Bashar Awis was dying in a hospital. Though there was no doubt that he only had a few hours left, none of his relatives were by his bed at Haemek Hospital in Afula.
Awis, a 29-year-old father of two from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, was a prisoner at Megiddo Prison. Circumstances surrounding his death on December 8 remain unclear.
This much is known: Had it not been for one minimally respectful doctor, he would have died alone. After one of the hospital's physicians discretely phoned Physicians for Human Rights, the organization brought Awis' mother and wife to Haemek Hospital. Up to that point, nobody thought to notify the family, as is done in human society.
As it turns out, even in a hospital - a place where human compassion is supposed to be the sole operating norm - a Palestinian is still not on the same footing as other human beings. This process of dehumanizing the Palestinians has spread to every sector of Israeli society. What started in the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service, and spread to other branches of power and to the media (which has, for years, deliberately emphasized the violent side of Palestinian reality) has now permeated every part of Israel's social fabric. That's apparently the only way a state can continue with a conquest and oppression without being overly concerned about what it means to the conquered.
The dehumanization is characterized by insensitivity to the value of human life. During the past months, virtually not a single day has gone by without Palestinians being killed in clashes in the territories; dozens of Palestinians, many of them unarmed innocents, have died each month, even during periods in which there were no terrorist attacks. The deaths were a marginal item of Israel's public agenda.
A related attitude is the utter lack of respect for Palestinians' human dignity. This attitude is particularly manifest at the point of everyday contact - the checkpoint. IDF roadblocks, the main point of interaction with Palestinians, are rancid, filthy sties - often they resemble animal holding pens. Is it mere neglect and laziness that has the IDF force anyone who wants to cross through the checkpoints to wallow in dirt and garbage before standing before a soldier? A person who passes through a roadblock is condemned in advance to suffer insult and humiliation.
The IDF roadblocks, places where people are forced to wait for hours and sometimes days, lack rest rooms or water faucets. While waiting at the Rafah checkpoint - an ordeal which lasts hours - Palestinians are not allowed to get out of their cars to go to the bathroom. Observing affairs a few days ago at the Jenin checkpoint, where Palestinians typically face a five or six-hour wait, I witnessed an elderly, handicapped man go to the bathroom inside his car. A puddle outside the vehicle said it all. Such scenes have nothing to do with security. Whoever is detained for a security check (and many people are taken aside for such inspections) is required to sit outside on the ground, in the rain, cold or blazing heat, for hours. You won't find a roadblock in the territories where people aren't sitting on the ground by the side, some of them in handcuffs.
The same attitude is directed toward Palestinian property. Not only does it happen that land is unilaterally expropriated and trees are cut down without notice, as though the property belongs to everyone; nor is it enough that homes are demolished as part of ongoing military operations or legal routines. This is not all - there are also the little things. Whoever leaves his car at a roadblock, where there are never orderly parking procedures, gets slapped with an NIS 500 fine. Cars are easily confiscated. Dozens of cars have been confiscated at each roadblock; often their owners haven't a clue as to why the vehicles were impounded.
The same attitude of contempt is on display in a variety of settings - when troops raid residential homes, when IDF men force all males in an area to sit together in a public area, when Palestinians have to wait endlessly around a stretch of the separation fence, hoping that some jeep will come with the keys and open up the gate. The attitude of sheer disdain is displayed in the behavior and speech of most soldiers.
All of this has become routine. It is not pure evil - it is the measure of evil that is needed to continue with the occupation. Hence, the most important step on the way to any arrangement will have to be a perceptual transformation by which Palestinian dignity is restored. As things stand today, we are far from such a cognitive turnabout. Former IDF soldier Ron Porer, author of the book "The Roadblock Syndrome," relates how soldiers he knew were furious whenever Palestinians dared wish them "good morning" at checkpoints. That's no accident: Such courteous residents of the territories might have put a crack in the soldiers' wall of rage and contempt.
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