Oh, Israel, Let them Protest Peacefully!
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
As Israel suffers under repeated violent attacks, it should be encouraging dialog and peaceful means of protest. Instead, the government of Israel violently stifles protest. By shutting out the peaceful approach to reconciliation, the government of Israel helps incite more hatred against it.
The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has reported that the government of Israel indicts protestors with charges of sedition. The protestors are citizens of Israel. Unfortunately, many Israelis condone their government's prohibition of free expression, especially by Arab Israeli citizens.
Arabs held a quiet demonstration in Lod's Independence Square. They held signs denouncing Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The Lod police declared this assembly to be illegal and ordered them to disperse, even though by law since they did not number more than 15 persons, they could hold their protest without a permit.
The police then arrested 11 demonstrators, and the government indicted them. Some were charged with sedition under a law going back to the British mandate. The attorney general of Israel signed the charge.
In a protest held in October 2000, 13 Arab citizens of Israel were killed by the police. That protest became violent, but rather than try to seek a peaceful solution, the police force, to teach them a lesson, itself resorted to violence, including, according to the Arab Association for Human Rights, "indiscriminate gunfire directed at demonstrators and the use of snipers". What was this lesson supposed to be?
A story in arabia.com reports that in January 2001, Asel Asleh, an Arab teenager from the Galilee, "was shot in the neck from very close range. But the many bruises that covered his body narrated the horrifying scene that preceded his death. Asel's death came as a shock to his family and to everyone who truly knew him. The young man was a vibrant and active member in an organization called 'Seeds of Peace'. Seeds of Peace is a US-based initiative, that brings hundreds of Arab and Israeli teenagers to summer camps in the US, where kids are told that they must learn to accept and to live with one another."
Some who support the Israeli government counter that repression is much worse in Arab countries, that Israel is under siege and must use any means necessary to defend itself, and that a terrorist could be hiding inside a peaceful assembly.
These arguments do not excuse the violation of human rights by any government, including that of Israel. In this world, Israel and the United States of America have a quality that no other countries possess: moral capital. The USA was founded to promote and preserve liberty, and the US has prestige and respect to the degree that it is true to this value, which sadly often has not been the case. Israel too was founded on a moral principle, not just the right of its people to their ancestral homeland, but implicitly yet profoundly real, the role under Judaism, by their own choosing, of Jews to be a moral example to humanity. The moral prestige and respect for Israel also stems from the horrific suffering and destruction of the Holocaust, a culmination of centuries of persecution, for which all Europe and indeed the nations of the Middle East as well are to blame.
Israel still retains much of this moral capital, but it is losing it year by year as it continues to violate the rights of its own citizens. Israel has ridiculously shackled its economy with pervasive bureaucracy and invasive taxes, violations of the sacred command, Thou Shalt Not Steal. It has failed to make its land a bounty for all its residents. And now it squanders its precious moral capital by killing and repressing its own Arab citizens.
If the people of the State of Israel want to live in peace with their Arab neighbors, they should start with its own citizens. Let people protest peacefully. Apologize for past violence and repression. Give the Arabs equal rights and economic benefits. Make the Arab Israelis happy and proud to be Israeli citizens, and thankful they don't live under the wretched regimes of the area. Shalom begins at home.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2002 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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