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The Ultimate Trial of Israeli Society

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Last Thursday, March 24th, an Israel defense force (IDF) soldier was filmed executing a wounded Palestinian man alleged to have carried out a stabbing attack against IDF soldiers in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron. The videographer responsible for the filming is Imad Abu Shamsiya, a Palestinian shoemaker who has since received death threats and intimidation from extreme right-wing Israeli settlers with the prospect of a potential lawsuit. Though the incident is part of a wave of extrajudicial killings of Palestinians carried out by Israeli soldiers, this particular case is different. Here, the film unambiguously shows that the wounded Palestinian man did not present a danger to his surrounding. Quite shockingly, not only does the film implicate the executioner; it also shows his IDF comrades as completely unfazed by the incident, including medical personnel. What’s more, the soldier has received a wave of public support that politicians from the right-wing have seized as an opportunity to further erode the moral fabric of Israeli society in a bid to serve their political and ideological interests.

But what is the significance of yet another injustice in an endless list of those committed as a result of the occupation? While cold-blooded murder is an “official” taboo for the “most moral army in the world”, last week’s execution and Israeli society’s response to it may serve as a milestone on the long and ugly road toward complete dehumanization of Palestinians and the resulting collapse of Israeli society.

A civilized society is comprised of a collective of people who share a common moral fabric, which is held together by taboos at its extremes. The moral boundaries define the mindset at the center, which represents the majority of the society’s people. These boundaries are typically codified by laws and the practices of enforcement. For example, the United States constitution defines the rights and restrictions and it is the evolving interpretation and enforcement of these by which people are either included or excluded from the American collective.

Within societies there are constant tugs of war between forces that reside on its extremes. The fundamental goal of these forces is to stretch or shrink the moral boundaries of the society in directions that serve particular agendas: ideological, economical or otherwise.

Taboos which truly anchor a society are deeply entrenched within the human psyche. Thus, the process of undermining them with the purpose of redefining a society is gradual and includes resistance on the one hand and persistence on the other.

The process of breaking taboos and redefining moral boundaries begins with experimentation. When such an experiment is successful, it becomes a precedent that serves to shatter a taboo. Furthermore, if experiments and the resulting precedents they set are not met with sufficient resistance, the extreme boundaries of the moral fabric stretch, shifting the society as a whole in a particular direction that can be either regressive or progressive.

Rosa Parks is known as an icon of the Civil Rights Movement. In an act of civil disobedience, on December 1st, 1955, Parks refused to relinquish her bus seat to a white passenger. Her courageous experiment served to galvanize many in the struggle against racial segregation. Parks’ case became a precedent, which shifted the moral fabric of American society in a progressive direction. But Parks was not the first to protest segregation on buses, so what made her act successful?

An experiment can set a precedent only within a broader context of a society that is primed for that particular change. In addition, an experiment must withstand a variety of challenges to its integrity. In Parks’ case, American society was ready for desegregation. Plus, she was viewed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a good candidate to see through the court proceedings in Montgomery, Alabama. Collectively, her experiment set a precedent, which significantly helped serve to shatter a taboo.

In Israel, right-wing forces are using the recently filmed execution as an experiment. Their goal is to test the Israeli mainstream reaction when faced with an uncensored cold-blooded murder of a Palestinian. Thus, Israeli society faces a watershed in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: If this incident is to pass without a firm conviction of the soldier involved and his commanders, together with an independent inquiry into the lax rules of engagement of the IDF, a dangerous, notorious, and graphic precedent will be set. The precedent will solidify the complete dehumanization of Palestinians and pave the way for further ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and even genocide, en route toward the messianic fantasy of Greater Israel.

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Yoav Litvin is a Doctor of Psychology/ Behavioral Neuroscience.  

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