On my way home the other day in one of the larger Ramallah-Jerusalem buses, I noticed something that had apparently slipped passed me before. Plastered on some of the large windows of the bus were transparent stickers with red writing and a drawing of a hammer on broken glass – `In case of emergency, break glass` it said. Instinctively, my eye immediately searched for the hammer depicted on the sticker. But instead of finding it, I saw empty red holsters sitting lonely, without their host, screwed pointlessly on the panels between the windows.
Then it struck me. Of course there are no hammers in the buses, which must pass through the Qalandiya checkpoint after being thoroughly checked. The Israelis would never allow it. Who cares if a fire breaks out in the bus and the people are trapped inside? Who cares if the automatic doors fail to open and the only way out is to break the windows? Surely not the Israelis at the checkpoint. They probably don`t give a second thought to these awful scenarios. The razor-slim chance that some anonymous Palestinian would decide to attack the soldiers with the aforementioned hammers is enough to put scores of innocent lives at risk. Because, come on, we all know that Israel`s `security` and the security of its soldiers, trumps all else, much less the lives of the Palestinians.
This has always been disturbing to me, this notion that Israel`s security can justify just about anything, including the wanton killing of 1,400 people over the span of three weeks in Gaza, or the demolition of a convicted bomber`s home (although the bomber himself is already dead) or the confiscation of farmland for a settler bypass road or the construction of the separation wall deep into Palestinian territory. Israel has used and abused the guise of security ever since its establishment over 60 years ago to expel, oppress, occupy, kill and imprison hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and to basically sustain an occupation that the international community has called for an end to years ago. What is even more disturbing is the fact that the world largely buys into it over and over again. And we all know that if you feed into a notion, whether for good or evil, it is nourished and nurtured, eventually taking on a life of its own.
Still, Israel does not nurture this warped philosophy singlehandedly. The United States is just as guilty, if not more, of encouraging Israel into believing that its so-called security should always take precedence over the lives of the Palestinians under its occupation. Last week, US President Barack Obama`s administration is said to have requested a $2.775 billion security package for Israel, the largest in US history. This, said US Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro, would help the Israelis and Palestinians reach peace. How exactly, the distinguished official did not say.
Apparently, in order to push the peace process forward, the US believes Israel needs even more fighter jets and a missile defense system. You know, for those around-the-clock threats from Hizballah and Hamas. If anything is going to ensure peace between the people`s it is F-16s, those same wicked planes that dropped bombs and phosphorous shells on an unarmed population a year and a half ago, killing, maiming and destroying life and livelihood in Gaza.
But even if we are not talking about actual financial support from the US in the name of Israel`s security, how can we forget the irritating statements coming out of almost every world leader when the subject arises. It is almost like these leaders or officials feel there is a sacred obligation to acknowledge Israel`s `security` or `right to defend itself` even when it is the culprit of heinous acts or breaches of international law.
When Israel attacked the Turkish Freedom Flotilla on May 30, killing nine Turks on board ships that were carrying humanitarian aid, British Prime Minister David Cameron could only muster up a watery statement, calling the attack `unacceptable.` According to the Guardian, Cameron telephoned Netanyahu, first insisting that Britain `remains committed to Israel`s security,` but that it also called for a `constructive` response to `legitimate criticism` of its actions.
Even those officials who dare to take that extra step in criticizing Israel never ever forget to pay homage to Israeli security. While speaking about Israel`s so-called easing of the Gaza siege, which in and of itself is illegal and a violation of international law, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton urged Israel to completely end the siege and allow goods to freely flow into Gaza. `If we can be of value and the parties agree, the EU is ready to support a smooth handling of goods at the crossings,` she offered. Still, she just had to add this. `I fully agree that Israel`s security is of paramount importance in moving ahead.`
Hence, it is this international coddling of Israel`s security pretext that has allowed Israel to get away with it for so long. It has literally committed atrocities in its name and has received no more than a slap on the wrist. The premise that Israel has a right to defend itself may seem valid at face value since all countries reserve that right. However, this validity is undermined when Israel acts in its capacity as an occupied power and the source of the `threat` is the people it has occupied for decades. Even if we accept that Israel has a right to defend its citizens from attacks, does this warrant an all-out military invasion of a largely unarmed population, one which left 1.5 thousand people dead, thousands more injured and hundreds of homes destroyed? No, it does not.
Such a seemingly random observation such as the missing emergency hammers in a bus is only significant in that it sheds light on the deceptive and often bogus Israeli premise of security concerns, which as a result, has allowed it to abuse and oppress the Palestinians unimpeded for years. At the risk of oversimplification, it is my strong belief that if this false premise were debunked, things would be very, very different.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.