By Ramzy Baroud
Last month, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the government’s “zero tolerance” policy at US border crossings. It was a matter of weeks before the new policy began yielding tragic outcomes. Those attempting to unlawfully cross into the US were subject to federal criminal prosecution, while their children were taken away by federal authorities, which placed them in cage-like facilities.
Expectedly, the policy caused outrage and was eventually reversed. However, many of those who have chastised the administration of President Donald Trump seem willfully ignorant of the fact that Israel has been carrying out far worse practices against Palestinians.
In fact, many within the American ruling classes, whether Republican or Democrat, have been captivated with the Israeli model for decades. For years, US pundits have praised not just Israel’s supposed democracy but also its security apparatus as an example to be emulated.
A new chapter in the ongoing cooperation was penned soon after Trump declared his plan to build a wall at the US-Mexico border. Even before Israeli companies jumped at the chance of building Trump’s wall, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted approvingly of Trump’s “great idea,” claiming that Israel’s own wall has been a “great success” for it “has stopped all illegal immigration.”
In the case of Israel, the word “democracy” is hardly fitting. At best, Israel’s democracy can be described as unique. Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak has written: “There are many democracies around the world. Only Israel is not just a democratic state but a Jewish one as well.” At a Tel Aviv conference earlier this year, Israel’s divisive Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked offered her own version of Barak’s assertion. “Israel is a Jewish state,” she said. “It isn’t a state of all its nations. That is, equal rights to all citizens but not equal national rights.” In order for Israel to preserve its version of “democracy,” it must, in the words of Shaked, “maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights.”
Israel spins the concept of democracy in whichever direction that would allow it to ensure the dominance of one community at the expense of Palestinians, the native inhabitants of the land whose rising numbers are often seen as a “demographic threat,” a “bomb” even.
Israel, to this day, has no formal constitution. It is governed by what is known as “Basic Law.” Having no moral code or legal foundation according to which the state’s behavior can be judged, the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) is, therefore, free to draft and impose laws targeting Palestinian rights without having to wrangle with such notions as these laws being “unconstitutional.”
One of the reasons that the US administration’s family separation law at the border failed is that, despite flaws in its democratic system, the US has a constitution and a relatively strong civil society that can utilize the country’s moral and legal codes to challenge atrocious state conduct. In Israel, however, this is not the case. The government invests much energy and funds to establish physical links between illegal settlements (built on Palestinian land in defiance of international law) and Israel itself. At the same time, it invests equal resources to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their own land, while keeping their communities separated and fragmented.
The sad truth is that what Americans have witnessed at their southern border in recent weeks is what Palestinians have experienced as a daily reality at the hands of Israel for the last 70 years.
The kind of separation and segregation that Palestinian communities endure goes even beyond the typical outcomes of war, siege and military occupation. It is something that is enshrined in Israeli law, crafted mainly to weaken and even break down the cohesiveness of Palestinian society.
For example, in 2003, the Knesset voted in favor of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which placed severe restrictions on Palestinians who were applying for family unification. When rights groups challenged the law, their efforts failed as the Israeli Supreme Court ruled, early in 2012, in favor of the government.
In 2007, that same law was amended to include spouses from “enemy states” — namely Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Unsurprisingly, citizens of some of these countries were included in the Trump administration’s ban on citizens of mostly Muslim nations from entering the US.
Even the idea of caging children is an Israeli one — a practice that was exposed by the rights group the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. The policy, which has allegedly been discontinued, allowed for the placing of Palestinian detainees, including children, in outdoor cages, even during severe winter storms.
The “caging” of Palestinians, however, is an old practice. Today, the Israeli apartheid wall separates Palestinians from their land. As for Gaza, the entire strip, which is home to 2 million people, mostly refugees, has been turned into a massive “open-air prison” of walls and trenches.
While many Americans are relieved by Trump’s decision to end the practice of family separation at the border, US politicians and the media are oblivious to the fate of Palestinians, who have endured horrific forms of separation for many years. Even more troubling is the fact that many Republicans and Democrats see Israel not as a liability to real democracy, but as a shining example to be followed.