Gideon Levy |

Black Lives Matter in Israel? Sounds Like Science Fiction

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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An Israeli police officer standing beside a group of African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, May 24, 2020
An Israeli police officer standing beside a group of African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, May 24, 2020Credit: Meged Gozani
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Population and immigration department inspectors are bored and frustrated after the end of an eventful season of hunting humans. Instead of nighttime arrests and kidnappings, they currently bully asylum seekers to their hearts’ content at the registry office where they seek to extend their permits, which they are entitled to receive automatically.

The photographs shown last week on Channel 13’s Hamakor program couldn’t leave any viewer indifferent. They showed criminal, sadistic, mean bullying of weaker people on the part of low-level clerks, kings for a moment dishing out lowly racist treatment.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers are apparently no less bored. Therefore they shoot at the legs of Palestinians from time to time as they cross into Israel to visit families, through the hundreds of holes in the separation barrier that haven’t been fixed. Last week I visited the “Tulkarm Terminal” – one of the larger makeshift crossings. Hundreds of people, among them entire families, cross the fence there on a daily basis. Destitute unemployed youths, hardscrabble elderly people, life partners torn apart by draconian family unification laws and children who go to beg at traffic intersections to enhance their families’ meager income. All these people should inspire a sense of compassion in Israel. But the IDF decides every few weeks to ambush these poor people and shoot them in the legs or beat them to a pulp.

Besides the aim of just plain abuse, this mockery of “operational” action on the army’s part has no value. The holes are left open, and thousands of desperate Palestinians continue to endanger themselves by infiltrating through them. If they had sought to use them for waging attacks in Israel they could have done so long ago. The occasional shooting at young men in the legs therefore has nothing to do with security.

One straight line links the actions of the population authority and the actions at the separation barrier: the lives, bodies, dignity, freedom and property of those who aren’t Jews are not treated with any importance in Israel. You can do what you want to them. The time, dignity and bodies of the African asylum seekers and Palestinian job seekers are the cheapest product on the market. Their cost is zero. It’s so easy to hurt them, nobody will ever be punished for it. Both these populations are the most helpless therefore they’re the most persecuted. They are abused by the authorities and the government, with full permission and authority deriving from institutionalized racism and evil. One may have expected this reality to meet some public objections, some protests, or expressions of solidarity with the victims. This doesn’t happen. Yesterday was International Refugee Day. But in this country, the majority of whose population are refugees or their offspring – Jews, Palestinians and a small group of Africans – there is no recognition of the significance of this day; it’s doubtful anyone has even heard of it. Even at the height of a hopeful protest wave in the United States, nothing touches Israel.

“Black Lives Matter” has become an angry cry in America. In Israel, black lives don’t matter and the state influenced by its superpower defender doesn’t adopt its protector’s more impressive actions, such as the wave of protests and solidarity washing over it now. In Israel, a country no less discriminatory, racist and abusive than the United States, and which has a military dictatorship in part of its territory, there is no significant protest about the way weaker people are treated. Africans are abused and Palestinians are shot, and with the exception of a few organizations and a few brave citizens, the majority either cheers or yawns.

Imagine the smashing of the symbols of these evils, from the signs on the immigration office to street signs and monuments exalting those responsible for the past evils of the state; imagine mass protests, not by one sector or another for its own sake but by the majority on behalf of the most oppressed. Imagine throngs of Israelis demonstrating for the destruction of the separation fence and for granting citizenship to asylum seekers. Imagine that. It sounds like a tale of science fiction.



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