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Perspectives

August 21, 2009
From U.S. to Israel, racial injustice is not an exception

Jen Marlowe is a filmmaker, writer and human rights activist currently traveling throughout Israel and Palestine. She explores the lives of Troy Davis, an African American man on death row in the U.S., and Asel Asleh, a young Palestinian citizen of Israel killed by Israeli police.

Troy Davis

Troy Davis is a prisoner on death row in the state of Georgia, convicted purely on eye-witness testimony for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer that he has always maintained he did not commit. Seven out of the nine eyewitnesses have since recanted or contradicted their testimony, yet until early this week, Troy’s efforts to get this and other possibly exculpatory evidence a hearing were repeatedly dismissed on procedural grounds. Troy has faced execution three times in the last two years, once being granted a stay less than two hours before he was slated to die. On Monday, to the relief of Troy Davis supporters everywhere, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Georgia federal judge must give Troy an evidentiary hearing. Though the fight is far from over, this could be the difference between life and death for Troy Davis.

Asel Asleh was a seventeen-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel, shot at point blank range in the neck by Israeli security forces during a demonstration outside his village of Arabeh in the north of Israel on October 2, 2000. None of the eyewitnesses at the demonstration (including the policemen, one of whom pulled the trigger) tried to claim that Asel had been involved in any act of violence. The Israeli government set up a commission of inquiry to examine the killings of Asel and twelve other Palestinians inside Israel in the first days of the second intifada. The commission ended with a recommendation that the police conduct an internal investigation. The police closed their investigation before they ever opened it, blaming the families of the victims for not cooperating. On January 27, 2008, the Attorney General of Israel proclaimed the investigations closed.

What links Asel and Troy, one a Palestinian citizen of Israel executed by an Israeli police officer; the other an African American from Savannah, Georgia, imprisoned for killing a white police offer?

Troy’s nephew, a fifteen-year-old young man named Dejaun, spurred me to ask that question. Incredibly poised and articulate for his years, Dejaun recently spoke at the NAACP centennial conference about the racism that he has personally experienced growing up in Savannah, Georgia. “When people hear that I am in the honors program at my school, that I did a summer course at American University, that I plan to study robotics in order to develop medical technology, they tell me that I’m an exception. No, I tell them back. I’m not an exception!”

I’m not an exception. Shivers went down my spine as Troy’s nephew uttered those words. I flashed back to what Asel’s older sister Nardin once told me. She has spoken to me at length about Asel’s life, his murder and her experience growing up and living as a Palestinian inside Israel.

Asel Asleh. Photo courtesy of Jen Marlowe.

“We are here, they (Jewish Israelis) know we are here, but they try to minimize our place in their consciousness. When I fully get into someone’s consciousness, they are always surprised,” Nardin told me.

“They ask ‘How do you know such good Hebrew?’ and ‘How come you dress like any other Jewish girl? They might live ten minutes away from me, but they feel good with their ignorance, they don’t do anything to fight it. And then, whenever they meet me, they say ‘Oh, you’re an exception.’ They don’t realize how many of our young people go to university, study and get doctorates, become professors, speak perfect Hebrew. They don’t admit that we are at the same level of intelligence and knowledge and motivation as they are, that we are good people, have families, jobs, a normal life. They just dismiss us! And they say, ‘Oh, you’re an exception.’”

Nardin, now a doctor, spoke about her own process of transformation, how as a teenager being told she was an exception made her feel special. It wasn’t until she was in university that she stepped out of feeling special and into anger, and began to answer people with the same sentiment that Dejaun arrived at by the age of fifteen.

“No! I’m not an exception!”

To try and portray the situation and sentiments of African Americans in the U.S. and Palestinians inside Israel as parallel would not only be overly simplistic, but a denial of the communities’ very different origins, histories, experiences of injustice, and struggles.

But despite the differences, the words that I heard from Troy’s nephew and Asel’s sister contain the same cry of anger against the dismissal, invalidation and invisibility they have felt all their lives.

I had lunch yesterday with another friend of mine. Amal is also a Palestinian citizen of Israel. She has been studying in Seattle the last three years, and every time she goes home, she tries to take the political pulse. “People are in despair. It feels worse than I can ever remember, though I can’t put my finger on exactly why,” Amal confided in me. “On the one hand, if you go to the mall or to a Jewish Israeli place, you can see Arabs there more than ever. But there is less true integration between the societies. There is no merging. Shops in the mall are willing to take our money, but that’s it.” She struggled to find the words. “We are barely tolerated…we are definitely not wanted.”

When I visited Asel’s family in their home last week, Asel’s father Hassan similarly expressed his feeling that the Palestinian community inside Israel was preparing itself for a worsening situation. Something, he felt, would soon be coming to a head. I remember talking to Hassan soon after the Israeli Attorney General announced that Asel’s case and the cases of the other Palestinian victims inside Israel would be closed. He was upset, angry and disappointed…but not surprised. “There is justice,” he told me then. “And there is justice for Arabs.”

The justice system in the U.S. is fraught with racial overtones as well. The application of the death penalty is one egregious indicator. The Yale University Law School held a study of Connecticut death sentences in 2007. The study revealed that when victims are white, African-American defendants are three times as likely to receive the death penalty as white defendants. In Georgia specifically, 65 percent of the homicide victims are African American, yet white victims account for 90 percent of Georgia’s death row cases.

The struggle for justice in Asel’s case came to a dead end over a year ago. The struggle for justice in Troy’s case has a new hopeful opening. But the ever-present racism that has made both struggles necessary means that neither Troy nor Asel; Dejaun nor Nardin are exceptions. That Dejaun and Nardin are intelligent, hard-working, high achieving individuals is certainly no exception. That Troy Davis is a black man who has spent 18 years on death row for the murder of a white off-duty police officer though he has compelling evidence to prove his innocence, is no exception. And the fact that Asel Asleh, a seventeen-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel, was killed by police forces who carry the same passport as he, and there was no serious effort to hold the one who pulled the trigger accountable, is no exception.

When racism is combined with mechanisms of power, the result is not only an absence of justice but an absence of equal value for human life, sanctioned by the state. This is also, tragically, not an exception.

– Jen Marlowe

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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Comments

24 comments

#24

you are crazy you have never lived in israel surly you are blind of the truth israel accepts muslims by letting them live in israel but there are no jews in gaza i wonder why DISCRIMINATION and ruthless slaughter
PS worldfocus why did you allow that malicious comment ( #23 on list)

#23

as one that has lived in israel for 18 months, and worked around the world for 16 yrs., a born american with perspective unlike average politically dumb americans ,foreign aid is topped by israel getting more than any other country, both in aid and favoritism by congress and special interest groups across america and in government , anything israel wants israle gets, the recent exposay of organ harvesting from palestinens killed by israelie forces has been nearly blacked out of any news coverage, the human suffering whereever palestineins just exist is attrocious in todays time , american politics are totally at the descretion of american jews,

#22

Will it ever become “the past” during our life time? Very powerful writing, Jen!

#21

If the Rabbis do not have any political power, why every Israeli political figure meets with Yousef before any election. Rember when Peres wanted to run for president 6 years ago and Yousef wanted Kats. Who won back then? Who assured Peres this time that he will win the presidency other than Yousef? Moreover, Rabbis now are telling the army not to abide by any governmental orders to evacuate occupied land, I would like to see who wins the Rabbis or the so called elected officials. As for the Kurds and Iran, why do not we both ask the UK and see who divided the Ottoman land and created all these problems including Israel

#20

Ovadia Yousef,the chief Sephardic rabbi, has no temporal power as does Supreme Ayatollah Khameini. Israel is not a theocracy, where the rabbis rule, but rather a secular state with a few areas in life where rabbis do have influence, such as marriage, divorce, and deciding who is a Jew, but no state powers. They have hardly any more influence than do televangelist preachers in America. As for Iran not occupying anyone else’s land, ask the Kurds if they think that is true. As for Israel’s legal occupation of Judah, Samaria and Gaza, that’s the result of Arab aggression over the decades, and like all occupations, it can only end when there are peace treaties that affix borders and other negotiated conditions. After all, the US did not end the occupation of Japan until its constitution was changed to suit America’s requirements. No occupation ends except through peace negotiations and final treaties.

#19

Boris: what is the difference between Ovadia Yousef and Ali Khamani? and why do you think that Iran is a terror State and not ISrael. At least Iran is not occupying anyone, Israel is/does

#18

To “Son” of Jerusalem: This is Nazi race definition of how should look “original Jews”. You are wrong there are original Jews with red hair or blue eyes (read the Bible).Most come to Israel not as “colonizers” but with dream to live in Jewish State and most ready to fight and die for Israel. That’s why 5 Arab countries could not defeat one small country. Unfortunately, there were Jews who kill and steal during long history of the nation (read the Bible). Crime, sex, drugs are dark reality of any country not only in Israel. Why West and Israel concern about nuclear Iran, you can find the answer in W/Focus report about Afghanistan, Aug. 24, blog #67 by Paul Marion. Nukes in the hands of terrorists are a huge concern! Talking about Israel’s 300 nukes, who can prove that number?? I am sure that some “expert” as usual makes it to scare all Muslims. There is not capability to produce such amount of fuel for 300 nukes!!

#17

You gotta love Israel’s democracy! They commit the crimes, they investigate themselves, they find themselves to be completely innocent of any wrongdoing, they always find the victim completely guilty of Israel’s actions, then, they declare themselves to be the most moral [fill in the blank: police, army, political party, people, etc.] and close the investigation. Should anybody dare to question their actions, they’re accused of “anti-Semitism” and reminded of the Holocaust. The End!

#16

Boris: The original Jews who lived in historic Palestine did not have blue eyes and blond and red hair. The question is, where do you come from? the original jews looked like the people who lived in the Middle East, when one looks around in Israel, she/he sees European colonizers, but not Jews. True Jews will never kill and steal, but gangs, Mafias, and imperialists do. And this is the reality of Israel today

#15

Boris: Iran = Israel, Israel = Iran. I rest my case. Then, why is the West and Israel so concerned about Iran’s attempts to build a peaceful nuclear reactor while none is talking about Israel’s 300 nuclear heads????? if you compare Israel to Iran and you are happy about that, please answer the question

#14

To “Son” of Jerusalem: and one more thanks for opportunity to remind you that Arab occupied N.Africa, Egypt and Meddle East (territory almost as N. America); Turkey occupied S. Armenia; Pakistan occupied Kashmir; Iran occupied part of Kurdistan, England occupied N. Ireland and list may continue.
Jews took back territory of Israel belonging to them since 3800 B.C.E.

#13

To “Son” of Jerusalem: thanks to remind me about Russia, you as a Muslim should ask author go to Chechnya and “explore lives” of locals. Last month Iranian regime kill hundreds of own citizen and you don’t care?? or you care only about Palestinians “suffering”??

#12

Boris: Because Israel is the only country on earth that is occupying others against their will and evicting them from their homes. You should be asking the writer to compare Israel to Iceland rather than Iran. But coming from Russia you are so blind to realize the difference

#11

You will not change the human condition by logic.
Nor, by human intelligence, create progress
(so-called).

Understanding is but empty cup
and misunderstanding
is merely the liquid
we pour daily into
our empty cups
to overflowing.

What place do you think there
is for understanding?

Truth is what it is by Nature.
Then, there is an Aristocracy of Truth.
Which Truth do you think you
are hearing today?

I need not write…
so many words to satisfy
the Intellectual Quotas of Red Dust
of various and sundry
Forms of Matter of many persuasions
…antiques which can be found in any
museum of “Human Progress”…
replete with old rooms filled
with…Moonlight…

Why Moonlight?

I, myself, have seen the
phases…
Truth must endure…
all the Moon’s dark phases
and its light…
and though some
may compare
Truth to the brightness
of the Sun…
as it rises to Midday
only to set again at Twilight…

I say:
how like the Moon…
Truth is…
when It is perceived
from all the landscapes of all
the changeable regions
of the Earth!

#10

Jen – here is where your global view of things can create even bigger insights into the nature of power,oppression and racism/bigotry. Connect the dots indeed! Great piece that illuminates the sad and harsh reality that brutal bigotry knows no national or religious boundaries. This is an important reminder to all who care about justice and human rights! Troy’s case is now “alive” again and we all need to be vocal advocates for fairness and justice.

#9

To Jen Marlowe, I didn’t find anything new in your reports: unjustness against African-American and “brutality of Israeli occupation”. I am interesting more about recent situations in Iran and suggesting you travel into Iran and “explore lives” of victim’s of Iranian regime. Why all this so “call human rights organization” concentrates mostly on Israel??

#8

Okay; it is, vicarious, traveler! L.E.

#7

Jen, your work is helping me “visit” Israel, and finding what to see there, me; a viscarious traveler now. TBC. LarryE.

#6

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste!” The first time I saw that statement flashed across the TV screen (on behalf of the United Negro College Fund) when I had just migrated to the U.S., it sent shivers down my spine. I had seen the evidence in Asia and Europe for almost fifteen years prior to that subliminal moment and the realization dawned upon me that even in the most advanced technological country there was benign willful waste. Jen’s article is the best example of connecting the dots that I have seen in recent years.

#5

Wonderful piece Jen. You speak with knowledge and conviction and your last paragraph should make everyone take notice of what is happening in this world.

#4

Jen, Have you thought about contacting Barry Sheck’s Innocence Project about the Troy Davis case? His organization specializes in these kinds of cases.

#3

Excellent piece. This one is a good writer and, one can tell, a dedicated researcher. The sources are effective, connected and potent.

#2

Thanks Jen for continuing to express your thoughtful insights into the human condition. I pray some day we will see that we all have common dreams and common thoughts and feelings – no exceptions!

#1

Thanks for making the connections so clearly. That last paragraph says it all.

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