The Dehumanization Process Is Reaching Its Peak

The bleeding Palestinian body on the street is not the body of a person; it is, in the eyes of many Israelis, a carcass.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A suspect in the recent stabbing of a 16-year-old boy in Jerusalem is apprehended.
A suspect in the recent stabbing of a 16-year-old boy in Jerusalem is apprehended. Credit: Jerusalem MDA
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The scenes happen almost daily: Stabbing, shooting, sometimes a lynching. (There is already a learned public debate in Israel: Lynching, for or against?) After that the body lies on the road, sometimes covered and sometimes not, the curious and the security forces looking at it as someone looks at a hunting trophy, a few of them taking selfies as a memento.

In one of the most shocking pictures spread on the social media in the past few days, we see an armed settler in Hebron, wearing a kippa of course, standing smiling and amused in front of the body of a Palestinian whose blood is flowing from his head. The blood is spreading on the road and the happy settler is taking pictures with his cell phone, to show the kids at home.

The expectation that one of the curious passersby looking at the bodies will also think about what he sees there, and in particular about who he sees, is not realistic. These are moments of anger and lust for revenge, and these are days of incitement, in Israel too, and the bleeding body on the street is not the body of a person; it is, in the eyes of many, a carcass.

But a few minutes earlier it was still a human being, with desires, feelings and dreams, some unacceptable and twisted, but how is it possible not to think about them, if just for a moment not to try to understand them and their intentions? How is it possible not to think about what they did on their last night? Their last day? Before they left for their journey of death and suicide – after all, they knew their chances of escaping with their lives was slight. What motivated them? What did they think they would achieve? What did they want to achieve? Who were they and what happened to them in their lives?

You dont have to be a supporter of the Palestinian struggle or a hater of Israel for these thoughts to pass through your mind. You also dont need to be impressed by the bravery of this dead young man – and he had a great deal of courage – nor do you need to see him as a hero. Only to see him as a human being, like all human beings, who was led by something into extreme behavior, into criminal, unnecessary actions that will not bring any benefit to him or his people.

How many Israelis even think about this? And what other way is there to wage a war on terror, if not to try to understand and deal with the motive, and not just the desperate result? But its as if no motive exists, and the Israeli agenda prefers to ignore it. Even just mentioning it could possibly, heaven forbid, remind us that these are the bodies of human beings, a manner of thinking that has become forbidden and dangerous.

Here lie their bodies. Some of them were killed because of the despair, which everything has already been written about, some because of the hatred it gave birth to. Not a single one of them was born to kill, every one of them had a mother and father who wanted something else for their children. They were very young in their deaths, maybe too young to understand that there is no benefit whatsoever in their deaths and no justice in stabbing an elderly Jewish woman, a passerby.

But a few minutes earlier they were still human beings, and the very recognition of this is considered in Israel to be a subversive thought, outrageous and infuriating. This fury is suspect: It is part of the process of denial of the occupation. You do not need to admire their actions, nor to justify them, to admit that these are people who are no different in any way from the soldiers and the mob across from them lusting for revenge.

It would even be possible to put aside this (essential) discussion if all of them deserved death – certainly they dont – and still relate to them as human beings. The debate in Israel is different, of course. The long, systematic process of dehumanization is now reaching its peak, when the Palestinian dead lying on the road, and not just the living, are also considered inhuman. That is why it is possible to take your own smiling picture next to a bleeding corpse and feel so good about it. Here, too, lies the key to everything: As long as they are not considered human beings, even if they are terrorists, there will be no justice, and of course no peace, either.

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