Sunday, June 21, 2020

Story of Iyad Hallaq: What it tells about Palestinians under Israeli occupation

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Mural of Eyad Hallaq, Bethlehem, Palestine | Source: Ameen Rammal via Wikimedia

The death of Iyad Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian man, who was shot dead by two Israeli police officers sparked several unrests in Jerusalem. Iyad Hallaq of age 32 was walking to his school of special needs in the Old City of Jerusalem. According to the statement given by the police officers, Iyad was wearing gloves which made them suspect he possessed a weapon. Iyad, who was diagnosed with low functioning disorder, had limited communication skills. Due to this out of panic, he fled, and the police personnel started firing. He tried to hide behind a dumpster where he was shot dead. It is suspected that one of the police officers might have kept shooting despite receiving orders from his commander to halt.

Following this event, the family’s house was searched without any consent for possible weapons. Later on, the family requested a Palestinian representative to be present during Hallaq’s autopsy. The family alleges that this representative was denied entry. The police sealed off the Old City and reported that the Police Internal Investigations Department would be taking over the investigation of the case.

Mansour Abu Wardieh, the victim's cousin, said the family is not optimistic about the police investigation and fears that the police would end up twisting the facts. This lack of trust in the police authorities could be attributed to the fact that firstly the police have shown their disregard to the family by their actions mentioned above and secondly, in the last ten years Israeli security forces have killed more than 3,400 Palestinians but have only been convicted five times.

These numbers prove that Iyad’s killing is just the tip of the iceberg of the atrocities faced by Palestinians that live under the Israeli occupation. Iyad’s case has created a trigger for the Palestinian Arab minorities in Jerusalem to channel out their frustration. The killing has not only been condemned by Palestinians, but also by Jewish Israelis and international figures. The protests against police brutality after the killing of George Floyd have been gaining momentum and protests in Jerusalem began to draw parallels between these two cases. The protests in Jerusalem resounded with several slogans like ‘Palestinian Lives Matter’ alongside the ‘Black Lives Matter’ slogans.

Though the demonstrations united the Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, it comes as little relief to the family and for Arab minorities. It was after more than a week that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke silence on this matter. Middle East Monitor reported the exact comments of the prime minister “What happened to Iyad Hallak is a tragedy. This was a man with disabilities, autism, who was suspected – and we (now) know wrongly – of being a terrorist in a very sensitive venue”. While the prime minister's comments fell short of an apology the Defence Minister Benny Gantz offered a public apology.

While the family and protestors remain un-optimistic about the justice being delivered insights shared by an Israeli Parliament member Ahmed Tibi, seem to shed some light on why Hallaq was killed. According to Tibi, Arabs and Palestinians were intentionally killed without any concrete reason, and for long this has been the policy of the Israeli forces. B’Tselem, a human rights organisation based in Israel said that most killings of Palestinians “were a direct outcome of Israel’s reckless open-fire policy, authorised by the government and military and backed by the [Israeli] legal system.”

The whole system in Israel seems to be designed to discriminate against its Arab minorities. Various senior political officials have openly spread hate against these minority communities. They have also encouraged their soldiers and police forces to kill Palestinians even if they have the slightest suspicion of them being a threat. It is a systematically built system that has subjected Palestinians to abuse and harsh punishments immemorial.

More than 150 instances were recorded between the span of October 2015 and January 2017 in which Israeli security forces have shot Palestinians under suspicion of carrying weapons. However, video footages or witness accounts have raised questions in many cases regarding the necessity of force. Repeatedly cornering these minorities have led to the death of 33 Israelis in the hands of Palestinian assailants in the same period. Hence this use of lethal force has had devastating effects on both the communities. Regulation of force by armed personnel and unbiased, neutral approach is required to curb down this violence. The authorities must also create rules that clearly define the boundaries for force used by armed personnel, and the state should actively denounce hate speech and illegal lethal force to avoid cases like that of Hallaq repeating.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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