Opinion |

Inhuman Apathy to Israel Border Police's Brutal Assault of Palestinians

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israeli border police members detain a Palestinian demonstrator during a protest against Jewish settlements, in Haris near Salfit in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 21, 2020.
Israeli border police members detain a Palestinian demonstrator during a protest against Jewish settlements, in Haris near Salfit in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 21, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

They entered the hotel room one at a time and committed their despicable act, and the country roiled with shock. They ordered them to strip and beat them, one after the other, with a bamboo stick and brass knuckles, as they lay helpless and bleeding on the ground. Fourteen cases of such cruel abuse – and Israel yawned with disinterest.

In Eilat, it was the shocking gang rape of a helpless teenage girl by a number of young men, four of whom raped her, according to the indictment. At the Meitar checkpoint, the men in question were five uniformed Border Police officers who carried out their abuse in the name of the state, in the name of all Israelis, against helpless Palestinian laborers whom they hunted down in the dead of night, far from prying eyes, then assaulted and robbed of their money.

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They are of the same generation, the accused from Eilat and from Meitar. They are all from the same hometown – Israel circa 2020 – whose language is violence. The rape in Eilat might not be the outcome of the wild behavior of Border Police officers at Meitar, but a direct line connects the two types of incidents: the line of cruelty toward those who are weaker than you. The occupation is not to blame for everything, but its spirit is the spirit of Israel: What is acceptable in Meitar, is acceptable in Aya Napa and Eilat.

Rape is rape, let us not diminish the severity of that act, a minor is a minor, and the public outrage is justified, understandable and human. What is not human is the shameful indifference to another assault, no less brutal, at Meitar, even if it was not an act of sexual violence. Between Eilat and Meitar there is more similarity than meets the eye, even if the victim in Eilat was a minor, while in Meitar they were young and helpless laborers.

Of course one doesn’t have to be a woman to grasp the enormous pain, humiliation and trauma of sexual assault. But one has to be a human being to understand that if a violent, armed man orders you to strip so he can whip you – within sight of a female Border Police officer who is giggling and taking pictures with her cellphone – the anguish increases, the blood flows and fear takes over, and with it, terrible humiliation and the thought that your death is near. The similarity between the two different types of brutality is more than meets the eye. The barbarism is the same barbarism, the helplessness is the same helplessness and the trauma is the same trauma – sometimes lifelong.

I met one of the victims of the Border Police sadists. He appeared to be in shock days afterward. There is no point comparing one sort of pain to another; there is no reason to distinguish between rape and other despicable crimes. A society that is shocked by gang rape and almost entirely ignores a different kind of group assault, only because its perpetrators were in uniform and its victims were Palestinians, is an immoral society.

These are times when men who commit sexual assault are ostracized and condemned. But if a violent officer assaults an elderly man leaning on his cane, knocks him to the ground, punches him, kicks him and pushes his knee down on the man’s neck – this is no less serious than sexual assault, especially when it is committed by a person on duty and in uniform.

The public war in recent years against sexual assault cannot be left by itself on the battlefield. Other abuses cry out for the same ostracizing and public shaming, and the same determined struggle against them. People lose their entire world, sometimes even if they don’t undergo a trial, due to suspicions of sexual assault that have been uncovered in their past, while other abusers of the helpless go on with their lives as if nothing happened.

The Border Police officers who committed the abuse in Meitar are actually being tried – which is almost unprecedented – but it seems that most of the legal system’s anger will be directed against the charges of theft of money from the victims. If the officers had only beaten the latter, we may assume, not a hair on their heads would have been harmed.

That’s the way it is with a double standard. The war against sexual assault will never be completely justified if society continues to turn a blind eye to other forms of cruel assault, the type that takes place every day under the occupation and is aimed at those no less helpless than the victims of sexual assault.

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