A short article posted on the Web site of Israel’s most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronot, described the killing of a Jerusalem resident. According to the article, the man, a young father of two, was shot down by police after he tried to run over one of the officers. Following the killing, his enraged friends and neighbors filled the streets, burning tires and torching a parked car.
The readers’ reaction to the news item was immediate. Within hours there were 150 responses on the Web page, almost all of which reiterated a similar viewpoint: “Come on police, take care of them” (signed Zionist); “Hit them without delay” (an Israeli with high blood pressure); “No mercy” (a Sabra); “Bomb the rioters with a few missiles, it’s not France here”; and finally, “Arabs beware, Israel is not Europe.”
The readers’ reactions were not surprising considering that the dead man’s name was Samir Ribhi Dari and not, for example, Joseph Cohen. The actual killing did not even warrant a response, since incidents like this have become routine. It was only the spontaneous protest that drew the readers’ attention. Angry Arabs in the streets? We must respond rapidly and with force, “bomb them with a few missiles.”
The readers, however, were right about one crucial point: Israel is neither France nor Europe, since in Israel police violence toward Arabs tends to be much more lethal. Indeed, both Samir’s killing and the readers’ responses reflect some of the most disturbing and dangerous aspects of contemporary Israeli culture. Most prominent among these is the deep-seated racism that encourages violence.
This racism is inextricably linked to Israel’s repetition compulsion, which transforms the victim into the aggressor. A Palestinian is killed and immediately he is described as violent; the police beat a Palestinian and he, not they, is portrayed as brutal; Israel occupies and represses the Palestinian people, but they are to blame. Thus, it is no surprise that after Samir Dari was shot in the back from just a few yards away the police instantly claimed that he was trying to run them over. It is almost as if lying has become an involuntary reflex for the authorities.
But in order for the culture of deceit to be effective it needs the assistance of the culture of dissimulation and suppression. If the past is any indication of the future, then the policeman who shot Samir Dari can rest easy. The internal affairs department did not indict a single policeman following the killings of 13 Arab citizens in October 2000, nor did it indict any of the policemen who gave false evidence regarding their illegal behavior during protests against the separation barrier.
The cultures of deceit and suppression fan the flames of violence. The clear message — that Jews are eternal victims, and therefore they cannot be found guilty regardless of the brutal means they employ — renders Palestinian life cheap and encourages a trigger-happy attitude. We have accordingly reached a stage where we can predict that the Israeli security forces will continue killing Palestinians. The only unknown variable is the identity of the next victim. We could not have known, for example, that the policeman would shoot our friend Samir.
Samir liked the nights. His days would begin in the early afternoon, and in the evening he would sit in his car, driving clients, talking on his cell phone and instructing the other drivers employed by his taxi company. He was a patient man, and in the four years that we worked with him — often under extremely stressful conditions — we found him to be a bit shy, but always resourceful. And most important, he was forever willing to offer help to those in need.
We would like to believe that the person who shot Samir will be brought to a fair trial. We would like to believe that Samir’s death will begin undermining the patterns of deceit, suppression and racism that have served as the propelling force of the culture of violence. We would like to believe that Samir’s children will be the last ones orphaned by the Israeli security forces. But no. We cannot deceive ourselves.
Neve Gordon teaches human rights at Ben-Gurion University in Israel and is the editor of From the Margins of Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights. He Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yigal Bronner teaches in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Until this year, he taught in Tel Aviv University’s Department of East Asian Studies.