The notion that Israel is victimizing the Palestinians is one of the cardinal—perhaps the cardinal—paradigms of international politics since the 1967 Six-Day War. Not only the left, both in Israel and abroad, subscribes to it, but also a large part of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, and just about all of official Europe. It goes without saying that the paradigm is regnant in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
It is hard, then, to get anyone interested in Palestinians victimizing Palestinians—suggesting that the seeming preoccupation with Israeli-ruled territories has something to do with the great value many people find in the Jew-as-victimizer prototype. Similarly, once the United States—supposedly the oppressor—had left Southeast Asia in the early 1970s, it was hard to get any but a few of the opponents of that presence interested in the ensuing horrendous victimization of Vietnamese and Cambodians by other Vietnamese and Cambodians.
Last week, though, an Israeli outfit called the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) tried to buck the trend. It presented to the European Parliament a report on “The Status of Human Rights on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” The reports notes that “a surprising silence prevails regarding the violation of human rights by the Palestinian government authorities in the Territories,” and that, even though these are by now widely documented, “the EU continues to push for full and immediate statehood for the [Palestinian Authority].”
And while the JIJ focuses mainly on Europe, it could, naturally, also have said similar things regarding the Obama administration’s preoccupation with getting statehood for the Palestinians—fast; which seems to have waned only recently in an election year.
In a short section called “Arbitrary Imprisonment,” the JIJ relates that in 2011 the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) received
complaints of more than 1,400 arbitrary arrests in the West Bank and more than 300 in Gaza.
Although most of the cases were and are connected to the conflict between Fatah and Hamas, there were also many cases of political arrests of reporters, teachers, university professors, students, Mosque Imams and other persons who opposed the reigning government.
Apparently, then, removing most (or in Gaza, all) Israeli governmental control from these areas is not a sine qua non for liberation. But it gets much worse in the report’s next section, “Torture and Degrading Treatment.” It turns out that human rights workers say “cases of torture and cruel punishment occur on a regular basis in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, often resulting in death.”
For instance, in the West Bank on September 19, 2010,
Ahmed Salhab, a 42-year-old mechanic from Hebron, was arrested and detained until October 16, first in Hebron and then in Jericho. On October 16, Preventive Security officials transferred him to a hospital in Hebron suffering from injury to previously torn spinal discs and severe mental distress resulting from torture in custody.
And in Gaza in 2010,
the ICHR documented 220 complaints on the use of cruel or degrading punishment of prisoners, which included standing for many hours, flogging, beating with batons, kicking, punching, tying the hands behind the back and hanging with a hook in high place, blindfolding for many hours, using electric shock by tying the toes with electrified wires, cursing and threatening.
Naturally, in such a situation, the West Bank and Gaza don’t score high in other categories of human rights either, such as:
- Freedom of the press: In 2010 Reporters without Borders rated the PA 150th out of 170 countries in that category. In the first half of 2011 there were “68 cases of assault on reporters by the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
- Freedom of religion: The U.S. State Department has ranked the PA “44th out of 50 countries in regard to persecution or discrimination against religious minorities.” The Open Doors organization says “Christians in the West Bank are exposed to discrimination and suffer limitations of their freedom.” Regarding Gaza, reports speak of “systematic persecution with the purpose of continual decrease in the number of Christians living there.”
- Women’s rights: While the JIJ says that “Palestinian women in the West Bank generally have much more freedom than those living in other Arab countries,” honor killings are an ongoing reality and “Palestinian law allows those who are murdered based on family honor to evade justice and provides quasi-impunity regarding [these] killings.” Women also are “not legally protected against domestic violence,” and “the Islamic law makes it difficult for women to divorce…women have to prove that they were beaten and this is almost impossible….” For women in Gaza, “socializing in public with the opposite sex is forbidden, and premarital sex is punishable by imprisonment.”
- Children’s rights: In February 2011 a Palestinian newspaper reported that in the Palestinian territories
many parents do not know how to treat children who are mentally or physically disabled. These children are mostly hidden from the eyes of society and are isolated, even from their siblings. They are often sexually abused by their relatives or neighbors. Their disability is perceived as a form of a punishment from Allah and as a source of shame for the parents….
Last September in his speech to the UN General Assembly, President Obama—seemingly oblivious to these problems—said he believed that “the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own.” He wasn’t the only one; his predecessor, President George W. Bush, called for a “democratic Palestinian state” on many occasions, and the “Middle East Road Map to Peace,” drafted by the State Department based on a speech Bush gave in 2002, mentions such a democratic state four times while harping on the theme of a “democratic Palestinian constitution.”
But talking about Palestinian—and Arab—democracy has always been easier than achieving it. Hopes for democratizing the region ran high at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and as recently as last year when the “Arab Spring” broke out. A year later, facing a dark landscape of Islamist ascendancy and/or severe brutality in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, and so on, such hopes have again run aground.
Will a similar realism about “Palestine” take hold? Again, with Jews in the picture, the situation seems more complicated. But the idea that upgrading the West Bank and Gaza to statehood would be a step toward peace, let alone democracy, is surely in need of a reality check.
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