My Word: From split screens to double standards

My name is Liat Collins and I’m a news junkie. The first step is recognizing the problem. The second is dealing with it, which I do by religiously switching off my phone, computer, television and radio for 25 hours once a week. That’s religiously, as in being an Orthodox Jew who keeps Shabbat. Last week presented an extra challenge as the Sabbath was followed by the Shavuot festival (fortunately, just one day in Israel).

Sunday night, I turned on all the electrical appliances to catch up (with the help of my son, who has been addicted to news from birth). The most important global stories immediately jumped onto screens of various sizes around our home in Jerusalem. Judging from the news and social media, the two biggest stories were The Wedding – of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle – and the broken knee of Jafar Farah.

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Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of Farah before – you won’t be allowed to forget his name now, if he can help it. Farah, the director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel – was detained during a demonstration in the city on May 18 when some 200 protesters marched in sympathy with those killed during Gaza’s Great March of Return the previous week. (Of the 60 Palestinians killed on May 14, Hamas itself claimed more than 50 were members of the terrorist organization.) Farah claims his leg was broken as a result of police brutality, an allegation being taken seriously enough for a policeman to be suspended during the probe by the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Department.

The Justice Ministry investigation is not enough for Farah, however. He is calling for a European Union inquiry into the police actions that allegedly led to his injury.

MKs Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List, and Esawi Frej of Meretz, eager to use some of Farah’s 15 minutes of fame for their own purposes, also sought (in vain) for a parliamentary inquiry into the broken patella.

The Arab citizens of Israel deserve better than the parliamentarians who claim to represent them. Odeh and Frej are symptomatic of the MKs who prefer to fan the flames of hatred instead of concentrating on promoting ways to better the quality of life for all.

This was not a protest for better job opportunities, cheaper housing or peaceful coexistence. It was an act identifying with an attempt by members of Hamas, acknowledged as a terrorist organization by the US, UK and EU, among others, to storm the Gaza Strip border fence and, according to Hamas’s own stated aims, to kidnap or kill Israeli soldiers or civilians.

Israelis close to the border try to live as normal a life as possible. They farm their land although incendiary devices are being launched on it, and they live in the knowledge that rockets and mortars – and last week in Sderot, even machine-gun fire – from Gaza could hit their homes, schools and kindergartens. If such acts aren’t war crimes, it’s only because the world refuses to see acts of terrorism against Israelis as crimes.

The Palestinian Authority was happy to have something to concentrate on other than the hospitalization of 82-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president now in the 13th year of his four-year elected term. PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki rushed to The Hague to meet with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court while the United Nations Human Rights Council, whose members include such luminaries as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Venezuela, began its own investigation into the Gaza riots.

I AM NOT belittling Farah’s pain. Neither am I dismissing his claim of police brutality. Citizens have a right to demonstrate and the police have the obligation to allow them to do so as long as they present no threat to the general public (although it is not clear in this case that the participants sought the necessary police permits).

Most police officers at demonstrations are overworked, underpaid and away from their families on weekends and holidays, and lack the legal right to hold public protests to improve their own wages and work conditions.

If a rotten cop deliberately caused Farah’s fracture, he should be dismissed. This should be true whether a rally is being held by Left or Right, Arabs or Jews.

Police violence is not acceptable. Period. But there is a long way between what happened when 200 people waving Palestinian flags held a protest in Haifa and calls for a probe by the European Union in Brussels.

Thousands of miles and tons of hypocrisy.

The riots in Gaza on May 14, part of the six-week campaign leading up to Nakba Day, what the Palestinians view as the “catastrophe” of the creation of Israel, shared the news headlines last week with the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem in what has been called the split-screen syndrome. Yet when the British royal wedding shared media attention, it was more about double standards than split screens.

Last week, the story of a baby in Gaza who allegedly died as a result of tear-gas inhalation continued to flourish – even though a doctor in Gaza said that little Layla Ghandour’s death was the result of a congenital heart condition. Baby Layla is being exploited as the latest symbol of the Palestinian cause. It should be hard for the family to live with the fact that Layla died because she was taken to the front line in a battle on the border. Instead, it is proud of her being the youngest “martyr” of the May 14 “protests.”

I almost missed the tragedy of another dead child last week. My colleague Seth J. Frantzman shared it on social media.

Two-year-old Mawda – her surname doesn’t seem to have been released for general publication – died after she was shot in the face when Belgian police, chasing suspected migrant smugglers, opened fire on the van in which she was traveling with her family near Mons.

Mawda was born in Germany to a Kurdish-Iraqi family, which, according to several reports, was trying to reach the UK at the time she was killed, having been previously deported from one country to another.

To his credit, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel met with the family of the dead girl to learn about their plight, but I didn’t hear calls for an international inquiry into the actions of the policeman who shot her. Jafar Farah’s broken leg in Haifa apparently deserves more world concern than the fatal bullet in Mawda’s cheek.

The fate of migrants in Belgium, home of the EU, is of less interest than a protest by some 200 Jewish and Arab Israelis. The Muslim refugees forced from their homes in the civil wars of the past seven years are nothing compared to the Palestinians who fled a war launched by the Arab world on the nascent Jewish state 70 years ago. The Palestinians, after all, have been granted the status of “perpetual refugees” by the UN, which somehow also granted the State of Palestine observer status in the world body.

But Frantzman and too few others pointed out another anomaly: The Yarmouk “Palestinian refugee camp” in southern Damascus was pounded by Syrian forces to no international outcry. As Khaled Abu Toameh put it in an article for the Gatestone Institute titled “220 Airstrikes on Palestinians; World yawns,” “The international community seems to differentiate between a Palestinian shot by an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian shot by a Syrian soldier…. Dropping barrels of dynamite on houses and hospitals in a Palestinian refugee camp is apparently of no interest to those who pretend to champion Palestinians around the world. Nor does the issue seem to move the UN Security Council.”

The UNHRC approved a decision for an independent investigation into what it calls war crimes along the Gaza border fence. Kuwait proposed that an international force be placed there to protect Palestinians from Israel (not the other way round, of course). The EU ambassador to Israel visited the injured protester in Haifa and, as if the authorities here wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise, the European Union External Action Service spokesperson called on Israel to launch an investigation into Farah’s broken leg.

Talk about knee-jerk reactions.

liat