When Violence Comes Home to Roost

Although two recent acts of violence of Palestinians were publicly condemned by government leaders as a 'terror attack' and 'hate crime,' respectively, such acts are not an aberration.

Recent indiscriminate acts of violence against Palestinians - one a firebomb in the West Bank and the other a nearly successful "lynch" of a Palestinian youth by a mob of Israeli teenagers in Jerusalem - are not nearly as uncommon as they are disturbing. Although the latest attacks have received substantial media attention here, and were publicly condemned by government leaders as a "terror attack" and "hate crime," respectively, such acts are not an aberration from the norm, and examining how similar acts in the past have been treated is instructive in understanding an inherent and diabolical bias in Israeli policies.

One could try and argue that the firebomb thrown last Thursday at a Palestinian taxi carrying an entire family was a relatively rare crime carried out by settler extremists who will stop at nothing to lay claim to the West Bank. However such attacks are actually on the rise. According to the Jerusalem Fund's Palestine Center, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO that does educational work on behalf of Palestinians, in 2011 alone, there were an average of 2.6 incidents of settler violence per day against Palestinians, a 39-percent increase from 2010.

Such incidents range from acts of vandalism, such as the desecration of an Arab cemetery with the message "death to Arabs," or the uprooting of olive trees, which can devastate an entire village's livelihood, to direct physical violence. Since the beginning of 2012, over 100 olive trees have been uprooted by settlers in the South Hebron Hills area alone, but such relatively minor acts are seldom reported in the Israeli mainstream media, and even more rarely are the perpetrators brought to justice.

In the case of the vicious beating of Jamal Julani in Jerusalem's Zion Square late last Thursday night, one would be hard-pressed to argue that this was an isolated act by an extremist, considering it was apparently carried out by more than 20 young Israelis, with hundreds more watching on. Just last month, Haaretz reported that the Jerusalem District Court sentenced an Israeli teen to eight years in prison for a similar incident in February 2011 in which the youth used a razor blade to stab to death a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem. The incident took place in the center of Jerusalem, in the same area as Thursday night's attack, and also involved several accomplices and bystanders.

The report pointed out that the same charge (manslaughter ) applied to a crime committed by Palestinian minors against an Israeli man named Aryeh Karp on a Tel Aviv beach in 2009 ended in a sentence of 29 years. This gap in sentencing for the same offense might explain why one of the main suspects in Thursday's murderous attack, who has admitted to his involvement, felt free to tell the press that for all he cares, Julani can die because he is an Arab.

Spokespersons for Israeli human rights organizations often point out that there are two systems of law in the West Bank: one for Israelis, who are subject to Israeli civil and criminal law, and one for Palestinians, who are subject to the jurisdiction of military tribunals (with a near absolute conviction rate of 99.74 percent ). It is not surprising that there are also two approaches to enforcement of the law, depending on whether the victim, or the presumed perpetrator, is a Jew or a Palestinian (whether in Israel or in the occupied Palestinian territories), such that there is a wide gap between government rhetoric on the rule of law and de facto application (or lack thereof ) of that law. We shouldn't be fooled by politicians' rhetoric.

For example, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the torching of a mosque in the Galilee last October, no one has yet been charged with the crime. Neither have any of the assailants in Thursday night's firebomb attack, which left an entire family hospitalized. As of now, Netanyahu and Deputy PM Moshe Ya'alon's condemnations can be seen as little more than lip service.

Such lip service was also provided by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who characterized the attack in Zion Square as "violent" and "racist," and insisted that an "educational and ethical" statement be issued by his ministry ahead of the upcoming school year. But he is the same minister responsible for initiating regular field trips to Hebron for all Israeli schoolchildren. There, kids can walk down one of the city's main arteries - the segregated Shuhada Street, which Palestinians are forbidden from walking or driving on, and where just last month, a Border Policeman was filmed kicking a Palestinian child; or where just last week, off-duty soldiers were filmed dragging and kicking a Palestinian youth. No statements of condemnation were heard from Sa'ar's mouth - or that of the prime minister - for any of these acts.

How can the education minister send children to a Palestinian-free Hebron and stress "our right to this land" and then be surprised when teenagers feel no remorse for nearly killing a Palestinian? The same can be said for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who condemned the Zion Square attack by invoking the need for "continued coexistence" in a city divided by a wall, in which he has presided over the continued institutional segregation of infrastructure development, social services and education, as well as the proliferation of hostile Jewish settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods.

With discriminatory policies built into Israel's legal, educational and cultural systems, and with a leadership that fails to step up in cases of more mundane, quotidian acts of harassment and violence against Palestinians, a few cases that went too far should come as no surprise.

Mairav Zonszein is a writer, translator and editor based in Israel. She blogs at +972mag.com.

Dudu Bachar (archive)