violence -  Avi Ofer - October 14 2011
Illustration. Photo by Avi Ofer
Text size

I wanted to write about four youths, two of them minors, who go out to a pub on Rosh Hashanah and, when they leave, top off their evening by allegedly beating to death a homeless person and hurting another homeless man who was fortunate enough to get away. I wanted to say that there just can't be a connection between the surging violence, the total disrespect for the lives of those who don't appear to belong - either because of the color of their skin, their religious faith or their economic situation, the complete indifference that young thugs show for the lives of those who look different from them - and the "price tag" operations carried out by settlers (and I hereby declare that I have no wish to come and spend a few days in a settlement to see just how wonderful and peace-loving its residents are ). The distorted justification that "price tag" operations and ordinary acts of humiliation committed by IDF soldiers and settlers toward others who do not fit into those groups, can supply to hotheaded and poorly taught teenagers is obvious. By their very nature, "price tag" operations are not much different than Ku Klux Klan actions in the United States - that is, violent acts motivated by a racist worldview.

It's impossible to ignore that the level of violence, not just the quantity but the severity of the acts, has increased steeply among Israeli youth in recent years. Trivial matters culminate in stabbings, the explanation given for most of them being drunkenness. Teen alcoholism has also been on the rise lately. Nevertheless, in order to beat someone to death, even if the victim is an older homeless person whose rundown living conditions may make him weak, it takes a lot of blows, meted out one after the other, and the only thing that can explain the determination and persistence shown by those alleged four youths is pure hatred for someone who is just different than them.

In this they are no different from other people. People are afraid of what's different from them. This fear often turns into racism, and the racist does not view someone who's different from him as a potential equal.

Before the movie came out, I'd read the book "The Help," a slightly sweet novel about relations between black maids and their white women bosses in Mississippi in the Sixties, when racial segregation was at its height. This book is important because it deals with an extraordinary period, when the bastards changed the rules and the racial laws enshrining the blacks' total inferiority were overturned. But in the American South, many were still used to viewing blacks as slaves and treating them as inferior human beings with hardly any rights.

This book is interesting because the white mistresses, aside from one, are all very reasonable women, yet they are nonetheless accustomed to ignoring the blacks as full human beings with feelings, personal histories, desires and rights. They continue to see them as a race of service-givers, an underclass that's somewhere between human and machine, with certain general traits. "The Negroes drink a lot" and "they're lazy," say the perfect Mississippi housewives. The worst manifestation of racism is how it makes human beings nonhuman. In the next stage, once we've made them nonhuman, we can do anything we want to them.

This is what happens to settlers who set out on "price tag" operations, and to settler girls who just like to overturn Palestinian stalls in the market, or to spit at and curse Palestinians - behavior that isn't exactly in keeping with the Jews' laws of modesty.

The fine women of Mississippi also close their eyes to the great violence that is done, supposedly for their protection, by their husbands toward the black men who, according to the common white fantasy, only want to rape their white wives. (This fantasy has undergone a local adaptation, with all kinds of extreme right-wing Jews asserting that women leftists feel an unusually strong sexual attraction to Arab men. "Nu, if you're the alternative," I once said to one hothead who directed this sort of remark to me during a shift with the Women in Black, "then is it any wonder that we prefer Arabs?" In response, he tossed a nearly-full Coke can at me. )

In a country like ours, whose inhabitants are highly sensitive in discerning that which is different from them, in which white Jewish superiority is practically self-evident, in which veteran Israelis think themselves superior to the immigrants from Russia, in which the Ethiopians are considered inferior to the Russians, in which Arab Israelis are worth more than Palestinians but a lot less than Jewish Israelis, it is no great surprise to find youths who have a home deciding that someone without one is worth a lot less than they are. Although one cringes to think what kind of homes those four murderous youths came from.

If police officers are not permitted to shoot at Jewish protesters, regardless of the severity of their violence, but are permitted to shoot to kill at Arab Israeli protesters in Wadi Ara, as happened 10 years ago; if settlers from Anatot (some of them policemen ) have no problem violating the sanctity of the holiday in order to go beat up Palestinians from Anata, and especially the peace activists who came to their aid because the peace activists are leftists - i.e., just one rung above the Palestinians; if the punishment for someone who killed an Arab will always be less than the punishment for an Arab who killed a Jew; if certain people are allowed to do as they please because they belong to a group that holds itself as above all others, and others are not allowed to do anything because they are single/poor/black/non-Jewish or homeless, perhaps it is possible to understand - though absolutely not to forgive - how it happens that while some settlers are out celebrating the holiday with a mini-pogrom, four urban youths are out getting their kicks by killing a homeless man.