Itamar Ben-Gvir wears two images of MK Hanin Zuabi in this amateur photograph taken during the settlers’ Purim procession on Shuhada Street in Hebron on March 8: one between his eyes, the other over his heart. Zuabi’s image is small, while his face is fleshy. Her chin barely covers his lips, her eyes his glasses, her forehead his brow. He has his arm around his friend Baruch Marzel and they both seem very pleased. Isn’t he afraid that his breath will melt the paper and ruin the mask, that his saliva will sabotage it before the photographers have a chance to perpetuate his prank?
This is one of 263 photographs sent by the “Jewish settlement in Hebron” − which is neither Zionist, Hebrew, Israeli or even Gush Emunim, but Jewish − to a hidden mailing list. The photos can be seen in its Facebook album, which also contains photographs of female soldiers wearing yellow eye masks and of infants dressed up as animal cubs. There is a video of a performance by the Haredi singing idol Avraham Fried, along with the false blue-yellow curls of the de rigueur clown, even a photo of the shoes of someone dressed as a three-legged man. The wonderful photographer Menahem Kahana was there, and the gifted photographer Olivier Fitoussi, and Channel 2 News. Nevertheless, this amateur photograph, taken close to Ben-Gvir’s face from within the crowd, captures his triumph best from its angle of vision.
For Ben-Gvir makes his audience laugh effortlessly. There is no face he can’t swallow. There is nothing he can’t paste onto himself. There is no image that bothers him. He is shameless. Beyond mocking Zuabi, he gives the photographers, not visible from the amateurs’ angle, a demonstration of his complacency. Of the absolute use of his freedom of expression, his pleasure at the possibilities of expression available to him, but which he would deny to others.
The Hebron street is empty. There are no Hebronites, no Palestinian Arabs. A few who clung to their homes and did not leave were captured peering from behind their barred windows by the veteran photographer Kahana. There are policemen, there are armed soldiers, there is the ever-smiling Avraham Fried, there are pregnant women, bottles of wine, happiness and rejoicing, exultation and jubilation.
“I am certain that he is well-intentioned, but the result of his actions is destructive and harmful,” Noam Arnon, a spokesman for Hebron’s settlers, wrote on the Arutz 7 website on February 9, after Ben-Gvir harassed teachers and high-school students from Jerusalem with shouts, after the education minister recommended sending school children to visit Judaized Hebron. “It’s true that we still have a long way to go,” wrote Arnon, “racist restrictions are still imposed on Jewish construction in Hebron, and much more ... In our time, the situation necessitates political struggles, and in them the movement of which Itamar Ben-Gvir is a member has an important place. He is known for his political and media skills, as demonstrated in brilliant media operations. There is a place for that, but not in Hebron ... Hebron is a deposit placed in our hands ... We must connect the hearts of the people of Israel to the city ... and not cause anyone to recoil or flinch from what he saw or heard in it.”
Those who wish to silence Ben-Gvir, so that he does not interfere with the success they achieved with the education minister, grasp that he is expressing their vision too openly. They are right. He enjoys placing Zuabi on his chest − that is his level of behavior. His face, covered or not, is the face of their camp.
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