Friday, December 25, 2015

Where is Duma taking Israel?

I’ve been talking to Israelis about the ongoing drama surrounding Duma. My ‘survey’ is anecdotal. But my results are disturbing.

Duma is an Israeli-Arab village. On July 31, 2015, someone went into that village and fire-bombed a home. Three Arabs, including an infant, were murdered in that fire. Jews were accused of the attack.

This attack contained several suspicious elements.

-the house firebombed was not at the edge of town. If Jews were going to fire-bomb an Arab house, it’s far easier to fire-bomb an easier target. Why would Jews go into the middle of an Arab village when easier pickings lay elsewhere?

-the house fire-bombed was not the only house fire-bombed that night. Another house, next door, was fire-bombed first. Eyewitnesses reported that, when the perpetrators realized that the first house was in fact empty, they moved over and fire-bombed the second house. Eyewitnesses also reported that the perpetrators didn’t run off after that. They remained at the second house to make sure those inside didn’t or couldn’t come out. Again, if Jews are going to commit such a heinous act, they wouldn’t linger. The Jews who’ve been accused of this crime weren’t known to behave this way. They aren’t stupid. Why would they increase their odds of capture by lingering?

-there are two Arab clans in or near this village which have had a long-term feud. The Arab victims here belong to one of those clans. The two clans have been committing crimes against each other for some time. The fire-bombing of first one, then a second, home (and then lingering, to make sure no one came out from the burning house) all seem far more likely to be associated with a feud-driven personal attack than a random Jewish terror attack.

-after the attack was reported to Israeli authorities, police (or security or military personnel) reportedly removed local CCTV tapes. Nothing has been heard of them since. Why?

-Israeli officials did not actually investigate the arson—or, if they did, it was not thorough. The bulk of any investigation was left to the Palestinian Authority (PA) police. But once Israel screamed ‘Jewish terror’, the propaganda value that that brings to the PA is so great, the PA has no incentive whatsoever to prove that Jews didn’t commit this crime.  

-at the scene of the crime—or, nearby—anti-Arab graffiti was found on a wall. The graffiti seemed consistent with similar graffiti left at a crime scene by Jewish youth called, ‘hilltop youth’. But then, Arabs have been known to write such graffiti after a crime they have committed, to incriminate Jews. On what basis were Israeli authorities so lightning-quick to say that that graffiti had been scrawled by Jews?

-Israeli officials have been frustrated by this group of ‘hilltop youth’ for some time. This group is not large, but Israeli authorities have, apparently, wanted to destroy it. They fear its existence. The problem for the authorities has been that few of these youth had ever been arrested for serious crimes because, police have found, there has existed little evidence that the group had committed crimes other than fighting with the IDF (Israel Defense Force) when the IDF came to knock down their homes—or the homes of other, non-group members—who lived in other, nearby isolated areas.

-within hours of the attack, before any investigation of value had finished, Israeli officials rushed to call this attack an act of ‘Jewish terrorism’. Why the rush to judgment?

-within three days of the attack, Israeli authorities secured from the highest echelons of the government permission to do something the government had previously refused to allow: give security officials the right to use ‘administrative detention’ on Jews. Administrative detention allows the Israeli government to ‘detain’ individuals suspected of committing crimes or suspected of preparing to commit crimes. These individuals can be held indefinitely (subject to a 6-month review). No charges need be brought against them. No reason for arrest need be given. Was this arson really Jewish terror—or was it a convenient excuse someone needed to ‘prove’ administrative detention was needed in order to break up the ‘hilltop youth’ group without having to generate proof?

-within days (or, perhaps hours) of receiving permission to use ‘administrative detention’, several youth were ‘detained’ and locked away. No charges were brought.

-by December, high-ranking Israeli officials announced, for perhaps the second or third time (one lost track) that no evidence existed to bring any of the detainees to trial. But the authorities also repeatedly declared that they know who had committed this crime. They just didn’t have the evidence.

-at least one detainee attorney accused Israeli security officials of using torture on his client, a minor.

-internal security officials attacked those who had accused them of torture of attempting to incite against them.

-on December 20, 2015, a local Israeli District Court ruled that one detainee—a minor--was being held illegally.

At that point, events related to Duma began to cascade:

-December 20: the Shin Bet (Israel’s Internal Security Agency [ISA]) announced a ‘MAJOR DEVELOPMENT’ in the case: indictments will be filed.

-December 20: a tape recording of a hearing for one youth revealed details of what a prudent and responsible person would conclude was a description of torture.

-December 20: from that recording (above), the detainee said he had attempted suicide. On the recording, he could be heard begging for the ISA to kill him because he could not bear the torture any longer.

-December 21: Security officials promised that indictments would be forthcoming.

-December 21: Israel’s Supreme Court denied a petition by one detainee to see his lawyer.

December 22: Education Minister, and head of the Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennet, announced that these hilltop youth sought to destroy the State of Israel. He defended the interrogation techniques used on the detainees as, ‘legal’.

-December 22: Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu declares that ISA interrogation has been ‘legal’.

-December 22: Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, calls attacks against the ISA (for the use of torture), ‘despicable’.

-December 22: Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced that no detainee had attempted suicide.

-December 23: a senior Israeli defense attorney says that confessions taken as a result of torture can be cancelled.

-December 23: a video of a wedding celebration purports to show hilltop youth celebrating the killing of the Arab infant murdered in the July 31, 2015 arson. The video, however, is actually unclear.

-December 24, 2015: an editorial in the Times of Israel presented Duma as more than a murder: it’s a wedge issue for Israel.

This editorial demonizes Israel’s ‘far Right’ and ‘Orthodox Jews’. Regarding the Duma incident, it says the Israeli far right has sought to deny the investigating authorities’ contention that the Duma killings were an act of Jewish terrorism (David Horovits, “The dance of death”, Times of Israel, December 24, 2015). In addition, the lawyers for some of the detainees have tried to “blacken the name of the Shin Bet security agency” for allegedly torturing them (ibid).

There is no attempt here to discuss evidence of torture as possibly credible. There is no attempt to explore potentially illegal actions by the ISA (withholding access to lawyers and denying detainees their religious rights). There’s only the single assumption: the ‘far Right’ and ‘Orthodox Jews’ are taking us, essentially, down the road to Hell.

My own survey of both English-speaking and Hebrew-speaking Israelis is certainly unscientific. It’s anecdotal. But the results are revealing: these Israeli Jews aren’t buying the government’s version of the Duma story. They don’t buy the unstated assumptions of the Times of Israel editorial.

What seems to anger these people most is the video of that wedding. Most feel it was a set-up by the ISA (or its collaborators) to demonize hilltop youth with incendiary ‘proof’ that’s questionable at best, pure fiction at worst. The video, they say, is too unclear to prove much of anything.

This Duma story keeps hitting us in the face. It snowballs.

It’s been 145 days since the arson. The ISA has held detainees without due process (and, for some, without access to their lawyers) for up to 140 days.

We wonder, where is the government going with this? This is not what we expect from a democracy. This is more like Guantanamo Bay in our own back yard.

Where is Duma taking us?

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