Why are Palestinians who attend weekly protest marches along the border fence less courageous or less justified than Iranian protesters?
Khalida Jarrar in the courtroom of the Ofer detention facility, in May. Photo AP
We must call a spade a spade. The Palestinians and the handful of Israelis who are struggling against the occupation are dissidents. That’s what they should be called. They are dissidents who oppose the regime. They are dissidents just like anyone who rises up against any tyrannical regime, and they deserve as much respect and appreciation as we’ve accorded dissidents throughout history, from Nelson Mandela to Andrei Sakharov; from Lech Walesa to Natan Sharansky.
The regime against which they are struggling and whose downfall they hope for is no less cruel than the tyrants against whom history’s most famous dissidents fought. This regime has no connection to the democracy that Israel is so proud of and that the world applauds. How can it be called a democracy if this is what’s going on in its own backyard?
Khalida Jarrar is a dissident, and the regime’s response to her just proves that we’re talking about an unbridled dictatorship. She’s a member of the Palestinian parliament, age 54, a mother of two daughters, a legislator who was chosen in democratic elections, and she’s being sent repeatedly to jail, generally without trial. Jarrar has never hurt a fly. She’s a political activist. The agents of darkness who are responsible for her incarceration know that. But Jarrar is a determined dissident, so her place is in jail, with or (mainly) without trial.
This is how dictatorships fight for their existence. Whether it’s Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey, Iran, China or North Korea – dissidents are put in jail. Jarrar’s confinement puts Israel on the same plane as those countries and paints it in a different light than what its self-image reflects – “the only democracy blah, blah, blah.” There is no such thing as a democracy that throws lawmakers in prison for their political activities and imprisons hundreds of people without trial. A regime that jails legislators without trial is a dictatorial regime. The fact that most Israeli media outlets didn’t even report that Jarrar’s detention was extended for another six months doesn’t diminish the severity of the act. On the contrary, it proves that the media is also part of the regime. Sakharov was never covered in the Soviet media.
A regime that shoots at demonstrators is clearly undemocratic. Who has fired at more demonstrators than Israel over the past 50 years? On Rothschild Boulevard it’s permitted to demonstrate, in Wadi Ara they’ve already shot demonstrators and in Nabi Saleh they get shot at all the time. There are dead and wounded, including children, just like in Iran. And like in Iran, the reporting on the demonstrations in the territories by Israel’s free and vibrant press is distorted and propagandistic. “Disturbances.” “Riots.” Not a word about the objectives or the context. Not a word about the barbaric shooting by an Israel Defense Forces sniper of a legless man in a wheelchair who raised the flag of his people in front of the fence that confines them. Not a word about Jarrar’s detention.
It was the epitome of chutzpah: “Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.” That’s how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the protests in Iran. How did his voice not shake when he said that? How did his hand not tremble when he wrote that? What’s the difference between Tehran and Nabi Saleh? What’s the difference between an Iranian dissident and Khalida Jarrar?
Let somebody explain, damn it all. Why are Palestinians who attend weekly protest marches along the border fence less courageous than Iranian protesters? Are they less justified? And are those who shoot at them less cruel and more democratic? After all, in both places the struggle is over the exact same values, which Netanyahu correctly described as “the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.” Who has been denied their rights more than the Palestinians?
The Iranians and the Palestinians want freedom. It’s so simple, they’re so alike. Iran’s security forces and Israel’s security forces are either shooting them or jailing them. It’s so simple, they’re so alike. This is how every tyrannical regime deals with its dissidents.
Solidarity actions for Khalida Jarrar
Gaza City, Apr. 5, 2015. Photo Mohammed Asad/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Nablus, West Bank. September 10, 2015. Credit Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org
Philippines, Dec. 10, 2015: Protesters calling for the release of Khalida Jarrar at the Mendiola bridge in Manila. Militant group Bayan Muna lead a protest march to commemorate the International Human Rights Day in Manila. Photo by J Gerard Seguia/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
New York City, Aug. 21, 2017
MEPs in Strasbourg, July 5, 2017