Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Has justice evaded Rachel Corrie's family?

Over the last year or so, I have felt myself hardening, growing increasingly jaded about the day to day happenings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have been working on this issue for many years and made a promise to myself early on that I would stop if I ever lost touch with the emotion and passion that led me to choose this work in the first place.
Intellectually, I read the headlines and recognize the rapidly growing distance between the present and peace. However, if I'm honest, feelings of anger, frustration and alarm have been absent for some time.
All that changed today. The first two headlines I read left me absolutely infuriated and sadder than I've been in a long time. Late Thursday night, Jewish youth savagely attackedthree Palestinians while shouting racist slurs in Jerusalem's Zion Square. Earlier that day, settlers hurling fire bombs at Palestinians in the West Bank, wounding a family of six.
This made me want to scream at the top of my lungs, "These are not my Jewish values!"
Some may question whether I am the right person to declare some form of ownership over Jewish values -- with a Jewish, Israeli mother and a Muslim, Pakistani father. I have let that worry stop me from speaking up before, but I refuse to let that silence me this time. The Judaism I was raised with is all about dugma ishit, or leadership by example.
I have heard Jews from across the spectrum of orthodoxy state that the Jewish people are a light onto all nations. True or not, every self-identifying Jew must recognize that when these kinds of vitriolic, hateful actions are perpetrated in the name of Jewish values -- by those who claim superiority and entitlement over others -- we not only fuel the growing tide of global anti-Semitism, we render ourselves completely unworthy of the title "the chosen people."
If this is the future of the so-called Jewish State, then I say no, thank you.
We cannot turn a blind eye to these events. They may be exceptional at the moment, but if the Israeli public chooses to sit silently by and allow these actions to be taken in their name, then they are all guilty by association.
When a Palestinian act of terror has been committed, we all rightly demand condemnation. Why is this situation any different? If anything, this is a key opportunity for the Israeli leadership to show their dugma ishit and demonstrate a commitment to non-violence as the only means toward peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Every single day, more and more negative realities are being created. If we take a step back, we can actually measure the growing rift that has formed between the present day, the status quo of conflict and occupation, and the future of the two-state solution.
These actions must be stopped. If the political leadership does not stand up to condemn them, then they are not worthy of being called leaders. Let the people stand up and show what real Jewish values are made of!
The manners of a man are supposed to make him, and her, of course. Without manners we cannot lay claim to being civilised. We acquire these manners through our education and demonstrate it through our communciation - speech and behaviour.
Of the myriad prescriptions that I’ve encountered for living life to the full, one of the most compelling to me is Mahatmas Gandhi’s exhortation to “live as though you die tomorrow; learn as though you’ll live forever.”
But unfortunately I find it impossible to put into practice. For several reasons, not least of which is the fact that, as applied to any one moment in time, this wisdom is hopelessly paradoxical.
Take today for example. If I was to realistically contemplate the prospect of dying tomorrow, I would almost certainly not be sitting at this keyboard trying to rattle-out my customary weekly column criticising Malaysia’s ratty current ruling regime.
Nor would I be as distracted as I actually find myself from this activity by the confusing alternative prospect of writing academic essays for the two courses I’ve commenced at Sydney University in an effort to learn as though I’ll live forever.
But what I’d be doing instead I have absolutely no idea, as my entire psyche is saturated with the spirit of futurism that so sadly characterises the society in which I’ve lived my whole life.
Since the day I was born I’ve been indoctrinated into, and hopefully if not happily gone along with, the pressures both implicit and explicit in the Judeo-Christian and Western capitalist traditions to sacrifice the unsatisfactory present in favour of a better, brighter tomorrow.
This spirit of a never-ending quest for more prosperity, more security, more pleasure and indeed more, more, more of everything around the next corner, over the next hill or in some chimerical after-life paradise is so all-pervasive, at least in Western society, that it is even enshrined in the pre-amble to the US constitution as the “right” to the “pursuit of happiness”.
And, as much as I’ve come to resent such encouragement to mis-spend most if not all of my life postponing the enjoyment of the present in favour of pursuing unattainable dreams, chasing unreachable mirages or fulfilling airy-fairy fantasies, I just can’t seem to focus on the present as the priceless gift it truly and literally is.
But nor, unfortunately, can I achieve the feeling that by spending my days in intellectual pursuits that I’m learning as if I’ll live forever. In fact while I’m sitting here contemplating yet another way of criticising the crimes of Malaysia’s Umno/BN regime, all I’m learning is how futile it feels.
Just as I fancy the great Mahatma himself would feel, if he hasn’t already in some conscious reincarnation, to learn that after he died his name was stolen by the so-called “Gandhi” political dynasty that has so corruptly and ineptly ruled his beloved India almost ever since.
The original, genuine Gandhi’s exhortation to “live as though you’ll die tomorrow”, as spiritually as it was intended, remains a starkly practical prospect for countless millions of India’s poor and oppressed.
And as for learning as though they will live forever, it sometimes seems as though the voters of India, like those of Pakistan, Russia and dozens of other kleptocracies posing as democracies, will never learn.
A thought that inevitably brings us to Malaysia, where, despite 55 years of object lessons in the evils of being ruled by an increasingly racist, religionist, corrupt and outright criminal regime, a great many citizens have yet to learn how much better off they would be if they voted this pack of crooks out.
And in fact millions have yet to learn the wisdom of registering and turning-up to vote.
Not that I’m suggesting that Malaysians are stupid, or at least any more so than I am for so failing to live as though I’ll die tomorrow as to sit here wasting a day every week writing a column criticising their apology for a government.
In fact it’s altogether possible that most Malaysians are much smarter and wiser than I am in being able to find satisfaction in living for today rather than figuratively, let alone literally, dying for a more fortunate future.
In any case, as attractive as Mahatma Gandhi’s “learn as though you’ll live forever” sounds or seems at first sight, this part of his paradoxical exhortation turns out to be a problem in itself.
Because of there’s one lesson that life and my continuing studies has taught me, it’s that the more you learn, the more you realise you have yet to learn and surely never will.
A point that I recently learned that the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates made much of almost 2,500 years ago with his trademark assertion that he knew nothing but that in doing so was superior to his peers, who didn’t even know they knew nothing.
So perhaps I and my fellow critics are being altogether too hard on Umno/BN politicians in accusing them of pathological lying.
Perhaps it’s the case, for example, that in claiming they know nothing of Ops Lalang, Project M, the Scorpene submarines purchase, the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu or dozens of other alleged regime crimes, they aren’t so much lying as showing their Socratic wisdom.
Just as Umno Wanita chief and former cabinet minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, in her repeated pleadings of ignorance of her husband’s bid for the National Feedlot (NFC) project may not be so much lying as saying she knows so much about it that all she knows is nothing, which is more than the rest of us do.
But not all falsehoods can be passed-off as philosophy, and sometimes what could appear to be Socratic wisdom can be plain, old-fashioned stupididy. Witness Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s recent claim that crime-fighting was “not seen as a need” for the government until only recently.
Causing all us sceptics to wonder if the police had been so busy committing their own crimes, and aiding and abetting Umno/BN politicians and cronies in committing and concealing their misdeeds, to be bothered with petty offences against ordinary citizens.
And confirming me in my long-held conviction that, with apologies to the late, great Mahatma Gandhi, the motto of the Umno/BN regime must be something along the lines of “Live by stealing today as though there’s no tomorrow; and learn nothing forever, or as long as you can get away with it”.

Looking around one may not think so. Many highly educated people have demonstrated otherwise, being rude and uncouth both in public and in private. Education seems to be no guarantee for logical thought or rational conversation. Nor does education seem to have created a set of people who can actually research and retain facts, and then base their opinions on a solid foundation. This, is either a personal failure or one of the system. Without pointing fingers here, for that would be fruitless - a greater failure comes to mind - the failure to self govern. 

There is no greater shame than the need to be policed. As a democracy, the freedoms we have are collective. We retain the freedom only if we do not damage anybody in the group - else we give the police the chance to come and tell us what to do. It is as we learnt at school - if the mischief is mild, and nobody gets hurt, we can carry on and self regulate. If the mischief hurts anybody, the teacher must intervene. 

These are the norms and values we learnt at school, and these are what we carry on with in life. But it is sad that our school taught us to fear and avoid the teacher’s intervention but there was little thought given to eliminating the need for such intervention. The upper hand was always retained by some one else in charge - we were never wholly in charge of ourselves. We neither sought to behave in a mature fashion as a group, nor was maturity expected of us since we were policed. 

This meant that some of us did not know how to exercise boundaries unless policed. And since they broke decent bounds often enough, they gave reason for the police (read teacher/principal/headteacher) to interevene and punish the group. With self regulation and self discipline, especially as one grows older, the need for an over arching authority with the tools for punishment should cease to exist. This is the meaning of growing up, this is the purpose of education.

We see the consequences of this in public life today where a dash of censorship has been exercised by those who have the power to do so. It is no doubt true that free speech is essential in a democracy, and it is the task of journalists - both professional and citizen journalists to call out those in power. The task of calling out what one thinks is wrong is neither easy, nor pleasant. It is not possible to mince words in attacking what is wrong. But that is not hate, nor is it abuse.

Then, there are those, who foolishly attack thinking they are defending their own cause. But often, either with deliberation or due to emotion they slip into abuse, unfounded accusation and libel. This is stupid not only because it is wrong but also because it gives cause to the policing authorities to sweep in and round up who-ever they please. Whether the police understand the issue becomes immaterial. Their action has been given cause by those who mis-used their freedom. And the defense of those who justly spoke up is also immaterial  - they are swept away along with the foolish abusers. 

It is tragic to see how we undermine our own freedoms. 

Speak with conviction, speak for the truth, speak without fear. But do not give them a chance who would seek to silence you. 

Speak well, speak wisely, but not just loudly. For noise is of no value to the wise, and does not each the foolish. 

Speak to be heard, not to hurt. The hurt react with anger, not with understanding. 

Speak with many voices, speak as one. But let the cause not become a cult.

Speak to build, speak to foster the change you seek. Speak to retain your freedom to speak. Let your speech not become the cause of its own destruction. 
An Israeli court has ruled that the state was not at fault for the death of American activist Rachel Corrie in 2003.

"I was a combat soldier and we have a clear value: Purity of arms. And many times Israeli soldiers risk their lives in very difficult circumstances not to harm civilians … it did not work in this case, it doesn’t work in every case .... It is very easy to speak about war zones in a studio ....  The Israeli army is one of the most moral armies in the world."
- Efraim Inbar, a professor of political studies
Corrie was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer while trying to obstruct the demolition of a Palestinian home on the border between Egypt and Gaza.
Her parents have accused the Israeli military of intentionally and unlawfully killing their daughter and have spent almost 10 years and more than $200,000 pushing for an admission of responsibility.

But after a civil case that lasted more than three years, an Israeli district court judge said Corrie's death was a "regrettable accident" and that she had been protecting terrorists in a designated combat zone.

The Corrie family's lawyer has said that they will appeal against the ruling to Israel's Supreme Court and Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, said of the verdict: "I believe that this was a bad day not only for our family, but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel."

"We notice there is a crisis in values and in the systematic investigation system itself and later on in the courts."
-Jafar Farah, from an advocacy centre for Arab citizens of Israel
So, is the verdict fair and transparent? And what does it tell us about how Israel's legal system works?
To answer these questions Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, is joined by guests: Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center, an advocacy centre for Arab citizens in Israel; Rami Khouri, an editor-at-large for Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper, the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and a professor at the American University of Beirut; and Efraim Inbar, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and a former paratrooper in the Israeli army.
"This is a situation which reminds virtually the whole world, except for a few die-hard supporters of Israel, that this is exactly what the people in Apartheid South Africa were saying: 'That we have a good justice system and we put our prime ministers on trial.' Of course the Israelis have a great justice system - for Zionists. But when dealing with Palestinians or other Arabs or people under their occupation they reject almost every bit of international law with a very, very minor occasional exception."
Rami Khouri, an editor-at-large for Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper

Other attempts to bring legal action against the Israeli military:
  • In 2005, Israeli soldier Taysir Hayb was convicted of killing a British activist. He was released from prison in 2010, two years before completing his sentence of eight years. Hayb was the first Israeli soldier to be sent to jail for killing an activist.
  • Activist Tristan Anderson was shot in the head in 2009 in the West Bank. He and his family have filed a civil suit against the Israeli military for the injury he sustained. However, the trial was postponed due to a last-minute revelation of material evidence.
  • A Turkish court charged four senior Israeli military commanders over the killing of nine Turkish activists trying to reach Gaza in 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment