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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Selectmen defense of police
avoids hard issues

Dennis Fox

February 28, 2002


According to a letter to the editor of this newspaper from all five Selectmen, the "town of Brookline takes great exception" to charges that police at last spring's Israel Independence Day Celebration mistreated peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrators. I must have missed the decision equating the Selectmen with the whole town. Perhaps this spring's Board candidates can tell us where they stand on the royal "we."

The Selectman may be right about the only point they responded to in detail. The Celebration's $10,000 payment to Brookline police -- apparently routine reimbursement for extra security at the 20,000-person festival - probably didn't affect police practices that day.

But the Defensive Five ignored other allegations. Did Brookline's Finest, after reneging on an agreement about demonstration logistics, use a clearly flimsy pretext to arrest protest leader Amer Jubran for assault and battery? Did prosecutors impermissibly withhold evidence from the defense and pursue a case against Jubran without sufficient cause?

And - the question that got the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union on Jubran's side - did cops rip away signs and pressure 60 protestors to leave Coolidge Corner?

Two Boston Phoenix stories [1 & 2] and coverage in other alternative media provide details -- not just witness reports at odds with the official story, but also a police videotape showing one officer telling others to "move them out of here" after a police-radio order to "clear [the] demonstration."

Claims like these don't surprise those who have seen cops in other jurisdictions hassle, beat, and arrest protestors, withhold evidence, lie in court, and commit other acts that liberal observers usually condemn quickly.

But not this time. When demonstrators challenging Israeli policy claim harassment, reasonable suspicion of police just melts away.

Especially Jewish suspicion.

I understand the inner conflict here. Thirty years ago I moved to Israel, intending to stay forever. I left quickly, though, my Zionist impulses weakening as right-wingers strengthened their grip on Israeli policy.

The segment of Zionism that initially attracted me at least had the virtue of generating guilt. The Israelis I most admired understood an uncomfortable truth: from the beginning, Zionism's focus on Jewish survival blinded it to the equally legitimate rights of Arabs who, inconveniently, already lived on the land.

Periodic efforts to remedy that history still resurface. But thirty-five years of occupation have taken their toll -- most harshly on Palestinians living under oppression, but also on Israelis grown too accustomed to believing they can survive only at the expense of others.

Despite political differences, I retain emotional ties to the Jewish State. I still find inspiring its early kibbutzim and other efforts to bypass Western capitalism and materialism. I want to protect my friends and relatives in Jerusalem, Galilee, and the Negev.

But I also want the state that claims to act in the name of the Jewish people to adhere to values of social justice that so many of us identify with being Jewish.

I know the arguments and counterarguments, all numbingly familiar. Each side hurls accusations. Too many claims, by both sides, are true.

But here's what I remember now:

When I was a teenager, members of the Betar youth movement affiliated with Menachem Begin's political party wore military-style uniforms, practiced shooting, and wore buttons with a map of their goal: a Greater Israel encompassing not only Israel and the West Bank but the entire Kingdom of Jordan as well. In 1965 Brooklyn, we laughed at them.

Today they're in charge. They probably live on the West Bank, surrounded by thousands of resentful Palestinians, protected by Israeli troops.

Still, there is one positive sign. More than 250 Israeli reservists now refuse to serve in Occupied Territory. Some day, fed up, maybe they'll all move to Brookline.

Last week, after nine court hearings and an international support campaign by Howard Zinn and many others, charges against Amer Jubran were formally dismissed. Now a sought-after speaker, the victorious Palestinian can pursue his claim that Brookline violated his rights.

Next spring, if the Israel Independence Day Celebration is again held in town, the Selectmen should make sure our police use their extra cash to protect protestors from harassment.

As "the town of Brookline," that's their job.

Amer Jubran in and out of custody again November 2002--this time by INS!

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