Emily Henochowicz lost an eye when an Israeli soldier fired a tear gas canister at her face. Twenty-one-years-old, she studies art at Cooper Union. On her blog, Emily’s avatar, or “tentative icon,” as she calls it, is a small girl wearing an eye suit. A single eye, green and playful, with legs. They shot her in the eye because she was an eye, with legs.
There is nothing novel about shooting witnesses. In the last decade, 11 journalists have been murdered by Israeli forces, including Cevdet Kiliclar, a Turkish who was shot in the head, last week, as he photographed Israeli commandos attacking peace activists on the Freedom Flotilla. The U.S. never condemns these crimes because it’s Israel’s biggest supporter, and also because it does the same. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, we bombed the office of Al Jazeera and shelled the Palestine Hotel, killing three journalists altogether, while injuring four. In 2005, U.S. troops shot at a car carrying Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been rescued by Italian agents after a 28-day hostage ordeal.
A journalist for Il Manifesto, Sgrena had written about numerous US crimes in Iraq, such as at Abu Ghraib and the use of white phosphorus and cluster bombs in Fallujah. She wasn’t imbedded, but a reporter with a conscience. For this, they targeted her, though the shooting didn’t kill Sgrena but Nicola Calipari, a special agent. As expected, the Pentagon absolved itself while blaming the Italians for traveling too fast, with their head lights off. Ballistic test later proved that they were going at only 45 miles an hour, while a photo showed that not only were their headlights on, but the car was even lit from the inside, to allow phone calls to be made. At the moment of the shooting, Sgrena was talking to her boyfriend. Further, they were not traveling on a public throughway but a secured road reserved for officials. The murdered agent, Calipari, had worked closely with the Americans, and was even quartered with them, inside Camp Victory.
Sgrena was a left leaning journalist rescued by a rightist government, headed by Berlusconi, a Bush ally. Whatever their politics, Italians expected their government to intervene to save one of their own. The ransom was rumored to be between six and eight million Euros. When Italian soldiers were killed in Iraq, they did not come home in the middle of the night, away from media scrutiny, then quietly buried. Instead, each flag-draped casket was placed on a flatbed truck and paraded through Rome.
If Henochowicz was Italian, there would be outrage from across the political spectrum. Instead, we hear nothing from Washington, and only a measured statement of regrets from her own university, with no condemnation, as if this was just a mishap, and not a crime.
On her blog, Henochowicz posted a drawing of a cake layered with activists, “obedient angry army men” and “camera people,” topped by a bulldozer. So the mess, Israel’s mess, has been bulldozed under, and topped with frosting. The bulldozer is also what killed Rachel Corrie, another American student activist.
It must infuriate many Israelis to see returning Jews, like Henochowicz and so many others, speaking out for Palestinians, but this is not about Jews vs. Palestinians. As a people without a homeland for two thousands years, Jews have always spoken out against discrimination, have always advocated for a level playing field for all citizens, irrespective of his origins or race. They have often railed against a race-based society, because this principle worked against them, and relegated Jews, and every other minority, to being second class, but a race-based society is exactly what Israel is.
Zionism was envisioned in the late 19th Century. After countless pogroms and other outrages, who could blame these dreamers? Take the Jewish situation in Russia. From 1827 to 1856, most Jewish boys were drafted at the age of 12, to be trained militarily until 18, when they were conscripted into the Army and kept for merely 25 years. For these reluctant patriots, life could begin at 43, if they lived that long. During the first half of the 19th century, most Russians never saw their 35th birthday. To avoid this state-sponsored kidnapping, many Jewish parents had to cripple their children
Then came the Holocaust, and Israel was founded in 1948 in British controlled Palestine. Up to 750,000 Palestinians were violently expelled, yet enough remained to make up a fifth of the population, the same ratio that exists today. Their higher birthrate is counterbalanced by the immigration of Jews from across the globe.
Palestinians who fled during Nakba, the Catastrophe of 1948, cannot return to their former home, although anyone with Jewish blood or faith can become a citizen of Israel. An Israeli Arab cannot even marry someone from Gaza or the West Bank and bring his spouse into Israel proper. Like much else there, this is justified on security ground, but it’s really based on race. Truly an aberration among modern nations, Israel is an unequivocal ethnic homeland. Its national anthem begins:
As long as in the heart, within,
A Jewish soul still yearns,
And onward, towards the ends of the east,
An eye still gazes toward Zion.
If my name were Aslam al-Farmawi, I don’t think I could sing that with much feeling, though I may carry an Israeli passport. Israeli Arabs are native to that land, yet they are treated, at best, like second class citizens, just like Jews were throughout much of their diaspora. Like Jews, Palestinians are often massacred, but by Jews. Many Jews had to dwell inside ghettos, with the gates locked each night. These days, many Palestinians live outside walls, built by Jews. There is one advantage to being an Israeli Arab, however. You don’t have to serve in the military. Consider that this army’s main tasks are to harass and shoot Arabs, this is not unreasonable. It’s also better, absolutely, than to be drafted for 31 years. Israel, We’re Better Than Nicholas I! Israel, Love It Or Time Travel To Czarist Russia!
During the Crusades, Christians traveling to fight Muslims would kill Jews along the way. Both groups were Semites, after all, thus enemies of Christendom. After Europe tried to rid itself, finally, of all Jews, it helped many survivors to return to the Levant, where they could fight Muslims into eternity, or at least until the End Time. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. It’s a win-win situation for Christianity. According to Fundamentalist Christians, Jews reclaiming Palestine and building a new temple in Jerusalem also cleared the way for the return of the Messiah. As we wait for Jesus to reappear, then, these killings will go on and on, because Israel can do no wrong.
LINH DINH is the author of two books of stories and five of poems, with a novel, Love Like Hate, scheduled for July. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.