The shock, tut-tutting and condemnation over Thursday’s video footage, in which a policeman is seen beating a Palestinian truck driver, are maddening and repulsive. Only the video itself is more repulsive. The policeman disgusts you? That’s exactly what the occupation looks like. It is as violent, ugly, brutal and loutish as the policeman; this is exactly how Israel has abused millions of people every hour, every day, for 50 years.
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It’s not just that the video reflects routine in the occupied territories: At any given moment, there are Israeli soldiers and policemen who strike Palestinians, kick, head butt, bark or swear at them, like in the video. What’s worse is that the footage reflects a far broader reality than the occupation.
It is a situation report, an Israeli selfie. If the film “Exodus” aspired to present an Israel of the War of Independence era, the video of the violent policeman presents Israel 2017. Exodus was the dream, the policeman its fragment: watch the film and you’ll see us.
Every Israeli has seen countless similar images in this “land of quarrels”: on the road; at the supermarket; in the hospital; on the soccer field or the parking lot ... in almost every line, this is the language, the Israeli lingua franca: bullying. Why pick on the policeman? He’s typical of his homeland. He did what everyone else did, almost. He’s also the son of us all. He’s a uniformed thug – so what?
He was already suspected of beating a civilian once before, and the police force didn’t see fit to prosecute him then. So, he acted as expected. It’s important to note the type of violence used: this is seasoned violence, almost inbred violence. The head butt is the weapon of an experienced bully; an inexperienced bully does not head butt.
You also have to listen to his language, the jargon of Israel. “I’ll pay for that? You son-of-a-whore get out of my sight!” he shouts at Mazen Shwiki. “I’ll screw the mothers of all of you.” That’s how they speak in Israel. Not only in the occupation, not only on the road. It’s all here: the most important value of Israeliness – not to be a sucker (“I’ll pay?”); the immediate transition from threat to action; the power, the aggressiveness, the arrogance, the coarseness. The filthy language.
The fact that he did it in uniform makes no difference. The policemen also speak Israeli. Israel is violent because it can be. It bombs in Syria and assassinates in Gaza because it can. It’s the neighborhood bully because no one stopped it. And it is also violent within because it’s possible.
The policeman – who goes by the so-Israeli name Moshe Cohen – is also violent because he can be. The fact that he stood opposite a crowd did not deter him. He knew and they knew that he’s the strong one and they the weak; he’s the oppressor and they’re the oppressed, so he’s allowed to. He is lord of the land and they the dust at his feet. Everyone here fulfilled their role: the helplessness and fear of the Palestinian drivers who were afraid to come to the defense of their friend against the policeman’s rage. The uniform of the occupation against the helplessness of the occupied. The pistol in its holster, pay attention to the way the cop stands and walks: this is how the owner behaves. This is how our country behaves.
It’s an ugly picture, really ugly, hence the instant outcry when we witness it. More than the outcry was aimed at the policeman – he’ll quickly be forgotten, and it’s doubtful he’ll face trial – it was directed at the mirror it put up, a self-portrait of Israel 2017.
Which is why we’d like to forget this policeman. Let him be kicked out, let him be under house arrest for a few days, then get out of our sight (in his words); just don’t let him be put on trial. We had enough with the Sgt. Elor Azaria manslaughter trial: deep down, we knew we were all on trial.
A few hours after the video was broadcast, a reception was held at the home of peace activist Alice Krieger. Guest of honor was Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the doctor from Gaza [who lost three daughters during Operation Cast Lead]. “Hatred is weakness,” the bereaved father said in Hebrew, a language that only a few are still able to understand in Israel. “Kindness, tolerance and patience are power.” In the darkness of the evening and the video footage, the doctor’s noble words reverberated as detached, ridiculous, almost hallucinatory.