Gantz's 'sorrow' over killing of disabled Palestinian is meaningless

Gantz's 'sorrow' over killing of disabled Palestinian is meaningless
Comment: When victim-blaming wasn't possible, Israel had only empty words to offer the family of murdered, disabled Palestinian, Iyad el-Hallak, writes Muhammad Shehada.
5 min read
04 Jun, 2020
'Gantz's "sorrow" matters little to the minds of Iyad's parents' writes Shehada [Getty]
When it comes to Palestinian suffering, Israel rarely looks itself in the mirror. And when it does, it seldom takes any real action to change the oppression and subjugation of the millions of Palestinians under its military occupation.

Occupation is a daily reality for Palestinians. The death, the pain, the trauma are constants, but systematically justified under weary pretexts that collapse upon examination. 

There is always a pretext to why a Palestinian civilian was murdered by Israel in broad daylight. For instance, Israel's army sought to wash their hands of the blood of more than 217 Gazan protesters massacred between 2018-2019, by claiming that most were either violent or affiliated with Hamas.

Israel's dispossession, annihilation and subjugation of Palestinians has become so routine, so normalised, and exercised with such impunity that it barely stirs any attention in Israel anymore. Only occasionally, when a disruptive, and more essentially unspinnable brutality surfaces - like the execution of autistic Palestinian Iyad el-Hallak last Saturday - does Israel's government offer few empty words, and no action.

Israel's desperate victim-blaming

The only difference between Iyad's coldhearted murder and that of other Palestinians is that Israel couldn't spin Iyad's tragic fate with its usual dehumanising propaganda.

Israel spun its extrajudicial execution of 95 Palestinian civilians in 2016 - including 36 children - by claiming that all victims attempted "stabbing attacks" on Israeli soldiers. But Israel - hard as it might try - couldn't get away with accusing a disabled Palestinian of being a "terrorist" or of holding a weapon, when he literally didn't know what a weapon is, or what Israeli soldiers are.

Israel couldn't spin Iyad's tragic fate with its usual dehumanising propaganda

For what matters to Israel's government the most is how to spin a Palestinian's murder rather than how to prevent it.

As soon as Iyad was killed, Israel looked desperately for any pretext smear his name. Israel's police claimed Iyad carried what policemen suspected of being a pistol, then claimed he was ordered to stop but refused and escaped, prompting a chase.

A counsellor from Iyad's special needs school, however, testified that Iyad tried to hide behind her from the soldiers while she screamed her heart out at them, "He's disabled! He's disabled!" As they chased the vulnerable scared man to a garbage room, she begged them to check his ID and see that he was autistic, but they "didn't want to listen" she said. One of them shot a bullet that incapacitated him, then when he fell to the ground, the policemen shot two more bullets, until he laid dead.

Such excruciating details weren't enough for Israel's police to admit its inexcusable crime. Before Iyad's ageing parents had absorbed the shock of their son's gruesome fate, dozens of Israeli policemen stormed their house, looking desperately for any shred of evidence to hold against him. Iyad's sister says policemen assaulted her while searching the house, pulled her hair and hit her on the back, arms and head.

A disingenuous apology is a coverup

It was only after this dramatic humiliation of Iyad's aggrieved family, and after Israel's police failed to contrive any evidence to distort his memory or spin his death, that Israel's Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, made a very rare statement, that "We are really sorry about the incident in which Iyad Halak was shot to death and we share in the family's grief."

What difference does it make if Gantz is "sorry" about the killing of a Palestinian?

Followed by no action or even contemplation of the systematic dehumanisation of Palestinians that renders them all guilty in Israel's eyes until proven otherwise, Gantz's empty words become a repulsive coverup rather than admission of guilt.

It's an exercise in deluded self-righteousness, where Israel's government is trying to portray the savage killing of Iyad as a "rare incident" rather than part of a prevalent and widespread effort to divert blame, and continue business as usual. 

Absent justice

One heartbreaking similarity between Iyad's killing and that of other Palestinians, is that his loved ones can be certain that the aftermath will be the same; no perpetrator held accountable, and no justice served.

While Gantz claimed that Iyad's murder "will be investigated swiftly", Israeli rights group B'Tselem documented that out of 3,408 Palestinians killed by Israel since 2011, only five Israeli security personnel have been convicted, and received minor punishment, completely disproportionate to their crimes.

Gantz's empty words become a repulsive coverup rather than admission of guilt

The most prominent example in Palestinian minds is Elor Azaria, who unremorsefully shot an incapacitated Abdul Fattah al-Sharif in the head as he lay on the ground motionless. Azaria spent nine months in prison after which he became a widely-praised celebrity for his brutal crime.

In another more recent example, an Israeli sniper shot Othman Halles, a 15-year-old Gazan protester, near the fence. He received a sentence of one month in community service for shooting without authorisation, rather than being punished for killing a child.

What prompts such brutalities is the conviction that there will be no consequences to murder if the deceased is Palestinian. That the scales of justice are tipped to the perpetrator's advantage if he's an Israeli in uniform.

Despite Iyad's murder being as clear as day, his parents will now spend their last lonely days anguished by his merciless death, and broken by the inability to hope for justice or do anything about it.

Gantz's words of "sorrow" matter little to the minds of Iyad's parents, as they carry the painful memory of their deceased son while living a few meters from the police patrols that killed him. They'll always remember that his killers roam the city freely, proud in their uniforms, confident in their weapons, looking for their next victim.

As usual, the memory of Iyad will soon fade away in Israel, after which a sense normalcy will be restored, where Palestinian suffering will again barely make news as if it never existed at all.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.

Follow him on Twitter: @muhammadshehad2

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.