From Durban to Jerusalem
- pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 -
As it happened: on the morning of the day that Israeli and American delegates walked out of the UN anti-racism conference at Durban, South Africa, two groups were confronting each other outside the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem.
Already for months the Commission of Inquiry headed by Supreme Court Judge Theodore Orr has been investigating the conduct of the police last October, when 13 Arab citizens of Israel were shot to death, during a week of mass demonstrations, and hundreds wounded. Earlier meetings of the Orr Commission had been the occasion of emotional and sometimes violent scenes, when bereaved parents from the Galilee found themselves face to face with the policemen who had killed their loved ones. The policemen’s own testimonies were sometimes embarassing enough: “No, sir, we didn’t question Arab witnesses. They always lie, anyway.”
Yesterday, September 3, was a special day: the long-awaited testimony of Alik Ron, then commander of the Galilee Police. During the years of fulfilling this job Ron distinguished himself in a long series of inflammatory anti-Arab utterances. At last October’s riots he had actively been defining policies, personally giving orders at some of “the hot spots.” Since then, there has come from his mouth not one word of regret or apology for the suffering and loss of life caused under his command.
On the contrary, again and again he persisted in defending the measures he had taken, including the killing of 13 unarmed demonstrators, as the right measures needed in order to “preserve law and order”. This was also the theme of his testimony today, delivered in a calm and self-assured tone, to be followed by the general public in an hours-long live broadcast on radio and TV. (In passing, he declared himself in agreement with the recently-published thesis of Professor Arnon Sofer, that “the Arabs constitute a demographic danger to Israel.)
Ron, now on leave of absence and rumored to be seeking a political career, came to the hearing attended by a group of retainers holding aloft Israeli national flags and "Long live the police" signs. They were augmented by the outspokenly fascist followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Some hundred and fifty of us, Jews and Arabs standing together, were facing this unsavory rabble across the heavy police cordon. Peace activists from Tel- Aviv and Jerusalem – of Gush Shalom, Ta’ayush and the Women’s Coalition for Peace – anybody who could make it on the morning of a working day. Arab protesters had come from as far as Arabeh in the Galilee, having traveled since 5.00 AM in order to arrive at the start of Ron’s testimony. (Both channels of Israeli TV, reporting on the demonstration, concentrated exclusively on the Arab demonstrators, creating the impression of “Jews demonstrating for Alik Ron, Arabs demonstrating against him”).
While Ron’s supporters were allowed to stand in a loose line, the protesters were quickly herded into an enclosure surrounded on all sides by police. The fences were immediately decorated with signs in Hebrew and Arabic: “Alik Ron , Man Of Blood!” / “Put Him On Trial!” / "Stop Police Racism!" Bereaved families were carrying photos of there young ones killed in October. Many protesters pinned target signs to their chests. Over all fluttered a banner bearing the face of Che Guevara brought along by a group of young anarchists.
Soon, an exchange of calls and taunts begun. “Show some loyalty, raise a national flag on your side!” – “Show loyalty youself, loyalty to democracy and human rights!” – “If you don’t like it here, go to Arafat!” – “Here is my home. Nobody will drive me away from it!”. Alik Ron’s fans begun to play the regimental song of the special commando unit where their hero served before joining the police, answered by Arab students singing the Palestinian anthem. Suddenly, a police officer (the commander of the Jerusalem police in person, it later turned out) strode up to the “police racism” sign and tore it across.
“You tear it because it is true!” “Racist bastard, go to hell!” “This is a police state!“ and thence the improvised chant “War Criminals, To The Hague / Alik Ron, Hague is waiting!”. “Look at me, look at me” called a voice not loud but still penetrating. “Do you know who I am? The father of the boy you police MURDERED!”
”Today, Israel walked out of the UN conference in Durban where it was accused of racism. Politicians and media commentators in this country are united in rejecting out of hand the resolutions of that conference, attributing them to antisemitism. Some of formulations may have helped to present it this way. Yet here, in this building behind me, a senior officer of the Israeli police is making abundantly clear that he considers twenty percent of Israel's citizens - the Arabs - as enemies, and admitting that his actions as commander of the police in a district where nearly half the population is Arab were guided by that perception. And he says it openly and even proudly. And he is by no means an exception among our police, or for that matter, in the ranks of generals and politicians,” said former Knesset Member Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom. “There is a fundamental contradiction here which we Israelis must resolve. Not only, or even mainly, in order to please outside critics, but because we want to leave our next generations a more healthy, democratic society”.
N.B. the recent appeal of Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals and peace activists for international intervention can also be signed online: http://www.miftah.org/AugAppeal/Appeal.htm
For information about Gush Shalom visit the website: