I saw this image tonight and had such an intense wave of disgust wash over me. This is the proverbial picture worth a thousand words. It displays a vicious visual ‘poetry’ and deserves to win photographer, Baz Ratner, a Pulitzer Prize. The picture was shot at a protest by thousands of Ethiopian Israelis angry about an assault on an Ethiopian IDF soldier by police.
Of course, the demonstration was about more than this, but that was the match that lit the fire. Ethiopians, brought to Israel decades ago as part of Operation Solomon are the underclass of society. The euphoria and jubilation of the airlift were replaced by the sober reality of life the morning after. Israel has not been a pleasant refuge for them. Poverty, joblessness, and discrimination lurk everywhere. Israeli Jews turn away from Ethiopians in disgust. They often won’t let their children study with them in the same classroom.
I’ve reported another related story under Israeli gag order. Many months ago, an Ethiopian Israeli crossed the border into Gaza. He was taken by Hamas which now has him in custody. It wants to return him to Israel. But naturally wants something in return. Israel has no interest in bargaining. Now ask yourself, if Israel bargained for months over Gilad Shalit and exchanged 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for him; and it won’t talk about or release a single prisoner for this poor Ethiopian, what does that tell you about Israeli racism?
If there is a hierarchy of misery ranked by ethnicity, African refuges are the lowest of the low, followed by West Bank Palestinians, Israeli Palestinians, Ethiopians, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim.
The Ethiopians are furthered distinguished by their skin color (Mizrahim and Palestinians can often be mistaken for each other) which makes it much easier to identify and stigmatize them. That is what happened to Damas Pakada, an Ethiopian IDF soldier accosted by a police volunteer, who then assaulted him aided by a police officer. Israeli media are asking the proper question: would this have happened to an Israeli Jew? Of course not.
The echoes of Baltimore and Ferguson are ringing in our ears as well. Police brutality knows no special language, nationality or border. But one thing we can say is that Israel offers new & innovative techniques to the world’s police for assaulting their citizens. Police departments in the U.S. (including Ferguson) are considering purchasing the patented “stink cannon” which spews feces-scented liquid upon protesters (Palestinian in Israel’s case, Black in America’s). The material can’t be washed off by normal means and lingers for weeks afterward.
Further, U.S. police departments make regular “pilgrimages” to learn about the crowd-control techniques of Israeli police. As riots contort more and more U.S. cities, and police forces become more and more frightened of those they’re supposed to protect, the Israeli model has a fatal attraction: see citizens as the enemy and prepare for the worst. It’s a legacy for which Israel can be proud.
Returning to that picture: it is an emblem of what Israel has become. The horse standing, massive and blinded like Samson by a mask, and mounted by the police officer in visored riot-helmet. They look like the Dark Knight, a satanic version of medieval chivalry. Below them, the protesters cower like ants. This is the power of the Israeli State brought to bear on the dissidents, the have-nots, the untermenschen. The message: accept what little you are offered from us without complaint or we will wield our power like horses hooves. We will trample you underfoot.
Look at this poor horse, this blind beast of burden forced to implement the sins of the Israeli State. It reminded me of the Rolling Stones song:
I’ll never be your beast of burden
My back is broad but it’s a hurting
I’ll never be your beast of burden
I’ve walked for miles my feet are hurting
Yeah, all your sickness
I can suck it up
Throw it all at me…
Even Jerusalem Post reporter Ben Hartman, not usually sympathetic to the Israeli underclass, tweeted this:
They used means like stun grenades, water cannons, that Ive never seen at a rally in Tel Aviv. But ive never seen 1 this violent @abushalom
— Ben Hartman (@Benhartman) May 4, 2015
The second portion of this post reveals another deep Israeli injustice that betrays the sin of ethnic-cleansing and Islamophobia going all the way back to the founding of the State. Before 1948, the 10,000 Bedouins of the Negev gathered to pray at the Great Mosque. During the War, Israel expelled Muslims from the building and turned it into a prison. As this was the main center of worship for the region’s Muslims, they were left with nowhere else to pray.
In the 1950s, the mosque was turned into a museum. Muslims could not enter to pray unless they paid the regular admittance fee:
Aqel Abu Freih, from the Negev village of al-Araqib, said: “I remember when I finished the 10th grade I used to come to the mosque to pray and pay for a ticket to enter the mosque as a visitor and pray.”Is it reasonable that a Muslim would have to pay to pray in the Israeli state in the 21st century?”
For decades, the local Muslim community petitioned authorities to allow them to pray regularly at the mosque. In 2011, their appeals were exhausted when the Supreme Court (that purported upholder of the religious and civil rights of Israel’s minorities) ruled it could be turned into a museum dedicated to Islam (!).
The parallel I’m about to draw is much more severe in the case of the original incident than the one of the Beersheba mosque. But the similarities in brutality, thoughtlessness, and racism struck me nevertheless. During the Holocaust, Hitler devised a plan to create a museum dedicated to the memory of European Jewry. It was called the Museum of the Extinct Race. It was to be housed in a magnificent Prague synagogue and contain the finest examples of Jewish ritual objects, sacred texts, Torah scrolls. To this end, the Nazis looted the synagogues of the countries they conquered and sent to Czechoslovakia the finest of what they found.
To be clear, the Nazi concept in creating the museum was to highlight their extermination of European Jewry. Israel hasn’t done anything nearly as “ambitious.” But it has engaged in a brutal, heartless act of cultural erasure. It’s the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. As if the expropriation of the building wasn’t bad enough, the idea of dedicating the former mosque to Islam, is an even worse insult. Who will visit it?
Muslims will not visit it except in its capacity as a mosque. Israelis will visit it as a tourist attraction allowing them to view the local Muslims and their religion as a cultural artifact for study by the Jewish majority. In fact, a few years ago the mayor came up with the bright idea of hosting a beer and wine festival on the mosque grounds. Local Muslims were, as you can imagine, delighted to hear their sacred shrine would be defiled by alcohol.
This holy shrine may not be a mosque because Israeli Jews do not want Muslims as living, thriving members of their society. They vastly prefer them, as Hitler did, to a memory. Something that can neatly fit into a museum. So Jews can say they honor Muslims, but behind plexiglass and at a distance.
The Great Mosque is another example of the sins of the Israeli State ranging all the way back to its founding. The continuing injustice for 67 years reminds us of the true nature of this State, which no matter how many good intentions its founders may’ve had, is mired in its Original Sin.