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Someone Else’s Normal: The Dawabshe tragedy and picturing Palestine

Middle East
on 19 Comments

About a month ago, I glanced at a bag of Duchy Organics potatoes I’d ordered online, and was surprised to discover that they came from Israel. I checked a bag of Duchy carrots in the fridge and saw that they too were Israeli. I was surprised because I’d thought all Duchy products were British. A quick Google search elicited the information that when Waitrose, a UK supermarket chain, licensed the Duchy brand from its founder, Prince Charles, the company also expanded its supplier network to include non-UK businesses. Claiming that ‘Good food’ ‘Good farming’ and ‘Good causes’ remain its guiding principles, the Waitrose website explains that ‘[w]here a reliable British supply isn’t available due to climate or seasonal availability, we make an organic choice available via reputable growers around the world.’

That evening, I wrote a letter to the company’s managing director contending that Israel – a country where there is a longstanding and systematic campaign to divert water resources from Palestinian agricultural enterprises, not to mention an escalating campaign of terror against Palestinian olive farmers who are regularly attacked during the harvest and thousands of whose trees have been uprooted – seems like a rather dubious source for Duchy products. Ten days later, I received a reply insisting that all Israeli products are traceable to within pre-1967 borders. For the uninitiated, this means that they don’t come from Israeli settlements.

‘Long live Messiah’

That exchange has been on my mind since the morning of 31st July when I awoke to the news that an 18 month-old toddler, Ali Dawabshe, had burnt to death when Jewish settlers attacked his family home in Duma in the West Bank district of Nablus. ‘Revenge’ and ‘long live Messiah’ had been graffitied on the walls. Ali’s four year-old brother, Ahmed, was also injured in the attack, and his parents were left in a critical condition with burns to 80% of their bodies. His father Saad died on Saturday. And yesterday evening, as I was leaving my children’s bedroom after putting them to sleep, I spotted a tweet reporting unconfirmed rumours that Ali’s mother Riham died too, leaving little Ahmed an orphan. He’s almost the same age as my own kids.

In the meantime, Laith al-Khaldi was shot in the back by an Israeli sniper while protesting the murderous attack on the Dawabshe home, and Mohammed al-Masri was gunned down by the IDF near the Gaza border fence. Both were 17. And while Saad Dawabshe took his last breath in an Israeli hospital on Saturday, another arson attack by extremist settlers was underway in Duma. This time the firebombs didn’t reach their targets inside the house, though, so there was no coverage in the mainstream media, no hand wringing, no soul searching.

Yes, soul searching. That’s what Jodi Rudoren, The New York Times‘s Jerusalem bureau chief who is well-known to hobnob with the Israeli political elite from the comfort of her Palestinian-free neighbourhood in West Jerusalem, alleged was happening across Israel in the aftermath of Ali Dawabshe’s death. Israelis were supposedly ‘in shock’ over the incident, which was the handiwork of ‘extremist’ settlers. Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner labelled it a ‘barbaric act of terrorism’ while Benjamin Netanyahu called the perpetrators ‘murderers’ and insisted that they would be brought to justice. Here in the UK, The Guardian‘s comments editor, Jonathan Freedland, perplexingly used the attack as proof of political diversity within Israeli society, rather than evidence of a deep vein of racism and denial that runs through it.

Whitewashing the crime scene

Suspects in the arson attack were rounded up and a dramatic show made of their ‘administrative detention’, an Israeli judicial practice of holding suspects indefinitely without charge, which is usually reserved for Palestinians. In fact, the Israeli high court ruled just the other day that it’s acceptable to force feed prisoners who undertake hunger strikes to protest this indefinite detention. Consequently, yesterday Israeli authorities roved from hospital to hospital in search of a doctor willing to force feed Mohammed Allan, who hasn’t eaten for 57 days, whilst simultaneously releasing all of the suspects in the Dawabshe arson attack.

The effort to whitewash the crime scene, wiping it clean of politicians’ prints, brought forcefully to mind the parsing of morality that infects the entire discourse around Israel/Palestine, which was on vivid display in the letter I received from Waitrose. Here in the West, politicians from left to right rely on fairy-tale concepts like ‘pre-1967 borders’ as though Israel’s settlements policy originates in Area C, rather than Tel Aviv where it is conceived, incubated, nurtured and administered. It strikes me that this calculated sleight of hand is a proxy for our leaders’ discomfort about the contradiction between Israeli ‘democracy’ and its ‘Jewishness,’ like forced laughter or a bone-crushing handshake. There is a deliberate and cynical disconnect between an act and its meaning.

Indeed, their marching orders come straight from Tel Aviv, where the Israeli Prime Minister hawks to prospective settlers from Brooklyn to Paris and beyond an unassailable entitlement to occupy Palestinian land, sweetened by a supply of government-issued automatic weapons, and then trots out the lexicon of outrage when those settlers display the very sense of bloody-minded entitlement he cultivates.

‘Price tag’ attacks and settler impunity

After all, so-called ‘price tag’ attacks such as the one against the Dawabshe family originated as a response by settlers (of whom there are now more than half-a-million) to Israeli courts ruling their settlements illegal. What’s more, they’re common: the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that there have been some 2100 settler attacks since 2006 including 120 in the 222 days of 2015 so far. The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din says that 92.5% of Palestinian complaints against settlers are dismissed without charge and only 1.4% of those who murder Palestinian children are ever indicted. This might be news to you, but rest assured that Bibi and his mates know all about it.

Twenty years ago, when I was a journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto my classmates and I were urged to think carefully about ethical issues that might arise in the work we hoped to do. I recall one class when our prof showed us a photo of a black man in street clothes being chased by two cops. We were invited to speculate about the scene that had been captured, and you can probably guess what we thought. But we were wrong. In reality, the shot consisted of a black plain-clothes cop and his colleagues in uniform chasing a suspect who was outside the frame.

At the time, I found this lesson rather crude, a sort of racial honeytrap designed to expose some putative bias on our part, and I’m still not convinced my reading would have been much different had the guy in street clothes been white. Nonetheless, for me the distorted semantics thrown up by faux debates about ‘extremism’, ‘terror’, and even ‘democracy’ stoke anger and anxiety not just about blame, but also about shame. For while all of us now know what happened to Ali Dawabshe, we still inhabit a world in which the UK’s Labour party leadership hopefuls queue up to declare their allegiance to Israel less than a year after the bloodiest Gaza siege in a decade. A notable exception is Jeremy Corbyn, of course, who The Guardian‘s Michael White attempted to smear by describing him as ‘pro-Hamas’ just a day before Ali Dawabshe was burnt to death. Did that death give Michael White pause? I doubt it.

The scalp of our silence

It’s a world in which Conservative MPs queue up to prevent academic debate about Israeli policy, and Tory Prime Ministers defend the slaughter of unarmed Gazan civilians sheltering in UN schools by the same forces that have maintained an eight year siege against those same civilians. These people are unashamed by their unconditional support for a regime that made the death of this toddler and his parents entirely predictable, if not inevitable. Indeed, they split linguistic and moral hairs in order to justify their shrewd indifference. They tell themselves and each other that this hell on earth is someone else’s normal. And conversely, those of us who queue up to speak out about Palestinian dispossession and conditions on the ground in Israel and the OPT are routinely shamed as ‘extremists’ and ‘anti-Semites’ by politicians across the so-called spectrum. They require the scalp of our silence.

Sure, pictures can be misleading, dangerous, manipulative; just look at the ‘fleeing’ black man I described above. But so can words. Perhaps the best we can do, then, is dare to look, read, listen to our hearts, and write what we discover there in the hope of piecing together a morally coherent landscape. Here are a handful of photos from Palestine and Israel that came across my Twitter feed this week. Having looked and listened and written as much as I can bear, I confess that today my own heart is a little more broken.

Ali Saad Dawabshe’s funeral.

Ali Saad Dawabshe’s funeral.

Meir Ettinger, the head of a Jewish extremist group, stands at the Israeli justice court in Nazareth Illit on August 4, 2015, a day after his arrest. (Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP)

Meir Ettinger, the head of a Jewish extremist group, stands at the Israeli justice court in Nazareth Illit on August 4, 2015, a day after his arrest. (Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP)

A father and son who both lost legs in Operation Protective Edge, Gaza 2014.

A father and son who both lost legs in Operation Protective Edge, Gaza 2014.

Relatives and friends of 17-years-old Laith al-Khalidi…mourn during his funeral ceremony in Jifna town of Ramallah, West Bank on August 01, 2015. (Photo: Shadi Hatem – Anadolu Agency)

Relatives and friends of 17-years-old Laith al-Khalidi…mourn during his funeral ceremony in Jifna town of Ramallah, West Bank on August 01, 2015. (Photo: Shadi Hatem – Anadolu Agency)

A version of this post first appeared on Juliana Farha’s website

About Juliana Farha

Juliana Farha is a Canadian-born writer with a Lebanese heritage and a liberal feminist outlook. She lives in London where writes about questions that seize her imagination, insult her sense of fairness, and open her eyes to beauty.

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19 Responses

  1. ritzl
    ritzl
    August 13, 2015, 9:26 am

    Israel – a country where there is a longstanding and systematic campaign to divert water resources from Palestinian agricultural enterprises, …Ten days later, I received a reply insisting that all Israeli products are traceable to within pre-1967 borders. …

    Complete non-sequitur. Water is the most fungible of things. Palestinian water is used to grow all Israeli produce. It would be interesting to see a “trace” put on the water used to grow carrots in ’67 Israel.

    Great article. Thanks for pointing out the ongoing contrasts.

  2. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    August 13, 2015, 10:18 am

    RE: “In the meantime, Laith al-Khaldi was shot in the back by an Israeli sniper while protesting the murderous attack on the Dawabshe home, and Mohammed al-Masri was gunned down by the IDF near the Gaza border fence. Both were 17.” ~ Juliana Farha

    SEE: “Israeli Troops Furious at New West Bank Rules of Engagement”, by Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com, August 12, 2015
    Troops Can’t Shoot Fleeing Palestinians in the Back Anymore

    Israeli soldiers are acting with outrage tonight after news that the military has temporarily revised the rules of engagement for combat soldiers in the occupied West Bank, centering on efforts to prevent gunfire except in genuine cases of threats to the lives of soldiers.

    The ban, for instance, explicitly forbids shooting fleeing rock-throwers in the back, and likewise warns that if a car runs through a checkpoint without trying to run people over, the military isn’t to just fire willy-nilly into the sides of it. This is a huge change for the Israeli military’s standard operations in the West Bank.

    Israeli soldiers termed the new rules “bizarre,” saying they are all in “total shock” at the sudden efforts to tamp down shooting at Palestinians, and with several saying they believe that the reduction in shootings will lead to more terror attacks across Israel.

    The Israeli military has downplayed the change, saying the new specific rules were only meant to clarify what was supposed to be policy all along, that troops not fire unless there is a “clear and immediate danger.” Given how broadly soldiers have previously interpreted their freedom to fire on Palestinians, and done so with impunity, it seems the clarification was a long-time coming.

    SOURCE – http://news.antiwar.com/2015/08/12/israeli-troops-furious-at-new-west-bank-rules-of-engagement/

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      August 13, 2015, 11:41 am

      ‘Israeli soldiers termed the new rules “bizarre,” ‘

      We can’t kill then any time we want? Ridiculous!

    • eljay
      eljay
      August 13, 2015, 12:01 pm

      … Israeli soldiers are acting with outrage tonight after news that the military has temporarily revised the rules of engagement for combat soldiers in the occupied West Bank …

      What are they complaining about? It’s not as though they’ve been told that they have to stop:
      – enforcing the on-going occupation and colonization of Palestine; or
      – oppressing and torturing Palestinians.

      • a blah chick
        a blah chick
        August 13, 2015, 1:29 pm

        Oh, eljay, you should have heard them. it was all “they’re tying our hands!” and “what am I suppose to do when they throw a molotov cocktail at me?!” But they really should not get too hot and bothered because this “revising” of the rules of engagement is pure PR. Once things die down a bit (so to speak) things will be back to normal. The settlers will be told to cool for a time or merely wait until they are in uniform, when they will be allowed to shot at will. And in wartime burn or decapitate, but with government sanction and the cover of “self-defense.”

    • JennieS
      JennieS
      August 13, 2015, 12:22 pm

      I am rather worried about the word ‘temporality” in this story. How long is this temporary ban supposed to last?

    • gracie fr
      gracie fr
      August 16, 2015, 3:24 pm

      “The Israeli military has downplayed the change, saying the new specific rules were only meant to clarify what was supposed to be policy all along, that troops not fire unless there is a “clear and immediate danger.” Given how broadly soldiers have previously interpreted their freedom to fire on Palestinians, and done so with impunity, it seems the clarification was a long-time coming. ……”

      Maybe some higher-up had a twinge of conscience after Operation Protective edge…..

      There was one afternoon that the company commander gathered us all together, and we were told that we were about to go on an offensive operation, to “provoke” the neighborhood that dominated us, which was al-Bureij…. Because up until then, we hadn’t really had any real engagement with them…. [W]hen it started getting dark my tank led the way, we were in a sort of convoy, and there was this little house. And then suddenly we see an entire neighborhood opening up before us, lots of houses, it’s all crowded and the moment we got to that little house, the order came to attack. Each [tank] aimed at whichever direction it chose…. And that’s how it was, really—every tank just firing wherever it wanted to. And during the offensive, no one shot at us—not before it, not during it, and not after it. I remember that when we started withdrawing with the tanks, I looked toward the neighborhood, and I could simply see an entire neighborhood up in flames, like in the movies. Columns of smoke everywhere, the neighborhood in pieces, houses on the ground, and like, people were living there, but nobody had fired at us yet. We were firing purposelessly.

      https://www.byline.com/project/13/article/205

      • annie
        annie
        August 16, 2015, 3:45 pm

        gracie, this reminds me when i was in gaza after the 08-09 cast lead massacre. we arrived about 4 months after but everything remained in rubble because there was no fuel or equipment to deal with the enormous amount of ruin. people living amongst the rubble in certain areas.

        anyway, we were in some location near the top of the strip looking down (south) along the border and out into israel. it was a long view. and it was very apparent they had intended to just clear the whole area, to target the whole area along the border within a certain depth. it was just devastation with huge buildings having just collapsed pulverized by bombs. huge pieces of concrete like nothing i have ever seem. like a movie set. it took my breath away. and people were using the spaces between the large pieces for shelter. they had cleared away the rubble surrounding a designated area and set up a camp-like space. and the kids were out playing like kids do. in this huge bombed out place. i doubt i will ever see anything like that again in my lifetime. it was chilling. and there was no mistaking it when i saw it over a whole landscape like that. israel just cleared everything and turned into a desolate place.

  3. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    August 13, 2015, 1:29 pm

    BTW, has anyone been arrested yet in the Duma killings?

    • Kay24
      Kay24
      August 13, 2015, 1:51 pm

      No, those Israeli sleuths are so incompetent, when it comes to their own criminals. On the other hand if were some Palestinians, the entire town would be bombed by now.

      No (illegal) homes owned by the Jewish terrorists have been demolished as of today.

  4. John O
    John O
    August 13, 2015, 1:50 pm

    Thank you, Juliana, for a thought-provoking article. It gets worse, though – the “Jewish Chronicle” has accused the likely new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, of anti-Semitism:

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/13/jewish-chronicle-accuses-jeremy-corbyn-associating-holocaust-deniers#comment-57448264

    … hard on the heels of their recent attack on the BBC’s Lyse Doucet.

  5. John O
    John O
    August 13, 2015, 1:54 pm

    That photo of Meir Ettinger disturbed me when it first appeared in an earlier MW article. Where had I seen that smug “you can’t touch me” expression before? Then I remembered – the English racist thugs who murdered black teenager Steven Lawrence 20 years ago. Well, we got two of them behind bars, but it took an eternity.

    • Kay24
      Kay24
      August 13, 2015, 2:22 pm

      He certainly looks unhinged.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        August 14, 2015, 5:56 pm

        Think of Meir Ettinger multiplied–with a stockpile of 200 nukes in his closet. Samson Option, Massada. God told me so. There out to get us! Sheldon Adelson. Feel safe?

  6. Citizen
    Citizen
    August 14, 2015, 6:11 pm

    Figures, he’s the grandson of a notorious Zionist terrorist. All in the family. A tad more lethal than Archie Bunker. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4687342,00.html

  7. WH
    WH
    August 15, 2015, 4:02 am

    What an excellent article, both intellectually and emotionally rich. Thanks for that.

  8. annie
    annie
    August 15, 2015, 12:39 pm

    this is an amazing article. thank you SO much Juliana Farha

  9. Sibiriak
    Sibiriak
    August 15, 2015, 1:34 pm

    “A notable exception is Jeremy Corbyn, of course, who The Guardian‘s Michael White attempted to smear by describing him as ‘pro-Hamas’ “

    —————-

    And now:

    “Jeremy Corbyn was accused of being an anti-Semite by one of Labour’s most senior politicians last night as a series of party grandees rounded on the hard-Left candidate.

    Ivan Lewis, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, attacked Mr Corbyn’s “anti-Semitic rhetoric” and said the party must have “zero tolerance” for such views.

    Mr Lewis said he was “saddened” that people on the Left of the party had failed to take a “no ifs, no buts” to anti-Semitism.

    […]It comes after the Jewish Chronicle raised concerns about Mr Corbyn’s pro-Palestinian views as they demanded he urgently answer questions about his links to controversial Middle Eastern figures. ”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11804288/Jeremy-Corbyn-accused-of-being-anti-semitic-as-Labour-grandees-round-on-hard-Left-leadership-frontrunner.html

    Unsurprisingly, not a shred of evidence to back up the accusation.

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