Two demonstrations were held on Saturday night following the killing of Eyad Hallaq, the young man with special needs who was shot to death by Border Police officers in the Old City of Jerusalem. One was held in Tel Aviv in front of the police station on Salameh Street and the other in downtown Jerusalem.
The protests were different in their essence and their message. In Tel Aviv, participants shouted mainly what could be called “civil messages”: against police violence and racism, highlighting the link between Hallaq’s killing and that of others killed by the police – Solomon Teka, Yehuda Biadga and others. In Jerusalem, in contrast, in addition to such cries, demonstrators also protested in the context of the specific killing, that is, the Israeli occupation and violent control over the Palestinian population. And so, in the old Mashbir square in downtown Jerusalem, the cries included: “Have you no shame, there’s no holiness in an occupied city,” for which no place was found in the Tel Aviv protest.
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The “civil messages” were validated and given global relevance with the frequent and obvious comparison between the killing of Hallaq and the killing of black American man George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last week, and the widespread protests that broke out across the United States afterwards (and in fact, around the world). There’s nothing new about the Israeli obsession with taking part in the American dialogue and forcing its rules on Israeli reality. Social media in Hebrew immediately split into “Democrats” and “Republicans,” supporters of “Black Lives Matter” as opposed to supporters of the police and the government. But there are more differences than similarities between the cases. The Americans are protesting many years of veiled racism against black citizens, which sometimes manifests itself in the extreme, including police violence. In Israel, there’s nothing veiled in the government’s violence against its Palestinian subjects. As opposed to the United States, modern Israeli racism is institutionalized, sanctioned and a basic tenet in the government’s methodic control and oppression of the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The “itchy trigger finger” is just the tip of the iceberg of Israeli violence against the Palestinians – which includes a routine abrogation of civil and human rights, a dual and separate judicial system for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, a policy of expropriation and stealing of land and of persecuting opponents and critics of the regime.
It’s easy for us as Israelis to say gravely that the Americans are in dire straits, and that the violence directed against blacks in the United States is terrible and extreme. Indeed it is, and human rights activists across the ocean must deal today with a racist president who represents everything that’s morally wrong and corrupt with the system there. However, it’s important to point out the differences, and the ways in which the country being vilified has progressed immeasurably compared to the Israel in dealing with hundreds of years of fighting against racism.
The protests gathering steam in the United States, with the participation of the black community, could not be carried out by the main victims of Israel’s institutionalized racism, at least not without being suppressed with murderous violence. Black Americans are citizens of the country that discriminates against them, with rights and protections granted by the American Constitution and judicial system, including the basic right to assemble and protest. American blacks have the right to vote. None of this is possible or relevant for Palestinians, among them Eyad Hallaq’s friends and relatives. American protesters know that the police are obligated to “serve and protect” them, even black people, and they demand that this obligation be met. In contrast, the Palestinians know full well that the defined role of the authorities in the West Bank and Jerusalem is to control them and nothing more.
The writer is a human rights lawyer.