palestinians, has carried out one more atrocity against this people with impunity.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, Mohammed Al Ashqar from Tulkarm died after being shot in the head by prison wardens and riot police. Al Ashqar, who was taken to the Soroka Hospital first, was reportedly handcuffed to the bed even though he was in a state of clinical death. He died shortly after.

The riots broke out when prisoners objected to a midnight search by prison authorities. Apparently, an agreement between the two sides stipulates that prison authorities would not carry out late-night raids. That night, it was after two in the morning when the authorities stormed the tents.

The Palestinians say the Israeli prison authorities used tear gas and rubber and live bullets against the approximately 2,300 prisoners, causing several injuries and burning down 14 tents. The Israelis, unsurprisingly, have a completely different version. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, prison authorities were forced to enter the tents to carry out a “massive search for concealed weapons.” They say, besides Al Ashqar, only 15 other Palestinians were injured and 15 wardens, who were lightly wounded.

The 535 wardens who participated in the raid used something called “crowd dispersal sachets”, basically a bag full of metal pellets, which Israel claims are “non-lethal”. Israeli prison authorities maintain that the wardens shot the sachets at the prisoners’ legs according to standard procedure, but that Al Ashqar was “bending down” when he was hit in the head.

While the actual events are important and have been covered in the press extensively, it is also imperative to recognize the underlying and often unnoticed layers that characterize Palestinian-Israeli dynamics.

For Israel, killing Palestinians, whether armed members of military groups or unarmed civilians, has become more or less, run-of-the-mill. The world hardly blinks an eye when a Palestinian is killed by Israeli soldiers, settlers or in this case, prison wardens. Perhaps this is partly because the Palestinians are on such unfortunate standing these days with the international community, that in some twisted way, their lives are deemed less valuable than others. But mostly, this imbalance in the sanctity and value of human life –” especially between an Israeli and a Palestinian one –” is due to the complex and intricate web of deception Israel has weaved around the definition of Palestinian.

With the help of others, especially the United States and various other western allies, Israel, regardless of the magnitude of the atrocity it perpetrates, is always able to absolve itself of any wrongdoing. They make themselves out, like the common Arabic saying, “like a hair pulled from a ball of dough” –” completely clean.

But the fact that it happens so often does not make it any more justifiable. Take this incident. Israel killed Al Ashqar, who is married with one son, hours before Israeli troops stormed Jenin and killed Al Quds Brigades commander Khaled Hussein and his assistant Mohammed Jawabri. Mubarak Hasanat was also killed that day when his car was hit by an Israeli missile on the Gaza coastal road.

Israel does not even bother itself with offering credible justifications for killing Palestinian activists. As long as they are so-called “terrorists plotting to kill innocent Israelis”, the Israeli state has given itself every right to shoot and kill whenever it deems appropriate. Never mind that these charges were never made in a court of law or that this sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen in so-called “civilized and democratic countries”. Apparently, the rules that apply to other countries don’t seem to apply to Israel, at least when it comes to the Palestinians. Assumedly, if the riots happened in a prison where Israeli prisoners were held, the outcome would have been different, including legal action taken against the prison authorities. No one in Israel would tolerate such brutality against its citizens, and rightly so.

But if one thing can be learned from this lack of balance between Israel and the Palestinians, is that the latter is usually left to defend itself. Today, for example, demonstrations have broken out throughout the Palestinian territories in protest of Al Asqhar’s death. Furthermore, the prisoners’ movement –” over 10,000 political prisoners in Israeli jails –” declared a one-day hunger strike in protest of yesterday’s events in the desert detention facility. The Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions have strongly condemned the assault on prisoners, calling for the protection of those behind Israeli bars.

Israel says it will open an investigation into the incident, but we all know where Israel’s “investigations” into Palestinian deaths lead: nowhere. Or in the worst case scenario, the investigation will conclude that it was primarily the Palestinians’ fault that its authorities had to use extensive force to quell the riot and additional restrictions placed on the prisoners in order to avoid any future disturbances.

This is certainly not the first time a Palestinian prisoner has died in an Israeli jail. Since the start of the Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, there have been 17 prisoner deaths, according to the Prisoners’ Club. After each death, the Palestinians rise up on anger, condemning the injustice and calling on international organizations to step in and protect the prisoners. And while organizations such as the International Committee for the Red Cross facilitate in matters such as family visits and securing clothes to the men and women behind bars, they are rendered ineffective when Israel orders a shut down. After Monday’s riots at Ketziot, Israeli prison authorities canceled all family visits to the prison.

So basically, the Palestinians, whether inside prison or not, are all at the mercy of Israel’s oppressive policies and Israel, regardless of its actions, is almost always exonerated in the eyes of the international community under the pretext of its “security” and “self-defense.”

Since the Palestinians do not have all the means to persecute Israel for their actions, this responsibility should fall on those people (or countries) of conscience who do. In the words of English philosopher Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”


First published by the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH)