Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 2014, Pages 16-17
On Israel’s Insanity Defense and the World’s Shared Delusion
By Samah Jabr
Once the surveillance cameras of Palestinian shopkeepers in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood revealed the images of the Israeli abductors of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, the fabricated Israeli propaganda that the 16-year-old Palestinian boy had been gay and the victim of an honor killing perpetrated by his own people became completely unsustainable. Soon after, hoping to contain the resulting clashes that erupted in Shuafat and extended to many nearby neighborhoods, Israeli police announced that they had captured six suspects involved in the crime.
Just days later, however, it was announced that three of them already had been freed. The others were described as two minors and a mentally unstable adult with a dominating personality who is on psychiatric medication, according to Yediot Ahronot.
That has a familiar ring to it! In 1969 Dennis Michael Rohan, an evangelical Protestant from Australia, set fire to the al-Aqsa mosque in order to hasten the second coming of the Messiah and create an opportunity to rebuild the Jewish Temple. Rohan was later declared mentally ill and exonerated for his actions.
In 2007 Julian Soufir confessed to having murdered Palestinian taxi driver Taysir Karaki, saying he did not feel guilty because he considered Arabs the equivalent of cattle and he was simply slaughtering one. Soufir had entered the victim’s taxi in Jerusalem and asked to be driven to Tel Aviv. He then persuaded Karaki to come to his brother’s apartment with an offer of coffee and the use of the bathroom, and attacked the Palestinian with a knife he had obtained ahead of time. At his 2008 trial, the court accepted the testimonies of two defense witnesses who claimed that Soufir was not fully “conscious” at the time of the murder—despite the fact that he had explained his motive for murdering Karaki—and Soufir was acquitted.
A few years ago, I testified as an expert witness at the Jerusalem district court regarding the case of one of my psychiatric patients who, while suffering an acute psychotic episode, stabbed an Israeli soldier. My patient was 30 years old; after sustaining severe injuries during his arrest, which required 12 surgeries and left him handicapped, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison! The insanity defense certainly did not do my patient much good.
It is one of many pretexts used to avoid the prosecution, imprisonment or punishment of Jewish Israelis who murder Palestinians—but not the other way around. When a Palestinian minor attacks an Israeli, the youngster appears in court with bruises and fractures. Nor are charges dropped because he is a minor. We shall see what happens to the minors who tortured Abu Khdeir and burned him alive.
For many years—in Hebron, especially—radical Jewish settlers have been attacking Palestinians under the very noses of Israeli soldiers, who only intervene to defend the settlers from Palestinians responding to their attacks. In 1994 American-born Dr. Baruch Goldstein massacred 30 Palestinians praying at Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque, which he entered under the eyes of Israeli soldiers who—instead of acting to stop the massacre—fired live ammunition into the fleeing crowd, killing even more Palestinians!
In 2008 Ze’ev Braude, a settler from nearby Kiryat Arba, was caught on camera as he shot at close range two Palestinians from the Matariya family during the evacuation of a Palestinian house in Hebron. The film was provided to Israeli police as evidence, but the indictment against Braude was dropped. In his ruling, Judge Elyakim Rubinstein held that “in this instance, the right of the accused to a fair trial outweighed the harm to national security!”
These and similar actions are the consequences of ideologies held by Gush Emunim and other radical movements that encourage the building of settlements in the belief that the coming of the Messiah can be hastened through Jewish settlement of occupied Palestinian land that God promised the Jews. Rather than working to eradicate these beliefs, the Israeli government instead has endorsed them through such vehicles as the Sebastia agreement, which encourages Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
Israeli intelligence, so effective in hunting down every Palestinian boy who so much as throws a stone, remains inept at imposing limits on the actions of Jewish Israelis—from the fanning of anti-Arab sentiment and racist slogans by the Beitar football team, to attacks on Arab employees of Israeli restaurants, to settler “Price Tag” vandalism and assaults, with graffiti boasting “Price tag blood vengeance.” The official Israeli response to these and other outrages is one of indulgence, and actions to counteract them are minimal. But these groups are inspired by the undercurrent of hatred and dehumanization of Palestinians—a sentiment expressed by Israeli politicians, rabbis and the arbiters of public opinion. Israel’s consistent unwillingness to bring settlers to justice for their violent actions against Palestinians only encourages and incites further settler violence.
Impunity for Israeli Soldiers
In 1984, during what became known as the Bus 300 affair, Shin Bet officers first allowed Israeli Jews to beat up two Palestinians who had hijacked a bus, then executed the two men on the spot—after the hostages had been freed and the hijackers captured and handcuffed. The Shin Bet initially claimed that the hijackers had died when the hostages were being rescued. But these lies were exposed when photos were released showing the hijackers alive after their capture. Nevertheless, Shin Bet head Avraham Shalom and all the officers involved received a presidential pardon for unspecified crimes—before any charges were even brought against them.
In 2004, Iman al-Hams, a 13-year-old Gaza student, lay injured on the ground after having been shot by Israeli soldiers when she entered a “closed military zone” on her way to school. Captain “R,” a Givati Brigade soldier, approached her and shot her at point-blank range. (See Jan./Feb. 2005 Washington Report, p. 9.) According to transcripts of radio exchanges between the soldiers during the incident, Captain “R” said he did this “to confirm the kill.” In court he later claimed that he believed the young girl posed a serious threat and that he had opened fire, not directly aiming at Iman, as a deterrent. Haaretz later reported that Israel would award Captain “R” 80,000 NIS in compensation, after he was acquitted of a charge related to the shooting.
In 2005, Israeli soldier Eden Natan-Zada opened fire on Palestinian citizens of Israel at the border of Shafa Amre, killing 4 and wounding 21. When he paused to reload his rifle, those who survived the massacre overpowered and killed him. The state of Israel, however, chose to indict 12 of the town’s residents! Many were charged with attempted murder for “taking the law into their own hands.”
Last year, Arafat Jaradat, a young student from Hebron, died five days after being detained for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli forces during a protest. An autopsy revealed three broken ribs, severe contusions on his legs and forehead, and blood in his mouth and nose. A Turkish forensic specialist found the injuries consistent with torture. The Israeli medical examiner described the same wounds on Jaradat’s body but was unable to determine a cause of death. The Israeli Foreign Ministry released a statement claiming that Jaradat died of a heart ailment—even though none of the medical specialists, including the Israeli medical examiner, had noted any evidence of a heart condition!
Just a few months ago, on March 10, Israeli troops at Allenby Bridge killed unarmed Palestinian-Jordanian Judge Raed Zeiter, 38, who was on his way to the West Bank to collect rent money to pay for the treatment of his ill son. The Israelis alleged that he tried to snatch a weapon from a soldier, but eyewitnesses told a different story: When the judge lit a cigarette while waiting to be searched; a soldier pushed him, yelling that he couldn’t smoke; Judge Zeiter pushed back, shouting, “Don’t insult me!” The soldier then shot the judge, who was left bleeding for half an hour at the feet of a crowd of Palestinians who waited in line, paralyzed by fear. Judge Zeiter finally died of his wounds. Israeli officials claim surveillance cameras were not functioning on that particular day, and the investigation is now closed, leaving the Israeli officials’ version unchallenged.
Palestinians who kill or even attempt to kill Israelis invariably receive heavy sentences. By contrast, Israelis who kill Palestinians get away with their crimes or receive very minimal sentences, suspended sentences, or fines—if they are not given medals and awards! We have seen soldiers who film themselves while they abuse Palestinians. Many of my own patients who have been tortured under interrogation describe appalling events that took place within four closed walls. Who pays for that? Who is held accountable? Israel makes it impossible to document or track these cases, destroying the evidence and hiding the truth.
The Israeli army, Israeli institutions and individual Israelis violate Palestinians’ human rights with complete impunity. International laws have been created to provide an effective remedy to victims of human rights abuses, but Israeli laws are carefully designed and amended to make Jewish Israelis immune from them. For example, Law 5712 of 1952 was amended to make it impossible for a Palestinian who has sustained damages at the hands of a state agent in any area of the West Bank or Gaza Strip to claim compensation. While “national security” is invoked to drop all charges against Israeli Jews, “secret evidence” is used to prosecute and detain Palestinians through administrative detention without disclosing the charges against them, thus depriving them of the right to due process.
Julian Soufir did not consider himself a murderer because he believed Arabs were like cattle and he was just slaughtering one; Captain “R” felt threatened by an injured 13-year-old schoolgirl and shot her at point-blank range. Not only does the Israeli government and public opinion share these delusions, but the international community supports Israel’s paranoia by endorsing its “right to defend itself.”
After “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008-09 and “Operation Pillar of Defense” in 2012, in July Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge.” We have witnessed three wars in less than six years, all on the pretext of weakening resistance groups. The failure of the international community to set limits and hold Israel accountable for its actions and the inertia of the official Palestinian leadership in going to the International Court of Justice will only invite young people like the friends of Muhammed Abu Khdeir to overcome their fear and act on behalf of the victims of Israel’s insane policies.
Samah Jabr is a Jerusalemite psychiatrist and psychotherapist who cares about the wellbeing of her community—beyond issues of mental health.