A headline in a recent Jerusalem Post captured the current low state of Israeli justice in the Occupied Territories: "Soldier Kills Man, Gets 4 Months; Youth Stones Bus, Gets Two Years."
The soldier was a sergeant who fired bullets into a West Bank group of Palestinian demonstrators who were fleeing an Israeli military raid. A 22-year-old man, unarmed, fell dead. The youth was a Palestinian boy of 16 who hurled stones at an Israeli bus in the Bethlehem area. No bus rider was hurt.
What was reported in the Jerusalem Post didn't make the Western press. By ordinary news judgment, why should it? Double-standard Israeli justice has become normalized to the point that the frequency of horror stories has sapped them of impact. It's enough only to notice that in recent months a few nonpartisan groups have continued to report on the brutalization of Palestinians by the Israeli government, and to say that no matter how commonplace the violence becomes the world will be told.
In May, a 1,000-page study from the Swedish Save the Children organization, funded by the Ford Foundation, documented that the Israeli army has systematically become a child-killer. Between December 1987 and December 1989, 159 children under age 16 were killed by soldiers. The average age of the dead was 10. Between 50,000 and 63,000 children were beaten, gassed or wounded. More than half of the slain were not near a demonstration when killed. Only 19 percent were involved in stone throwing. Even after slaughtering children, the Israelis weren't content: Soldiers disrupted or interfered with more than half of the funerals.
A month before the Swedish study, Physicians for Human Rights, a Boston advocacy group, reported on health-care services for Palestinian inmates in the three Israeli prison systems. The physicians found the delivery of health services to be "poor," sanitation conditions "unacceptable," health screening "not routinely provided," with no complete medical examinations given to detainees held for weeks or months in police stations. Nor are Israeli health professionals "fulfilling their obligation to prevent physical abuse of the prisoners."
When not killing children or mistreating prisoners, the Israeli military has found other outlets for violence. In May, Amnesty International documented allegations of torture and harassment of Palestinian members of a joint Israeli-Palestinian group called Runners for Peace. The athletes, wearing T-shirts calling for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and jogging through West Bank villages to promote friendship, are seen as threats.
Taken together, these reports and studies, as well as a run of others, ought to be reason enough for the United States to raise Palestinian human rights and civil liberties as a major condition for continued U.S. aid to Israel. A stand is needed now more than ever. The new Shamir government is more militaristic, more self-righteous and more disdainful of Israeli moderates and peace groups than any in Israel's history.
If George Bush can lecture Nelson Mandela on the virtue and necessity of nonviolence, why not the same message to the Shamir government, which needs to hear it a hundredfold more? An irony here is that the Palestinian resistance in recent years has put more faith in nonviolent tactics -- strikes, boycotts, demonstrations -- than in guns. It was Palestinian moderates, including its pacifists, who unilaterally acted to try to break the cycle of violence. Israel's response? Kill children, bulldoze homes, jail the innocent.
Instead of pressuring Israel, so long overcapitalized with U.S. aid that it is now overbearing in its demands for more, the United States keeps a firm opposition to Palestinians. Jerome M. Segal, president of the Jewish Peace Lobby and a research scholar at the University of Maryland, writes in the current Nation magazine: "Close to 100 countries have now recognized the State of Palestine. The U.S., on the other hand, has set itself sharply in opposition to this emergence of a Palestinian entity, threatening to cut off funds to U.N. agencies that accept Palestine as a member state. But as a recent Rand Corporation report commissioned by the Defense Department maintained, sooner or later there will be a Palestinian state."
It will be later -- or better, never -- for Sen. Robert Packwood, the Oregon Republican who has sent out a four-page fund-raising letter based on his pro-Israel, anti-Arab voting record. Senatorial duties come second in Packwood's list of urgencies: "Instead of spending all my time raising money for my own reelection campaign, I'd prefer to devote my time and energies to protecting and defending the security of Israel."
Packwood might also devote time to reading what some Swedes and U.S. physicians, plus Amnesty International, have been learning about his beloved Israeli government.