Torture Is Blind to the Occupier and the Occupied

It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of this equality, which will henceforth grant Jewish Israelis the catharsis they have so sorely lacked.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A Palestinian man inspects a house after it was torched, in Duma, near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 31, 2015.
A Palestinian man inspects a house after it was torched, in Duma, near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 31, 2015.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

A shudder of pride tingled the national spine when the secret services agreed to share a crumb of stirring information with the public. The investigation of the arson attack on the Dawabsheh family in the West Bank village of Duma is on the verge of being concluded. There are suspects, prima facie; there’s a suspected underground, prima facie; there may also be “leads” that bring investigators to surprising addresses, prima facie.

It’s still forbidden, for reasons that are obvious (to whom?), to publish all the details of this revelation (of what?). And it’s especially forbidden to disclose the “special means” that investigators are employing. But one thing we can be certain of, they reassured us: This time, the Jewish suspects were interrogated the same way Palestinians are. Finally, investigative equality has been achieved. One small step for democracy, one giant step for the occupation.

“What do you think about the solving of the case?” the microphones and cameras asked Nasser Dawabsheh, “the uncle of the toddler” – what was his name? – who was severely burned and is now benefiting from such devoted Israeli care at Sheba Medical Center. Perhaps Mr. Dawabsheh, the uncle – not the father, who was murdered in the arson attack – will be kind enough to express some gratitude for the indefatigable efforts Israel has invested in uncovering the murderers?

But the uncle was predictably ungrateful. Not only was he unimpressed by the fact that the very best investigative technology was wasted on Jews, but he expects that if they are ever put on trial, they’ll be acquitted on the grounds that they were madmen who weren’t responsible for their actions. So be it; you don’t judge a man when he’s grieving. But the cold shoulder the uncle gave it needn’t weigh on the feeling of achievement that the investigation of the murder suspects has given us.

First, because for the first time, there is public satisfaction – albeit still not sweeping – over the use of “special means” to interrogate Jews. This satisfaction has two facets. It gives us a feeling of justice and equality, and at the same time, it legitimizes the use of those means against Palestinians. In other words, if we torture Jews, it’s obviously legitimate to torture Palestinians.

Second, if the suspects are put on trial, it will be possible to remove them from the context in which they lived and acted. Like previous Jewish undergrounds, and in contrast to Palestinian ones, it isn’t “atmospheric incitement” that will be put on trial, but a few criminals who are exceptions to the rule.

Third, Jews burning Palestinians alive will now receive the protection of banality. It will be just another form of crime whose perpetrators are arrested and put on trial like any other criminal, and no longer a national crime that enjoys the halo of secrecy, and that the government abets by not striving to put the perpetrators on trial.

The purity of the government is very important, because the purity of the state and the public is derived from it. Everyone, we can say with pride, is subject to the law; everyone can be subjected to shaking or sleep deprivation; there’s no longer any difference between the occupier and the occupied, between Jew and Palestinian.

It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of this equality, which will henceforth grant Jewish Israelis the catharsis they have so sorely lacked. Atonement, after all, is a fundamental element of Judaism, and by virtue of uncovering the murderers, Israel will achieve its atonement and purify its camp.

It’s just too bad that one tiny, almost invisible, flaw is ruining the ranks of the choir rejoicing at this lauded revelation. It’s almost unpleasant to mention it. Nevertheless, what’s all this joy about? About the fact that loathsome murderers have been uncovered, or about the fact that “special means” were finally used against Jews as well?

Anyone who aspires to equality ought to remember that people who torture Jewish murderers will ultimately torture ordinary Jews, too, and people who build their democracy on equalizing investigation methods for Palestinians and Jews will end by not distinguishing between “nationalist crimes” (i.e. terrorism) and other crimes, between freedom of expression and incitement, or between arson or murder and protest or rebellion. All will be equal in the eyes of the interrogator. The choicest fruits of the occupation will yet be imported from the territories into Israel.

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