Not just for Christmas, and not just on Facebook – Israel’s racism and hostility towards Palestinians
A “thought for Christmas”, posted by the Israeli Embassy in Dublin on its official Facebook page this week, said that if Jesus Christ and his mother Mary were alive today they would “probably end up being lynched in Bethlehem by hostile Palestinians”. After an outcry and backlash at the racism on display, the post in question was removed and replaced with a mealy-mouthed apology. Subsequently, the entire ‘Israel in Ireland’ Facebook page was removed, at least temporarily.
However, for those familiar with Israeli policy and public statements by official Israeli spokespeople and politicians, such derogatory words and overt displays of anti-Palestinian racism are not surprising. Nevertheless, it is deeply ironic that Israeli diplomats or Foreign Ministry staff would see fit to use such an analogy.
Bethlehem today – surrounded and suffocating
Sadly, one can very easily find hostility in Bethlehem and the surrounding area in 2012 in the form of the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, military incursions and detentions by Israeli occupation forces and all too frequent attacks on Palestinians by illegal Israeli settlers.
For example, in December alone, at least 24 Palestinians from Bethlehem have been detained by occupation forces. On Sunday 16th December Aida refugee camp was attacked by Israeli forces who “fired dozens of gas bombs and rubber-coated metal bullets leading to dozens of injuries”. On Sunday 9th December a 32-year-old Palestinian woman “sustained injuries to the head and eyes after her car was targeted with rocks by settlers on Bypass Road 60, near “Efrat” settlement, south of Bethlehem”. On Monday 10th December, Israeli forces “assaulted a headmaster and two teachers” in a Bethlehem school.
Sami Awad, Director of the Holy Land Trust, a Christian peace organisation, explains that around Bethlehem this year, “hundreds if not thousands of olive trees were burned by illegal Israeli settlers for absolutely no reason but to humiliate and damage the source of livelihood for hundreds of Palestinian families. Land theft for the building of the illegal separation wall and expanding illegal settlements is worse than ever before. No matter where you stand in Bethlehem, you can see the effects of the cold grip of this brutal and humiliating occupation”.
Mr Awad has also said that, “Christian and Muslim farmers have had their olive trees uprooted and their fields burned by settlers, Christian and Muslim homes have been destroyed by Israeli military bulldozers. Christians and Muslims have been killed, injured or arrested by the Israeli military. The walls and fences surround Christian cities like Bethlehem and have confiscated hundreds of acres that belong to Christian and Muslim families. When I am stopped at a military checkpoint and interrogated, the Israeli soldier never says, ‘Oh, a Christian. Sorry, go ahead.’ I am held up for hours along with my Muslim friends for no reason but intimidation”.
The economy of Bethlehem has suffered immensely under the Israeli occupation. Since 1994, almost 60,000 trees have been uprooted, burnt or cut down by Israeli forces in the Bethlehem area – having a devastating effect on the livelihoods of local famers. Furthermore, the illegal Apartheid wall separates 25% of Bethlehem’s agricultural land from the town, meaning farmers have to obtain permits and pass through military checkpoints every day to reach their lands. Checkpoints are often closed without warning or people are turned back for no reason.
Israeli plans to build a series of hotels for tourists in the illegal settlements encircling and overlooking Bethlehem will undoubtedly badly affect what tourism industry remains in Bethlehem, taking yet more money out of the local economy.
The Israeli government has announced that it had advanced plans for further illegal settlement construction in the ‘E-1 corridor’ of East Jerusalem. If this construction goes ahead it will effectively sever East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank – including Bethlehem – and cement the division of the West Bank into South African style ‘bantustans’.
The Amos Trust says that “the wall has cut people off from their shops and their land, and has made busy roads into dead ends. One in five people in Bethlehem are now unemployed in what was once a thriving town”.
Hostility – a daily reality for all Palestinians
The reality is that all Palestinians in the occupied territories – Muslim, Christians and others – are met with hostility on a daily basis, while their freedom of movement is severely restricted. Death is never far away, with over 6,600 Palestinians, including around 1,480 children, having been killed by the Israeli military or settlers since September 2000.
Over 12,000 Palestinian structures – from houses to civic buildings to agricultural constructions – have been demolished by Israeli forces since 2000, with 172 houses demolished and over 1,000 people displaced in 2012 alone.
The number of violent attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians and their property has risen by about 150% year on year since 2008, with over 150 attacks in the first half of 2012, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Indeed, there have been a mounting number of so-called “price tag” attacks by extremist Israeli settlers on Christian and Muslim holy places throughout occupied Palestine. The most recent incident saw graffiti insulting Jesus Christ spray-painted on the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Cross in Occupied East Jerusalem. Vandals wrote “death to Christianity”, “Jesus, son of a whore” and “price tag” on its walls.
This Christmas, as all year round, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and inside the state of Israel are restricted or prevented from visiting each other because of the illegal separation wall and the complex apparatus of Israeli apartheid. Palestinians are confronted with checkpoints, permits regimes, settler-only roads and discriminatory laws which serve to make normal social, family and economic life virtually impossible for Palestinians.
In the past two months alone, the Israeli state has killed over 170 Palestinians in Gaza and announced the construction of thousands of new units in illegal settlements in the West Bank. These are just two of the more blatant shows of Israeli state-led violence and hostility towards Palestinians. Largely unreported in the Western media, Israel has also violated the Egyptian negotiated ceasefire following the Pillar of Cloud attack on Gaza on several occasions. Last week, a 17-year-old boy, celebrating his birthday, was shot dead by the Israeli military at a checkpoint in Hebron.
Such Israeli actions are not only hostile; they are breaches of international law and human rights violations.
If Jesus were alive today… a Palestinian Christian perspective
Aside from being racist and insulting to Palestinians, Christians, Muslims (for whom Jesus was an important prophet) and people of conscience, the Israeli Embassy’s “thought for Christmas” is cynical and hypocritical.
Palestinian Christians, forming the oldest Christian community in the world, offer an alternative view of how the Nativity would play out under Israeli occupation. The Amos Trust says that “today the ‘little town of Bethlehem’ lies behind a separation wall, an eight metre high concrete wall, built by the Israeli occupation forces. If Jesus was born today in Bethlehem, the Wise Men would spend several hours queuing to enter the town. As local residents of Bethlehem, the shepherds would have had much of their land confiscated for illegal Israeli settlements, and with a lack of freedom to travel and restrictions on trade, it would be very difficult for them to make a living as shepherds [and] the innkeeper would be struggling to keep his business going”. Mary and Joseph would also face a difficult time even entering Bethlehem as “the Israeli authorities have ruled that Israeli Jews are no longer allowed to enter Bethlehem”.
Rana Salman, who works with the Holy Land Trust NGO, says that when people ask what Jesus would do if he visited Bethlehem today she doesn’t know as “I’m not sure if Jesus [could] make it to Bethlehem today! Being a Jew living in Nazareth, Jesus [would] not be allowed by [Israel] to enter Bethlehem. He [would] have to ‘illegally’ sneak into Bethlehem and maybe get searched at a checkpoint. As he approached Bethlehem and saw the reality, he would probably weep over the town of his birthplace the same way he wept over Jerusalem”.
In 2009, a coalition of Palestinian Church leaders and Christian human rights activists co-authored the historic Kairos Palestine document ‘A Moment of Truth’. This document states that “the reality is one of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, deprivation of our freedom and all that results from this situation”. The document unequivocally supports the 2005 Palestinian call for an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel as a means of peaceful resistance which sees BDS “as tools of non violence for justice, peace and security for all”.
The Israeli Embassy’s Facebook page – a hive of racism, slander and lies
Despite the Embassy’s protestations that the post about Jesus was posted “without the consent of the administrator” – which is a ridiculous defence as from the screenshot it is clear that it was posted by one of the page administrators – the Facebook page of the Israeli Embassy in Ireland has long been a place where unchecked racism, acrobatic apologetics for apartheid, and slanderous attacks on human rights activists have abounded. Given the racist, apartheid and serial human rights violating nature of the Israeli state, this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising when one takes into account the record of the Embassy’s pronouncements in other fora.
For example, last June, Israeli Deputy Ambassador to Ireland, Nurit Modai, advocated the intimidation and smearing of human rights activists and suggested humiliating them by associating them with Mossad and sexual identity problems. In August the Embassy in Dublin used its Twitter account to attack Palestinian member of the Israeli Parliament Haneen Zoabi MK, during her visit to Ireland. Both of these instances earned reprimands from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter incident required the Ministry to issue guidelines for social media usage, saying that “from the moment you publish a message online, there is no difference between what you’ve written and a public declaration – both of them constitute a statement from an Israeli official, or an official position of the State of Israel”. All of which makes the “without consent” defence even more incredible.
It appears that, temporarily at least, the Facebook page has been taken down. Below we present some of the more… distasteful… postings that were screenshotted before the page was removed.
Here we see the Embassy agreeing with a racist commenter who says that Palestinians are “dirty, poor, brain washed, hateful and stupid”, that they “do the dirty work” on behalf of “other arabs”, and “are so stupid that they don’t even know they’re being used and controlled”.
Above we see the Embassy endorsing a) the racist myth that “Arabs” [i.e., Palestinians] are taught in school to hate Israelis (a myth debunked by several studies) and that the Occupied Palestinian Territories/State belongs to Israel.
Here, in an echo of the vile racist adverts that have recently appeared in the US, we see the Embassy endorse the racist viewpoint that the “Arab world” is counterposed to “Civilized humanity”.
The Embassy shares a picture that accuses Hamas of using human shields. In fact, as the United Nations Human Rights Council report into Operation Cast Lead found, the Israeli military were the only ones found to be using Palestinians as human shields.
Above the Embassy invokes the concept of Eretz Yisrael or ‘The Land of Israel’, which historically, to Zionists, has meant all the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River – in other words Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They then go on to say that “only those who truly desire the holy land will be privileged to live here”, which would suggest that there are people living there who do not “desire the holy land” and that these people have no right to be there. None of this fits very well with Israel’s ostensible belief in the two-state solution and is stark contradiction to international law.
Similarly, above are two incidences wherein the Embassy agrees with comments that state that the occupied Palestinian territories are ‘Israeli lands’. The Embassy even disputes that Israeli settlements are illegal, despite their clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the ruling by the International Court of Justice on their illegality.
And yet again, we see the Embassy post a link which claims Israel includes the Occupied Palestinian Territories, this time on the website of a US-based group called ‘Akhlah: The Jewish Children’s Learning Network’.
Here we see the Embassy slander the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign as “big haters of Jews”, “Antisemitics” [sic], “driven by hate toward anything that has to do with the Israel and the Jewish people” and “against Israel and the Jews”. The tactic of slandering anti-racist human rights, peace and social justice activists as anti-Semites is not new of course, but in the case of the IPSC it is doubly ridiculous as the IPSC has many Jewish and Israeli members and supporters at home and abroad. From 2009 to 2010 the organisation had an Irish-Jewish Chairperson.
Here, however, the Embassy accuses Yael, a Jewish-Israeli, of “becoming anti-Semite” [sic] because of her support for Palestinian human rights and the BDS campaign. Bizarrely, the Embassy even suggests that the British government is in cahoots with this, and being anti-Semitic automatically entitles one to a British visa. It is also suggested that Yael’s “anger” is with her “parents” and not the apartheid policies of the state of Israel. This brings to mind the letter the Deputy Ambassador Nurit Modai sent to her superiors where she stated that “the activity of those [Israeli] activists against the state is, in my evaluation, not necessarily ideological, but grounded in psychological reasons (generally of disappointment with the parents, [or] sexual identity problems).”
This post is interesting on a number of levels. Firstly, because it draws a distinction betweem “Israeli Arabs”, Christians and Druze. Both the Druze people, and the vast majority of Christians living in Israel, are Arabic peoples. Secondly, it is claimed that all these groups have “equal rights under the law”. This is simply not the case – there are around 30 laws in place or being debated, that discriminate against Palestinian and other Arab citizens of Israel.