There could not have been a worse time to release the Human Rights Watch report on violence against women within Palestinian families and society: yesterday, November 7, at the same time the Israeli army withdrew from Beit Hanun after a six-day assault that claimed 53 lives. At least 27 of those killed were unarmed civilians, including 10 children and two Red Crescent volunteers. Of the 200 or so people injured in the operation, there were at least 50 children and 46 women. In addition to the casualties, homes were destroyed and the water, electricity and road networks damaged.
In the competition over the Palestinian slot in the Israeli media, it is obvious that a report critical of Palestinian society and its institutions will trump the option of completing a report on this assault before the next military raids dismiss it from the media entirely. In the same fashion, the Israeli media has ignored Ramzi al-Sharafi, a 16-year-old student from Jabalya who was hit and killed by an Israeli missile Monday morning on his way to school, as well as the teacher who was seriously injured by that same missile, and the kindergarten and grade-school children who were injured or put in a state of shock.
For precisely this reason, there is no appropriate or inappropriate time to publish the latest report by the U.S. human rights organization, which discusses the persecution of girls and women within their own homes and families and the inability of society and its institutions to save them from their persecutors - who, in most cases, are their own relatives.
The report is based on the constant work of both independent and official Palestinian organizations that are leading the battle against the societal and masculine disease of persecuting and oppressing women. Palestinian women's organizations are fighting to end the leniency of both society and the law toward those who murder female relatives, including the protection offered to rapists and the concept that incest and physical abuse against women and girls are "internal family matters."
The Human Rights Watch report, like the work of these Palestinian organizations in general and women's organizations in particular, prove that human rights have no ethnic, political, geographic or gender borders, and that there are also no borders to the demand that they be respected or to those making that demand.
The traditional-masculine lobby in Palestinian society co-opts the Israeli occupation in order to set the borders of the public, institutional debate and deter the critics and the voices demanding social change. Twelve Palestinian women - eight from Gaza and four from the West Bank - have been murdered since the start of 2006 by relatives on the pretext of "family honor." How convenient for the traditional lobby that Israel is attacking ceaselessly, facilitating the concealment of this fact and the perpetuation of the idea that women are the property of the male head of the household.
In the same way, the demon of anti-Semitism makes it convenient for Israel and its overseas lobbyists to make light of international resolutions (regarding the annexationist route of the separation fence, for example), to violate bilateral agreements (such as by discriminating at the borders between Jewish and Palestinian foreign citizens), and to destroy, kill and demolish, mainly in Gaza but also in the West Bank, in routine assaults that are not even mentioned in the Israeli media.
Most of the Israeli public locks itself behind a well-defined, impenetrable wall that it has built for itself. This wall distinguishes between the rights of Jews and the rights of others, between the pain of Jews and the pain of others. This separation wall, which gives the army's commanders and its emissaries within the government a free hand, blocks out not only all public debate over morality, but also questions based on realpolitik.
For six years now, we have been hearing that the Israel Defense Forces' attacks have racked up important gains in damaging the terror infrastructure, killing and arresting terrorists and confiscating arms caches. At first, these achievements were against youngsters throwing stones, then against people throwing Molotov cocktails and gunmen shooting at roads in the West Bank, and later against suicide bombers. At first, homemade rifles were seized; later, the number of regular rifles that were seized increased. The more they are confiscated, the more they proliferate.
In Gaza, before the Qassams, the gains were against people who infiltrated the settlements or who placed explosivesbeneath tank treads. Now, three or four years later, the gains are always against the rocket-launching teams. Once, their range was short, amateurish. Now, so say the experts, their range is expanding constantly. Our army, meanwhile, continues to rack up victories. It threatens new assaults, and in Gaza, Hamas gains in status. After all, it is their militants who headed into battles against the enormous Israeli force that had invaded Beit Hanun - battles that were lost before they began, but were nevertheless heroic, in their eyes.
Is it possible that the army and the politicians commanding it can't see the fearful symmetry between the deepening Israeli military oppression and the ongoing Palestinian arms buildup? Between the oppression and Palestinians' support for that arms buildup, however backward and meager, compared with Israel's might? Or is that exactly what the Israeli government wants, with or without Avigdor Lieberman - to perpetuate the military conflict and bolster the Palestinian military lobby, in order to repel any chance for a political solution?
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