Don’t Say You Didn't Know
The image depicted in this poster is that of two members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) beating a prostrate Palestinian. The caption, “Don’t say you didn’t know,” was originally directed at those who denied any awareness of the Holocaust while it was occurring.
A list of the names of Palestinians who have been beaten to death by Israeli soldiers runs down the left hand side of the poster, echoing the solemn “Reading of the Names” ceremonies that honor victims of the Holocaust. That Israeli artists are prepared to use elements of Holocaust history in a poster condemning Israeli treatment of Palestinians is an important development, because many people both inside and outside Israel consider any such comparison extremely distasteful. It is also significant that Israeli artists have shunned the anti-democratic notion of self-censorship which seeks to protect Israel’s fragile public image from damaging images or embarrassing truths.
Produced in 1982, this poster is an eerie harbinger of the formal policy Israel would adopt in 1988, in response to the first intifada:
We do not know the crime for which the Palestinian depicted here is being
clubbed, or if there even was a crime, or if there was one, if it merited
the brutality displayed here. What we do know is that rarely, if ever,
are Israeli soldiers, police, settlement guards, or armed citizens indicted
or convicted of charges for beating Palestinians. (Dispassionate statistics
and reports on this subject are collected by B’tselem, the Israeli
Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.)
The Los Angeles riots of 1992 — the worst in 100 years; fifty-four people lost their lives — were not in response to the actual beating of Rodney King by police, as caught on videotape; rather, they erupted in response to the acquittal of the four police officers charged. The outpouring of anger among African Americans occurred because they saw in that acquittal the sanctification of King’s dehumanizing treatment and the formalization of their status as second-class citizens.
Despite the protests of the prosecutors, the first trial was moved from Los Angeles to an affluent white suburb and to a jury that was more interested in sending a strong “law and order” message than in reforming the police department. When the predictable acquittal occurred and the riots ensured, the federal government responded by indicting the four officers for having violated King’s civil rights. Two officers were convicted of those charges and served thirty-month terms; two were acquitted. There were no riots in response to this second trial. Through the federal intervention that brought about the second trial, the Constitution and its “equal protection” clause were maintained.
This simply could not happen in Israel. As a theocratic ethnocracy, Israel cannot by definition extend equal protection to members of all the ethnic groups within its borders. Its legal system is biased in favor of the interests and rights of Jewish individuals. There is no counterpart to the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees due process to all Americans, regardless of social standing, religion, ethnicity, race, gender, or national origin.
Though created ten years before the Rodney King incident and twenty years before the Al Aqsa intifadah this poster still resonates because it highlights the existential contradiction found in Israel’s penchant for describing itself as a both a democracy and a Jewish state.© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.
Questions for A New
1) How does the Israeli public feel about police and military treatment of Palestinians?
2) What is Israel’s record for prosecuting members of its security forces who beat, injure, or take the life of a Palestinian?
3) Former Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin said, in defense of Israel’s “Iron Fist” policy towards the Palestinians, that “nobody dies of a beating.” Is this true? Could an “Iron Fist” policy be permitted in the U.S. today?
4) What is Israel’s Basic Law? How does it differ from a formal constitution? How is it like or different from the U.S. Constitution?
5) Can a country reasonably claim to be an authentic democracy while formally affording citizens of one ethnic or religious group more rights than others? Was the U.S. a true democracy during the antebellum period marked by legalized slavery? Was it a true democracy during the “Jim Crow” years? Was it a true democracy before women were enfranchised? Is it a true democracy today?
Please send us your questions and comments (English only please!)
|Another democracy-building arts
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