May 31st marked the second anniversary of the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotila and the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara vessel. In Turkey the decision to launch a raid on civilians engaged in a peaceful attempt to beat the blockade of Gaza was and is seen as a crime for which an apology is necessary. In Israel, they still debate over whether there’s anything to apologize for. The 2010 incident, which saw Israeli commandos kill nine Turkish citizens, has poisoned relations between the two countries and created a wide gulf on every issue from NATO to the ownership of the oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. Two years on, this remains a thorny issue in a region of the world that has and is going through a period of transition and turmoil, an event that has had repercussions big and small.
Less than two weeks after that fateful last day in May, a Palestinian man named Ziad Jilani got in a minor car accident in east Jerusalem and was shot to death shortly thereafter by a member of Israel’s Border Police, or as it’s known in Israel the Magav. As usual, excuses of terrorism were offered by the authorities as to why this happened, and the name and identity of the officer were withheld up until a month ago. There was no formal inquiry, and the media spin on the lonesome death of Ziad Jilani–that he had run over four Magav officers with his car and was a terrorist–eventually morphed into the rationale of a tragic misunderstanding.
Terror is a wonderful buzz-word in America, a catch-all that allows for the most egregious societal and personal offenses by government to be dismissed from the court of public opinion as the unfortunate consequences of living in security. But in Israel, a country which has seen its fair share of terrorism in its 60-plus year history, it means that the security forces, the brutal face of the state to millions of Palestinians, have free rein to do to the captive population whatever they choose whenever they choose it. It’s the whitewash applied to the bloodstains on concrete and the mortar for the separation walls they put up to further appropriate Palestinian land.
All of Israel’s security forces have done bad in the alleged defense of the nation against the monster of terrorism, but the consistently worst offender is the Magav. As they are on the front lines of the occupation on the West Bank and in east Jerusalem, they have a lot of opportunities to practice. There are no end of Magav stories out there. They are rude. They are indifferent to the actions of the right-wing settlers. They shoot people in the head with high velocity tear-gas canisters at protests. Probably the most unsettling thing about this unit is the way the state enables the Magav to get away with it all. Police courts in the occupied territories handle situations of Magav violence and decide whether they should be brought to trial, as in the case of Emily Henochowicz. If the decision is made that no-one should be held accountable, then they simply say ‘no trial’ and hand it off to the Attorney General who almost without fail says they are right. Is there any other democratic society that allows such a lack of oversight to become a fixture of its justice system?
I’ve read a lot of Magav horror stories, but I’ve never come across one where they simply gunned someone down in the middle of a crowded street. Or that is, one individual Magav officer gunned down a man in the middle of a crowded street. And not only did he gun Ziad Jilani down, he did it with a single shot to the face, which is allegedly a sort of perverse coup de gras used by Israel’s security forces, like the old IRA’s legendary knee-cap shot or the ‘two-in-the-head’ in American Mafia stories. Even for the Magav this is a little much, but who is going to hold the soldier accountable? Does anyone in the Border Police or the Israeli justice system even care what happened? Unlikely.
The government only recently revealed the name and face of the officer who killed Ziad Jilani, now that the AG has let the case go the way of so many others. The mosaic of Border Police terror now has another chip in it, another mug shot of the actions of a state gone horribly askew.
June 11th marks the second anniversary of Ziad Jilani’s death at the hands of this man, Maxim Vinogradov. Israel is not going to hold Vinogradov accountable for what he did, but his name should not be forgotten. Ziad Jilani had a wife who is now a widow, and children for whom their father is only a memory, and people should know about this. Israel needs to clean up the Magav and to hold its officers to task whenever they step out of line. They are a bunch of cowboys out there in the occupied territories, and in the streets of East Jerusalem, but the Middle East is not the American Old West, and this kind of depravity only adds to the disgust and suspicions of concerned people everywhere.