Hollow justice of the settler state

A Palestinian woman stands in a bedroom ransacked by Israeli soldiers during a night raid on her home in Balata refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus (Ahmad al-Bazz - ActiveStills)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 28, 2021

When Mohammed El-Kurd said that “living in Palestine is like having a policeman in your bed,” he wasn’t employing a rhetorical device or a figure of speech. The analogy is too close to reality to be a simile or metaphor.

El-Kurd would know – his family faces imminent displacement from their home so Jewish settlers can occupy their bedrooms in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Removing the indigenous population from their homes and lands so they may be replaced by foreign Jewish settlers is the central principle guiding the Zionist project in Palestine since before the Israeli state was declared in 1948 until today.

Israel’s high court is due to hold a hearing on the fate of the El-Kurd family and other Sheikh Jarrah residents facing removal from their homes on 2 August.

There is little reason to expect they will be treated fairly by the court, which typically rubber-stamps any military or other state practice that advances Israeli subjugation of Palestinians and colonization of their land.

Rubber-stamping war crimes

Last week the high court upheld a decision to destroy a home belonging to the family of Muntasir Shalabi, a detained Palestinian accused of carrying out a drive-by shooting that killed an Israeli and wounded two others last month.

The home slated for demolition, in the village of Turmus Ayya in the central occupied West Bank, is inhabited by Shalabi’s estranged wife and their children. All of them have US citizenship.

Punitive home demolitions are a form of collective punishment – a war crime against Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation – and one long championed by the high court.

Israel’s judicial system as a whole exists to provide a liberal and democratic facade to a brutal settler-colonial regime.

Palestinians are generally unable to seek remedy in Israeli courts but occasionally human rights advocates have, with much effort and persistence, won victories challenging the practices of the military occupation within this hostile system.

One such practice is Israeli night raids on Palestinian homes in the West Bank for the purported purpose of “intelligence mapping.”

This procedure unfolds with a bang on the front door of a Palestinian home and waking up the entire family, who are ordered by heavily armed and masked soldiers to gather in a single room.

The invading soldiers inspect and record everyone in the household’s ID cards and telephone numbers, as well as how the residents are related.

Meanwhile, soldiers go from room to room, ordering one of the members of the household to open closet doors and lift up mattresses before leaving and moving on to the next home.

Psychological warfare

“A policeman in your bed” is too close to reality to function as an analogy when a foreign occupation military violates the sanctity and privacy of families’ homes without a court order for no other purpose but to assert Israeli control over every aspect of Palestinian lives.

The mapping procedure is a form of psychological warfare, as the journalist Jonathan Cook explains, intended to deny Palestinians the feeling of security even in their bedrooms.

The practice was challenged at Israel’s high court by Yesh Din and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, along with six Palestinians, who petitioned for a ban on raids on Palestinian homes except by court order.

Faced with a high court instruction “to be prepared for the possibility it will have to present the wording of the order,” the military amended it so as to avoid making its details public, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported earlier this month.

However, a loophole permits the procedure in “exceptional circumstances,” which Israel will surely exploit.

As Cook adds, given that the procedure targets families not suspected of any offense, “it is difficult to imagine what ‘exceptional circumstances’ could ever justify these degrading and terrifying raids.”

Israel will continue to raid Palestinian homes throughout the West Bank on a nightly basis under different pretexts.

The director of Yesh Din recently said during a conference at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, that the mapping procedure represents only a fraction of raids on Palestinian homes.

Israeli occupation forces carried out some 130 arrest operations in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, during the first two weeks of June alone. By the army’s own admission, most arrest operations are carried out at night, between the hours of midnight and 5 am.

“Imagine what it’s like to have your home, your bedroom, entered into every few months,” Muhammad Asfur, a Palestinian man from the West Bank town of Sinjil, testified to Yesh Din. “Instead of the home being our safe, protected space, it has become insecure.”

Breaking the Silence, a group of whistle-blowing Israeli military veterans, said that the true purpose of the mapping procedure is not to gather data but “to constantly remind the Palestinians living under occupation that we’re in charge, and we have the right and ability to enter their houses whenever we want.”

It is difficult to overstate the psychological harm caused by Israeli night raids on Palestinian homes.

Those harms were described in detail in a report published by Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din and Physicians for Human Rights Israel last year.

Parents described to researchers “a deep sense of helplessness” and an inability to reestablish a sense of safety in the home.

This sense of loss of control can lead to disinterest in planning for the future.

Meanwhile, as the report states, hyperarousal is “a typical reaction to trauma,” causing victims’ bodies to be on “constant alert,” making it difficult to relax and disrupting sleep.

“When prolonged, these disruptions could take a heavy toll on physical and mental well-being,” the report adds.

The psychological burden is especially heavy for children, potentially disrupting their development. Parents told researchers that they witnessed “behavioral or emotional changes in their children after the invasion of the family home.”

Terrorization is the point

These are normal responses to an abnormal reality resulting from Israeli policy that injures the very core of Palestinian lives.

“The invasion of private space may also destabilize the connection family members have to the home … a safe haven that symbolizes family and the protection of which is culturally and socially valued,” the report states.

The terror inflicted by Israel on Palestinians is not an unintended and unfortunate consequence of military operations necessitated by security.

It’s a strategy that has been central to the Zionist colonization project in Palestine, even before the declaration of the Israeli state. Uniformed forces and violent settlers terrorize and make life a living hell for Palestinians to get them to give up their homes and land.

Meanwhile, Israel’s high court goes through the motions of hollow justice as soldiers and police traumatize Palestinians in their bedrooms, inflicting trauma on one generation after another.

Maureen Clare Murphy is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago