This February Thaer Halahleh, 34, wrote a letter to his wife Shireen from an Israeli jail: ‘My detention has been renewed seven times and they still haven’t charged me. I can’t take it anymore.’ Then he began a hunger strike as did captive Bilal Diab. That was 77 days ago. Both are Palestinians, fathers, whose young daughters are strip searched and terrified essay-it.com when they visit. David Rose, an exceptional investigative journalist and Jewish himself, recently publicised their stories. Eight others have been on the same, silent, self-wasting, wasted protest. Halahleh’s eyes were bleeding, blood instead of tears. He, Diab and others may well be dead by the time you read this. Last Friday supreme court judges in this hubristic democracy turned down an application from civil rights groups to have the man moved to civilian hospitals. They didn’t want perhaps, their own good citizens to witness such stuff. What would that do to the image of the plucky little nation, surrounded by real and imagined threats?
The moralistic Chief Rabbi will not be heard on Thought for the Day expressing sorrow or reciting ethical mantras on the treatment of these prisoners. Ardent British Zionists will not be pressed to condemn those responsible for the state barbarism. You certainly won’t get a big TV hit like Homeland, based on Israeli series, Hatufim, now showing on SKY TV about one of their soldiers, captured and eventually released by Palestinian militants. Come on, you cool, edgy TV chaps, how about a film about a handsome Palestinian held by the Israelis till he loses his mind? Do I hear a choral ‘No’?
Western opinion formers have been indifferent, in some cases knowingly so about what is happening. No condemnations are heard around Parliament. They say we must have freedom of speech, but that right is never evoked when it comes to Israel. The BNP and EDL can spread their racist poison freely but Baroness Jenny Tongue is savaged by Zionists and her own party for saying that nation ‘is not going to be there in its present forever in its present form.’ She has just quit the LibDems. If she had uttered the same words about, say, Zimbabwe, she would have been acclaimed.
A large number of enlightened British Jews see the double standards and object to Israel’s intransigence. It must be so hard to do what they do, behave with integrity and empathize with those they are instructed to hate.
The detained Palestinians are embarked on peaceful, Gandhian protest action. They want their families to be able to visit without restrictions, decent medical treatment, not to be put into solitary confinement for years on end, to be taken to court and tried. How is that ‘terrorism’? With the 1981 IRA hunger strikers of whom ten died, the most anti-Republican British papers published pictures and told us was happening. TV too covered their journeys to the very end.
With these slowly dying inmates and the 6000 others locked up without due process, there is nothing, nada. I never knew until this week that since 1967, 700,000 Palestinians have been detained. Not all were innocent but nor were all of them guilty. To be a Palestinian, to want equality, rights, freedom and land is not a crime. Except it is , for hardline Israelis.
Their country is protected from censure partly because of fears that any criticism is potentially ‘anti-Semitic’. Some anti-Semites do use Israel as a cover but then Israel uses that fact to tar and warn all legitimate criticism. Its governments do what they damned well want and claim perpetual exceptionality. Its darkest deeds are thus left un-scrutinized. This time though, it is suddenly dawning on some key people, among them the hapless Middle East saviour Tony Blair, that these ‘martyrs’ could trigger another Intifada. He is urging Israeli officials to ‘take all measures to prevent a tragic outcome that could have serious implications for stability and security’ Why he even uttered the words ‘human rights’. The UN and other bodies have intervened. They will all be rebuffed., so monstrous are the egos of the ultra right wing leadership. In any case Netanyahu et al can, and with absolute validity, point at Guantanamo Bay and our own prisoners held without trial. They are all in it together.
Blair is right to be fearful. Every time a hunger striker dies, even more inchoately angry young Muslim men will be radicalised and turn murderous. Some are raised in the west, see and hear all the cant about freedom, democracy, fairness and justice and then witness the betrayal and oppression of Palestinians. That dissonance between principles and reality makes them, perhaps, even more enraged than the Palestinians themselves who have low expectations and few illusions. This is not making excuses for terrorists, just a reality check.
I truly want Israel to survive and thrive. Fighting against its real adversaries and ill wishers, it becoming its own worst enemy. British activist Tom Hurndall, 21, was sheltering a Palestinian child from Israeli bullets in Gaza in 2003, when he was killed. His candid journals have just been published. Read them and mourn for the idealistic young man and the loss of all idealism in Israel.
Published in The Independent