Racism becomes normal among young Israelis

March 26, 2013
Sarah Benton

Ali Abuminah’s article on racism in the IDF (1) is followed by Ilene Prusher asking Israelis to ‘face up to it’ (2). Naomi Chazan finds a spot of light in Tag Meir against the background of increasingly vicious gang attacks (3).

Arab woman attacked at Jerusalem light rail station on Monday, February 25, 2013. Photo by Dorit Jordan Dotan. See item (2).

Israeli corporal Ari Ben Reuven says: “break every bone” of crying Palestinian boy seized on way to school

By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada
March 24, 2013

Video of תיעוד וידאו של מעצר ילדים בחברון Arrest of Palestinian children in Hebron

The Electronic Intifada has captured even more horrifyingly racist and violent statements by Israeli soldiers on Facebook targeting Palestinian children as part of our effort to document this widespread phenomenon.

On the day US President Barack Obama arrived for his Israel visit last week, Israeli occupation forces in Hebron violently seized and detained dozens of Palestinian children, some aged as young as eight, on their way to school.

The harrowing video, above, of the Israeli army attack on the children went viral on YouTube.

B’Tselem, the Israeli organization that documents and criticizes some of Israel’s human rights abuses and which posted the video, condemned the mass arrest of the children as “unlawful” and said that some of the children had been taken to interrogation centers where severe and systematic abuses, including holding children in solitary confinement and harsh interrogation without parents or lawyers present, is the norm.

In previous cases, Palestinian children have testified that under such conditions they have been forced to confess by Israeli interrogators to false charges of throwing rocks or molotov cocktails and pressed to inform on friends and family.

“A bullet in his mouth”

Givati Brigade’s Yoni Gordon thinks Palestinian child should be put on his knees and shot in the mouth. (Facebook page, March 02, 2011)

When the video of the children’s arrest was posted on the popular Israeli Facebook page “We are all in favor of death to terrorists,” a hotbed of racist incitement, it provided an opportunity for dozens of Israelis, once again, to express horrifyingly violent views (see the screenshot of all the comments in context) [in Hebrew].

Some of those posting comments were Israeli soldiers. Here are a few that indicate the mindset of these soldiers:

Kfir Brigade’s Oren Degani, seen with a child, thinks Palestinian children are “little shits.” (Source Oren Degani’s photos, facebook)

Oren Degani, whose Facebook profile contains information suggesting he is a member of the “Black Scorpions” unit of the Israeli army’s Kfir Brigade, clearly believes the Palestinian children deserve such treatment and that they are all presumed guilty. He wrote under the video:

They pretend to be innocent saints who did nothing. I know this from my reserve duty. They throw a firebomb and when you catch them they cry and swear on Muhammad that they didn’t do anything … little shits.

Corporal Ari Ben Reuven’s profile image includes the motto “The road to peace is paved with telescopic gunsights” and “Let the army mow [them] down!” (Source, facebook page)

Ari Ben Reuven, whose Facebook profile indicates he is a corporal in the Israeli army, was even more blunt:

I’d break every one of his bones

Ron Shwartz had a similar reaction and observed:

More violence is needed. Where are the clubs to break their legs?

Yoni Gordon, a member of the Givati Brigade, had simple advice for how to deal with a Palestinian child:

Put him on his knees and shoot a bullet into his mouth.

Avisaf Hillel (center) misses his army days of abusing Palestinian children. (Source)

Avisaf Hillel, whose Facebook profile says he attends “Ariel University,” a settler institution in the occupied West Bank, and is a die-hard supporter of Israel’s Beitar Jerusalem football club whose fans are notorious for their racist mob rampages, looked back fondly and with a touch of sarcasm on his time in the army when he was mistreating Palestinian children:

How I miss those days!!! But during my time in regular military service, they couldn’t get a peep out of their mouth!! We took care of them real well!!

Jewish Agency’s social media propagandist Avi Mayer also defends child abuse.
Another of those defending and justifying the soldiers’ brutality seen in the video was the Jewish Agency’s social media propandist Avi Mayer – himself an American volunteer in the Israeli army.

In a series of tweets, Mayer, a former Israeli army spokesman, suggested that accusations leveled against the children by the Israeli occupation army should be taken as incontrovertible truth that the children were criminals who deserved such shocking treatment and that Palestinian children should be viewed as guilty until proven innocent of whatever the Israeli army accuses them.

Again, here’s hatemonger @AliAbunimah (in Chicago):http://bit.ly/16Ks5P8 . And here’s Palestinian news site Ma’an:pic.twitter.com/IuwJD9PbfR

Not surprisingly, Mayer has absolutely refused to criticize the Israeli army’s routine, documented abuses of children or the horrifying statements of his comrades in arms.

With thanks to Dena Shunra for additional research.

Also see: “Castrate them!” Burn them!” “Bullet in the head!”: Facebook Israelis react to photo of Palestinian kids.

Let’s face it: Israel has a racism problem

When an Arab attacks a Jew, he’s a terrorist, he’s been taught to hate. When a Jew attacks an Arab, he’s just a loner, an oddball, a bad egg. But we’ve seen so many bad eggs at this point that something here has begun to stink.

By Ilene Prusher, Ha’aretz
March 12, 2013 

When an Arab attacks a Jew, he’s a terrorist, he’s been taught to hate. When a Jew attacks an Arab, he’s just a loner, an oddball, a bad egg. But we’ve seen so many bad eggs at this point that something here has begun to stink.

A schoolteacher was attacked on a Jerusalem street last week for no other reason than that she was wearing the headscarf of a religious Muslim woman. The pack of religious teenagers who accosted Wahad Abu-Zamira and her colleague Revital Valkov called the latter “a Jewish bitch who has Arab friends.”

A week earlier, a different Arab woman was attacked while she was waiting at a station of the Jerusalem light rail – the same rapid transit line which, when it opened not a year and-a-half ago, was touted as a peace train that would encourage coexistence between East and West Jerusalem. Teenage girls punched the woman – an ugly image caught on camera and transmitted across the world – but insist the veiled woman pushed them first.

Lest we pretend this is solely a Jerusalem problem, there was a similar racist incident in Upper Nazareth on Saturday night. But let’s also stop pretending that this is an aberration: just a few bad eggs, the riff-raff, a mean little cell of soccer fans that calls itself La Familia, that gang of fans who want Beitar Jerusalem’s two recently acquired players, Chechan Muslims, off the team.

Let’s face it: Israel has a racism problem. Not just in the middle of a war or intifada, when expressions of hatred can be explained away against the backdrop of terrorism and rocket attacks, but also during times of “quiet,” as Israelis like to call it – because no one dares call it peace.

A woman being attacked while wearing a hijab in Jerusalem should disturb us as much as a Jew getting beat up for wearing a kippa in Paris. But acts of racism and hate crimes are becoming such a regular feature in the news lately that they almost seem like background noise, the price of life in a country with a perpetually unsolved conflict.

The Ministry of Education issued a statement after the latest attack, condemning the behavior towards Abu-Zamira, who is after all its employee – she and Valkov teach at a Ramat Hasharon junior high school and had come to Jerusalem to pay a condolence call at the home of the school’s principal. Haaretz reported the ministry’s statement in a story late last week:

“Because a number of violent and racist incidents have occurred recently, Education Ministry director-general Dalit Stauber has instructed that this coming Sunday, March 10, an hour of class time be devoted to a discussion on how to prevent such phenomena and their destructive ramifications for society,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that relevant materials would be posted on the ministry website.

I decided to follow up on this directive to spend an hour of class time discussing the problem. I posted the question on two Facebook groups of parents who live in Israel – which together make up a total of about 1,450 members. Many people responded to say that they’d spoken about it with their teenagers, and not one found that the issue had actually been addressed as promised.

When I posed this to the Education Ministry and asked for a response to the apparent non-compliance of many schools, spokesman Shaul Pe’er sent me a one-line email in response: “All schools in Israel dealt with the matter!”

Phew. So glad that’s been dealt with.

I asked my friend Debora Siegel, a veteran teacher of English at Jerusalem’s prestigious Leyada, the popular name for the Hebrew University High School. She hadn’t received any particular instruction to address the issue for an hour on Sunday, and she would know: She’s also a mehanechet, the Israeli equivalent of a homeroom teacher. But it happens she brought it up in class, which she’s been doing more often, because the incidents seem to be growing in number.

“It feels like it’s getting worse and worse, though the kids tell me it’s always going on and it’s not new, that it’s just in the news more,” says Siegel, who immigrated to Israel from the U.S. and brings in texts from American writers such as Maya Angelou and Flannery O’Connor, along with readings on the civil rights movement. “I feel that the racism is more rampant, and that it’s happening all over the country. I notice it more from the kids’ mouths and in the newspapers. It’s not just about Arabs, it’s against foreign workers, it’s against Haredim.”

The school has been working on its own initiative, for example, to build bridges with schools in East Jerusalem. On Tuesday a group of students from Beit Hanina will be visiting Leyada and talking about their views on nonviolent protest, and how their lives are affected by living near a checkpoint.

Gilead Amir, the school’s principal, also doesn’t recall being informed of any specific directive from the Education Ministry to deal with the issue on March 10, though perhaps he missed it, he says.

“The idea to respond is good, and asking to us address the issue is something I support,” he says. “But it’s only meaningful when it comes as an enhancement to something that schools are dealing with as a part of their regular educational program. The point is not to stop and discuss the issue for an hour. What’s important is that it’s on the school’s agenda on a regular basis.” Leyada – a magnet school for bright kids – clearly thinks it’s a priority. It’s doubtful that the schools that need it most agree.

But the issue is so much larger than what the Ministry of Education says schools should do, and ultimately don’t do. Some of the most powerful messages are sent out by the police, when they release teenagers who are suspected of being responsible for the incident almost as soon as they’re arrested – as was the case in the attack on Abu-Samira.

Or when they accidentally lose hours of crucial taped testimony in the case of the “lynch” in Zion Square last summer, when an anti-Arab crowd of teenagers beat East Jerusalemite Jamal Julani within an inch of his life, leaving him unconscious and with no memory of the incident. (Two of the eight suspects will be convicted merely of “incitement to violence” in a plea bargain, the others’ cases are pending.) Or when no one is brought to justice in case of the Molotov cocktail attack on a Palestinian taxi during the same awful week last August; The attack horrifically burned seven members of the same family. (No arrests have been made in the attack on the Jayada family from Nahalin, other than the questioning of a few Bat Ayin youths who were released days later.)

Tag Meir pays a solidarity visit to victims of a price-tag attack

A group called Tag Meir – or Light Tag, a pun on the growth of the “price tag” attacks perpetrated by extreme right-wingers – called for demonstration against the violence Sunday night. The turnout was small – no more than 200 people – “especially compared to last year’s rallies for economic reform held at the same spot,” noted journalist Lauren Gelfond Feldinger in her Facebook status. No major politicians – including the prime minister, in front of whose house the protest was held – bothered to show up.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the double-standards. When an Arab attacks a Jew, he’s a terrorist, he’s with the movement, he’s been taught to hate. When a Jew attacks an Arab, he’s just a loner, an oddball, a bad egg. But we’ve seen so many bad eggs at this point that something here has begun to stink – and can no longer be explained away as a phenomenon on the fringes.

The racism in our midst

By Naomi Chazan, Times of Israel blog
March 10, 2013

Five vicious cases of hate crimes were recorded during the past two weeks alone. Hana Amtir, a pregnant Palestinian-Jerusalemite, was attacked by young girls while waiting for her husband at the light-rail station in town just because she wore a hijab. Not far away, two teachers – Suha Abu-Zmiru and Revital Wolkov – were assaulted as they came to pay a shiva call at the home of their principal. Hassan Osroof, a municipal worker, was battered by a gang of drunken youth while cleaning the streets of Tel-Aviv when he admitted that he was an Arab. And the Sharqawi couple met the same fate on the shores of the Kinneret. Violence against the other is fast becoming a plague which, like the hoards of locusts that are invading the fields of the Negev, threatens to consume every fertile corner of Israeli society unless aggressively eradicated.

Hanna Amtir was attacked in Jerusalem. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

These incidents are the latest manifestations of an extended series of acts directed mostly, although not only, against Arabs. Beyond the plethora of constant taunts and regular humiliations which sadly have become commonplace, some egregious examples will suffice. In April 2008, on the eve of the day commemorating the Holocaust, two young Palestinians, Ahmad Abu Kamal and Walid Kavshak, were brutally beaten by eleven Jewish youngsters in Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem. Hussam Rawidi was killed by three Jewish hooligans in Jerusalem in February 2011. This past August, Jamal Giuliani was mauled by dozens in Zion Square. For the past few years, groups of “Price Tag” activists have pestered Palestinians with impunity on a daily basis.

These racist acts have a dangerous spillover effect. The murder of gay teens in the Bar Noar in Tel-Aviv is a case in point. So, too, is the torching of an apartment of Eritrean refugees in Jerusalem a few months ago, or the ongoing physical harassment of asylum seekers in south Tel-Aviv. Ethiopian Jews suffer discrimination and abuse; so, too, do women at the hands of ultra-orthodox in the public sphere. The rash of hate crimes is casting a stigma not only on all Israelis; it is fast becoming a blight on Israel itself.

Yet official Israel has been much too forgiving in response to the growing number of hate-based assaults. To be sure, President Shimon Peres regularly decries these acts and some cabinet ministers (most recently Moshe Ya’alon) echo his sentiments. The Inspector-General of the Police, issued a (first) categorical condemnation this past Friday. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also spoken out periodically against such attacks. But beyond these general declarations, nothing much has been done to make it clear that there is no room for racism of any sort in this country. Many of those responsible for hate crimes have yet to be apprehended; some of those arrested have been allowed to plea-bargain and charges against them reduced; those found guilty have gotten off with unbelievably light sentences.

The list of excuses for this lackadaisical treatment is legion. For far too long, it was convenient to dismiss racist incidents as the work of over-zealous youth reacting emotionally to their hostile environment. An entire lexicon has emerged to whitewash the unacceptable. Hate-mongers are depicted as a few “bad apples”; vigilantes are viewed as misguided youth. Efforts to understand and reeducate have become a substitute for unequivocal opprobrium and denunciation.

Behind these weak and ineffective responses lies the consolidation of a culture that promotes ethnocentrism at the expense of humanism and mutual respect. Living in a state of prolonged conflict inevitably nurtures a mindset of demonization of the other – otherwise it is difficult to justify and sustain continued rule over another people. Collective wariness against Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular has enabled the depiction of assaults on individuals as acts of patriotism. In extreme cases, the victims themselves have been blamed for their own fate. And where fear and a sense of victimhood prevail, tolerance cannot thrive. For quite some time, lacking a clear and lucid delineation of normative boundaries, the public sphere in Israel has become a breeding ground for zealots, xenophobes, racists, chauvinists and bigots.

No country, surely not one that prides itself on being a democracy, can afford to look the other way in the face of such appalling conduct. Civic violence – especially the most reprehensible sort rooted in prejudice – tears apart any society. In Israel, it carries the additional stain of defying Jewish history by overlooking actions which are reminiscent of those perpetrated against Jews elsewhere. Unquestionably, these incidents add fuel to the growing anti-Israel fervor. But above all, hate-based crimes are immoral. They target individuals and groups for who they are and not for what they do. They spew suspicion and acrimony, unleash chaos and make a mockery of the principles of pluralism and tolerance. No self-respecting society, regardless of the extent of polarization on political matters, can allow such de-humanization to spread in its midst.

The time for condoning racist acts is over. The incoming government, which prides itself on promoting a civic agenda, must take the lead in creating an environment safe for all the country’s diverse citizens. The first step must be normative: a categorical declaration that hate crimes of any sort are antithetical to the fundamental values of Israel and will be treated as a near and present danger to its security and an ongoing threat to its sustainability.

Placing racism beyond the pale requires the adoption of a series of clear remedies. First, new legislation must be introduced to define hate crimes as akin to terrorist acts and to raise the penalties for those involved (MK Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz has proposed such a bill, which should be one of the first supported by the new coalition). Second, the authorities must be given the tools to implement the law and to bring those accused of discrimination to trial (the establishment of a special unit to investigate such crimes in the Jerusalem police is a step in the right direction). And third, the punishment for hate crimes must be increased in order to endow it with a deterrent effect. There really can be no compromise on these matters by the judicial system.

Ethnic, religious and national-based violence can be controlled and even eliminated. But in order to do so it must be understood that there are no mitigating circumstances for these actions. Just like weeds in a garden, in order to avoid them taking over the entire area, they have to be destroyed. Israel needs a very strong herbicide now to uproot acts of racism so that it will not become a racist society. This is perhaps its key charge as a collective; it is one of the most important challenges for each and every one of its citizens.

Professor Naomi Chazan, former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, is Dean of the School of Government and Society at the Academic College of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo

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