Opinion |

One Israeli-Arab Protester's Knee Is Now a Litmus Test for Patriotism

Jafar Farah's knee is now the milestone that marks the boundary between the Jewish right and Jewish left

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli Arab activist Farar Jarah, head of the Mossawa Advocacy Center, at home after being injured during a demonstration in Haifa against Israel's policy in Gaza, May 21, 2018.
Israeli Arab activist Jarah at home with his leg in a cast, this week.Credit: Rami Shllush
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

One knee belonging to an Arab Israeli citizen, apparently broken “unnaturally,” has become a symbol. What is so special about Jafar Farah’s knee that has stirred such an outcry? Why has this knee, and not the hundreds or perhaps thousands of knees and legs shattered by soldiers’ gunfire in the territories, been accorded such national respect?

More importantly, just what are those who are raising the outcry so worked up about? We’re accustomed to seeing Israeli police officers beat Ethiopians, leftist activists, ultra-Orthodox and many other ordinary folks who don’t have any particular ethnic or religious label. Force has been used to disperse protests before, and not only in Haifa, “the city of peace and reconciliation.”

The files at the Police Internal Investigations Department, known as Mahash, are filled with similar and even much more serious reports than that of the arrest last Friday during which Farah says a police officer broke his knee. Many police officers have been tried (and many have not) for brutality. In 2015, 1,483 cases against police officers were opened. In 2016, when the Knesset research center requested data on the ethnic breakdown of those complaining against the police, Mahash refused to provide the information.

And now, suddenly, a star is born, and already has a portfolio to display. On the news we got to gaze at the CT scans of the national knee, expert orthopedists were called upon to say whether this was a fresh or an old injury, and the bright white cast was popping up all over social media, already overshadowing Netta Barzilai’s big Eurovision win.

So if wasn’t police conduct that stood out here, maybe it was the serious violation of freedom of assembly, of freedom of speech, that caused all the fuss. Farah may be an Arab, and thus destined from the start to get beaten up, but he is also a well-known civil rights activist.

So this incident perhaps shows us that Jewish citizens, too, should be wary, lest what happened to an Arab citizen happen to a Jewish citizen. Wrong. An unscientific survey of the Internet comments on news reports of the event, shows that most readers were quite satisfied with Farah’s broken knee. The ones who weren’t satisfied felt the police were too soft on “these Hamasniks who want to destroy Israel.” So it’s not infringement of the right to protest or of freedom of speech that’s upsetting the public at large. A protest by Arabs waving Palestinian flags is even less deserving of being defended, too.

Farah’s knee, therefore, must have a much greater role to play. It is now the milestone that marks the boundary between the Jewish right and Jewish left. Once the boundary has been marked, the knee’s ethnic identity is of little interest. Farah’s physical pain is irrelevant. What matters is proving that someone who is concerned about the condition of the Arab’s knee or suspect the police of being responsible for the situation is also someone who is prepared to divide Jerusalem, give up territories and lift the Gaza blockade.

Someone who casts aspersions on the police’s conduct in Haifa cannot be a patriot. A real patriot robustly defends the police. But wait, this is the same traitorous police that is investigating the prime minister and threatening his hold on power. Looks like this broken knee is also putting the police into that same kind of divide, between right and left. When the police are against Arab protesters in Haifa, they’re the national police, they’re “our” police. But when they’re investigating Benjamin Netanyahu or evacuating settlers, they’re traitors.

Police conduct in Israel cannot be looked upon as a neutral, legal or ethical yardstick, because the police are not merely a law enforcement organization. In Israel, the police is a political emblem. In this it joins the Supreme Court, which was stripped of its neutral standing by the words and deeds of legislative thugs who are depriving the public of its right to apolitical institutions and civil rights that are not subject to any ethnic or religious tests.

Jafar Farah’s knee, which should have been “everyone’s” knee, has instead become a litmus test for patriotism. What a success.

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