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The Discrimination Game

The Occupier Defines Justice

by AMIRA HASS

On Jerusalem’s Jabotinsky Street, opposite the President’s Residence, a medium-sized plaque is fixed on a locked gate, enclosing a broad building and a lovely garden: "This building was the location of the British Mandate Government’s High Military Court, which held the trials of the Hebrew resistance fighters from the Haganah, Etzel and Lehi." The sign bears the emblems of the Jerusalem municipality and the three resistance organizations. It further notes: "The resistance fighters refused to acknowledge the authority of the court to judge them, and asked to be recognized as prisoners of war."

The speaker of the Palestinian Authority’s parliament, who was arrested two weeks ago by the Israel Defense Forces, also refused to acknowledge the authority of the Military Court to judge him. Obviously the two latest detainees, whose arrest was deemed by Israel to be the appropriate solution to its shortcomings in releasing kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, will make the same declaration. Nasser A-Shaer, the Palestinian education minister and deputy prime minister, and Mahmoud Ramahi, chief whip of the Palestinian Legislative Council, were arrested on Saturday and Sunday. Incidentally, the Palestinians have lately ceased using the verb "arrested" in regards to the arrests of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. Instead they use the verb "abducted."

These three detainees/abducted join about 10,000 other Palestinian prisoners and detainees. As with the prisoners of the Hebrew resistance, who saw themselves as POWs regardless of their actions (killing British soldiers or Arab civilians), some Palestinians request that their prisoners be declared POWs. Others prefer the definition of political prisoners. Let’s let the definitions rest. In any case, from the offense to the jailing, Israel, as an occupying force, plays around with the definitions as it sees fit.

On Sunday, at 4:30 A.M., IDF soldiers shot and killed a worker, Jalal Uda, 26, and injured three other Palestinian civilians. This happened not far from the Hawara checkpoint, south of Nablus. Palestinian newspapers referred to it as the "crime scene." The young men rode a taxi in a road bypassing the checkpoints. For the last several weeks the army has again forbidden young men under age 32 from leaving Nablus. But people have to make a living, and thousands are looking for hidden routes. An offense punishable by death, so it seems. The soldiers acted as prosecutor, judge and executioner. According to the rules of occupation, when soldiers kill Palestinian civilians, they and those who sent them are never criminals, suspects, accused or convicts. The brigadier general who limits the age of those who exit the Nablus compound, by virtue of his belonging to the "Defense Army" can also not be considered a criminal, suspect or convict.

When a Palestinian kills an Israeli–soldier or civilian–his name, picture and details of his indictment will be published. He will automatically be condemned to life in jail, and his prime minister or the leader of his organization will be considered responsible and hence a target for arrest or assassination. The soldiers who kill Palestinian civilians are sheltering under the wide apron of the occupation army. Their names will not be known in public, and their prime minister and commanders will not be deemed accountable.

The Palestinian detainees are led to a military court: The same military establishment that occupies and destroys and suppresses the civilian population is the one that determines that to resist occupation–even by popular demonstrations and waving flags, not only by killing and bearing arms–is a crime. It is the one to prosecute, and it is the one to judge. Its judges are loyal to the interest of defending the occupier and the settler.

Allegedly every Palestinian is tried, convicted and jailed as a private person who committed a criminal offense. But a sharp discrimination in the conditions of imprisonment proves that the Palestinian security prisoner is punished not as an individual, but as a representative of a group, as part of its overall suppression. Contrary to international law, the majority of Palestinian prisoners and detainees are not held in the occupied territory, but rather inside Israel. Contrary to popular myth, Israel does not respect the right to regular family visits.

The army does its best to disrupt the visitation schedule, using various security and technical excuses. Only relations of the first degree (parents, siblings and children) are allowed to visit the prisoners, but hundreds of them have not had the privilege of any visits for several years. The right to make daily use of a telephone is given to the most dangerous of criminal prisoners, and is denied from Palestinian security prisoners, among them citizens and residents of Israel. This is done via a weak and unconvincing excuse of a security establishment that has advanced and effective surveillance devices. The path of sentence reduction and clemency is open to the Jew (especially when he is a settler) and is almost hermetically shut to the Palestinian.

It is no wonder that the Palestinians support every action–such as kidnapping soldiers–that tries to break the rules of this discrimination game. Every Palestinian prisoner’s personal history is an expression of the freedom Israel allows itself in the implanting of an extreme subculture of double standard, discriminating blood from blood, human being from human being, nation from nation.

AMIRA HASS writes for Ha’aretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.