On Apathy

This apathethic approach to blatant cases of human rights abuses of Palestinians is a stain on the face of Israeli society that it will find hard to remove.

In today's Haaretz Magazine, Gideon Levy tells the story of Mahmoud Shawara, a 43-year-old father of nine, who left for work on his donkey one day from his house in the village of Nuaman, near Bethlehem, was arrested by border policemen, and, after he refused to accompany the soldiers without his donkey, was tied to the donkey. The frightened donkey then galloped toward the village; Shawara sustained serious injuries all over his body, and ultimately died in great pain in the hospital to which he was taken by eyewitnesses. Although the Department for Investigating Policemen found no relationship between the border policemen's behavior and Shawara's death,testimony indicates that this is an abusive practice well known to Palestinians. It even has a nickname: "the donkey procedure."

On Wednesday, Haaretz located another man, Maamoun Abu Ali, who underwent similar abuse at the hands of border policemen two months ago, not far from the place where Shawara was arrested and tied to his donkey. Abu Ali, according to his testimony, was also tied to a donkey. A concrete block was placed on his back, his hands were tied, and the border police then prodded the donkey to run. Luckily for him, however, his donkey refused to budge, so Abu Ali was saved from death.

Cases of abuse of Palestinians, whether by soldiers or by settlers, have stopped making headlines in the press or eliciting shock. Nor do investigations of these incidents appear to be serious, and complaints are ignored until the story is either published in the media or dealt with by one of the human rights organizations active in the territories. This growing apathy can perhaps be attributed to the continuous satisfaction felt over the disengagement from Gaza, following which Israelis feel that the occupation is about to end. But, meanwhile, the occupation is continuing in all its severity, with all the abuses that have characterized it throughout the years.

Earlier this month, Amira Hass reported on Taher Odeh, 14, who was released from the hospital where he was being treated for gunshot wounds, and immediately afterward underwent 24 hours of abuse in a military police facility until he was freed and sent home. These two stories from the past month join a long list of reports in all the media outlets about settlers chopping down Palestinians' olive trees, something that has been going on without interference since April.

Even though another 100 olive trees were cut down this week, and even though 15 complaints were filed to the police, and even though, in total, we are talking about property destruction amounting to thousands of trees in the northern West Bank, the law enforcement agencies have yet to make any effort to locate the settlers responsible, and no arrests have been made. The prime minister, Knesset members and ministers have not made their voices heard, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is in charge of preventing all the incidents and abuses described here, has not even bothered to explain what he has done to correct even a fraction of this injustice.

The political "big bang" changed nothing in the authorities' attitude toward Palestinians' human rights. This apathy is a stain on the face of Israeli society that it will find hard to remove.