|The Al-Rajabi building.
Settlers have won a victory in their ongoing attempt to grab land for a new settlement in Hebron. On 11 March 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court agreed to hand over the Al-Rajabi building in the Old City of Hebron to settlers, despite the grim humanitarian impacts of the decision on Palestinians living in the neighborhood. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) has appealed to the international community to speak out against this violation of Palestinian property rights, and to use all means available to prevent the creation of a new settlement in the Old City of Hebron.
Settlers claimed ownership of Al-Rajabi house on 19 September 2007, when a group of them stormed into the building in the middle of the night. In November 2008, the court found that the settler’s purchase documents were forged and evicted them, placing the building under military control pending a final decision. In reaction, Hebron settlers set fire to Palestinian homes, farms, olive trees, and vehicles in the area. Six Palestinians were injured, two with live ammunition. On 11 March 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Palestinian owner of the building must, against his will, accept payment from Israeli settlers in the amount specified in the forged sale documents.
A thirty minute walk from the Al Rajabi building settlers are using “archaeology” to rewrite the history of the city and take control of two large plots of land on top of the hilly neighborhood of Tel Rumeida. On 5 January, Israeli settlers and soldiers uprooted fifty almond trees belonging to the Abu Heikal family, and began digging on two plots of land that surround the family’s home, and which the family has leased and cultivated for sixty-five years.
Since January, the settlers have used heavy earth-moving equipment to remove truckloads of soil from the orchard. Tall metal fences now cut the Abu Heikal home off from the orchard, leaving the house accessible by only a narrow drive. Fencing off the land, which soldiers have declared a “closed military zone,” has also isolated portions of the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, making it difficult for residents to walk to shops and the nearby mosque.
|Israelis have unearthed and desecrated what Palestinian archaeological experts believe are three Muslim graves,
constructed on bedrock with stones pointing toward Mecca. Pictured is second of three Muslim graves unearthed by
settlers digging on Tel Rumeida. In this photo, the grave has been partially removed.
|This public footpath has been fenced off
and replaced with a longer path with a
gate at each end, leading to these steep
and precarious dirt steps
According to Hamed Salem, chairperson of Birzeit University’s archaeology department, the dig is illegal and is merely an attempt to “advance the settler’s political agenda by using archaeology to justify their presence in Hebron.” An archaeologist from the Palestinian Ministry of Antiquities recently attempted to inspect the site but was denied access. The Israeli Culture Ministry and Civil Administration are financing the dig, and expect it to cost an estimated NIS seven million. Residents of Tel Rumeida fear that because such a large sum has been allocated there may be plans for much greater destruction of surrounding ancient olive trees and orchards. The Abu Heikal family is currently challenging the legality of the excavation in the Israeli Civil Court system.
Roughly midway between the Al Rajabi building and Tel Rumeida, near the Ibrahimi Mosque, settlers are attempting to gain control of five buildings: the Bouderi House and the Tomb of Abner, both directly outside the entrance to the Ibrahimi Mosque, the Ashhab Shops, across the street from the Gutnick Center, which is directly in front of the Ibrahimi Mosque, the Abu Rajab house near Checkpoint 209, and the Al-Sharif House, the front door of which opens onto the street just below the Ibrahimi Mosque. In recent months settlers and soldiers seeking to access the Al-Sharif building have attempted to open the house from the front directly below the mosque by breaking open a welded door, and have repeatedly invaded the home of the Al-Atrash family, which shares an enclosed courtyard with the Al Sharif building. If settlers are allowed to occupy these seven sites the humanitarian impacts on residents of Hebron’s Old City neighborhoods will be devastating. The targeted properties are links in a chain that, if completed, would effectively encircle the Ibrahimi Mosque and link the four existing settlements inside the Old City to the larger settlement of Kiryat Arba, which borders the Old City. This connection would cut off Palestinian neighborhoods and homes from access to schools and services, and would put all of the Old City under increased risk of settler incursions and violence. Currently about 500 settlers live in the four downtown Hebron settlements of Beit Hadassah, Avraham Avinu, Beit Romano, and Tel Rumeida. An additional 7,000 live in Kiryat Arba.
Two International Solidarity Movement activists walking on Shudaha Street area were brutally attacked by French Zionist tourists who were visiting to attend the weekly settler tour of the Palestinian part of Hebron.
At around 1:30 PM the activists were walking in the direction of Shuhada Street when the 6 young men rounded the corner, upon seeing the activists they spread across the road. Within seconds, the group attacked the ISM activists, chasing one back in the direction of the Ibrahim Mosque and continued to attack while soldiers leveled their weapons at the attacker.
The other activist was chased, tripped and kicked in the body and face by the Zionist assailant until he was chased away by the two soldiers. On gaining his feet, the activist was punched in the face by the man who had just chased his companion away. The activist ran and the army stopped his pursuer.
The incident was reported to the police, who found two of the attackers in Shuhada Street and took their details. They were not detained as it was the Sabbath when religious Jews are rarely arrested. The activists were taken to a local Police station to make a statement and overheard aggressive integration of a Palestinian prisoner.
We also received a report that an Italian tourist was attacked by 10 religious Zionists in the city on the same day of the attack. After his beating, was told that if he wants to come back he must wear a Kippah.
Israeli soldiers have shot teargas and sound grenades at children who cross checkpoints 29 and 209 on their way to school in the morning on seven of the last eight school days.
International observers and human rights workers in Hebron have witnessed Israeli soldiers repeatedly firing grenades and sound bombs into the streets near these checkpoints while children are walking to school. The children attend several schools located both in the Old City and in the area of Hebron designated as H2, on the other side of the checkpoints, and include preschool students as young as four. Depending on where they live and which school they attend, children must cross these checkpoints in both directions to reach schools both inside the old city and in H2.
Because the Israeli military does not allow buses that transport younger children to preschool and kindergarten classes in H2 to cross the checkpoints, very young children living in the Old City must walk through these checkpoint areas in order to reach their school buses.
At times, the use of teargas by soldiers has been in response to several children throwing stones, but internationals have also witnessed soldiers firing teargas canisters without provocation. In any event, because so many children pass through the same area to reach school at the same time, hundreds of children, many of them in primary grades, suffer the effects of gas on an almost daily basis. Additionally, because the agents used to manufacture teargas are actually solids, they remain inside shops, on clothing, and in the streets where children walk and play throughout the day.
Although the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) prohibits the use of teargas and pepper spray in warfare, domestic police and state forces are allowed to use these weapons on people as “riot control” agents.
Tear gas is a non-lethal chemical weapon that stimulates the corneal nerves in the eyes to cause tears, pain—which can be extreme, immediate and severe nausea, and even blindness. Longer term effects include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, and other lung-related problems (heightened in people who already have lung problems), heart and liver damage, delayed menstruation, and an increase in miscarriages and stillbirths in women exposed to the gas. The NGO Physicians for Human Rights believes that “‘tear gas’ is a misnomer for a group of poisonous gases which, far from being innocuous, have serious acute and longer-term adverse effects on the health of significant numbers of those exposed.”
In addition to the effects of the gas, the teargas cartridges fired by soldiers can cause serious injury and even death if they strike people, especially if soldiers fire the cartridges straight into crowds rather than into the air. Internationals and Palestinians report having seen soldiers fire teargas straight into the roads near these checkpoints.
The teargas used on school children in Hebron comes primarily from the United States and is manufactured primarily by Combined Systems Inc. of Jamestown, Pennsylvania and Defense Technology of Casper, Wyoming. Combined Systems Inc. (CSI)—often manufacturing under the brand name Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) are owned by Point Lookout Capital and the Carlyle Group. CSI is the primary supplier of tear gas to the Israeli military as well as a provider to Israel’s police (and border police) for use in occupied Palestine.
Defense Technology is headquartered in Casper, Wyoming. Along with U.S. company Federal Laboratories, with which it shares a product line, it has links to the U.K. arms giant BAE Systems through BAE’s ownership of U.S. arms company Armor Holdings.
The War Resisters League has launched a campaign to abolish teargas, and to encourage people who have been impacted by its use to tell their stories. The campaign seeks “the global ban of tear gas by first ending the sale, manufacture, and shipment of tear gas made in the US through organizing and applying grassroots pressure on
- companies that produce the gas,
- the US government agencies that approve the export licenses for the sale of tear gas,
- US government officials who allow for the sale and transfer of tear gas to repressive regimes abroad,
- the prison and police forces within in the US who use tear gas and similar chemical weapons such as pepper spray to threaten, injure, and torture people.”
To learn more about teargas in Palestine and throughout the world, or to add your story to the campaign, visit facingteargas.org
Hebron, Occupied Palestine – On Sunday, the 16th of February, Israeli soldiers and border police in Hebron fired tear gas and sound grenades at children on their way to school. The border police also chased the children, attempting to arrest them.
At Checkpoint 29, around 7:30 a.m., a few children on their way to school (there are three schools near the checkpoint) were throwing stones at the soldiers stationed there. In response to this two border police and a soldier appeared from an alley and threw a sound grenade at the kids close to the United Nations school on Tareq Ben Ziyad Street.
This frightened not only the children who had thrown stones but all the children on their way to school, causing them to flee. When they did not catch any children the two border police and the soldier stood in front of the school blocking the entrance and started firing teargas at those who had fled.
As the border police and the soldier returned to the checkpoint, three new soldiers came out of an apartment across the street, preventing the children from entering their school. The soldiers continued firing teargas towards the crowd of upset and frightened children.
Tear gas is a nondiscriminatory nerve gas which affects all persons nearby. The gas often takes a long time to disperse, forcing children to go through the half-dispersed gas clouds on their way to school, leaving them crying and coughing. The use of tear gas against schoolchildren is common in Hebron.
In total, seven soldiers and two border police were involved in the incident, firing six tear gas grenades and two sound grenades at the children.
Jonathon Cook writes:
I never thought I would see it. A mainstream TV programme, this one made by Australian channel ABC, that shows the occupation in all its inhuman horror.
The 45-minute investigative film concerns the Israeli army’s mistreatment of Palestinian children. Along the way, it provides absolutely devastating evidence that the children’s abuse is not some unfortunate byproduct of the occupation but the cornerstone of Israel’s system of control and its related need to destroy the fabric of Palestinian society.
Omar Barghouti has spoken of Israelis’ view of Palestinians as only “relatively human”. Here that profound racism is on full show.
There are, of course, concessions to “balance” – in the hope of minimising the backlash from Israel – but they do nothing to dilute the power of the message.
This is brave film-making of the highest order.
It is an indication of quite how exceptional this film is that it has cornered Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, into expressing her “deep concern“. That’s the same Bishop who last month doubted that the settlements in the West Bank were illegal.
If the video above is removed, you can also watch the film here:
PALESTINE: Border Police detain, humiliate and arrest men trying to go to Friday prayers; CPTer’s camera taken.
Occupied Palestine – On Wednesday 8th January, Vincent Mainville and Fabio Theodule were arrested by Israeli border police in Khalil (Hebron).
The two boys were handcuffed and taken to Jaabara police station where they were forced to kneel on the concrete floor for approximately 30 minutes. Fabio was blindfolded with his own keffiyeh and while kneeling he was pushed against the wall by Israeli border police officers and kicked in his legs.
After an hour passed, the makeshift blindfold was removed although their hands remained cuffed behind their backs for the next four to five hours.
Fabio and Vincent were questioned by Israeli forces, both refusing to sign documents that were written in Hebrew. They were went taken to Kiryat Arba police station, fingerprinted and then interrogated once again. Several hours passed and it was only at this point that they were allowed to call their legal representative.
They were transferred to a police facility near Ben Gurion airport where they were made to wait outside in a prison courtyard for two hours. Fabio asked for water and was told by a border police officer, “If you want to drink, you can drink my piss”.
Fabio and Vincent repeatedly asked for jackets or a blanket due to the cold weather, they were both ignored.
They were taken inside this facility for 30 minutes before being transferred back to Kiryat Arba police station in Khalil. Their handcuffed were removed at 12:30 at night and they were placed in a cell to sleep.
In the morning, on Thursday 9th January, Vincent and Fabio were awakened and handcuffed at 6:30 in the morning. They received no information about their situation and were not informed they had a court hearing that morning. When they arrived at court in Jerusalem they were allowed to speak to their lawyer for approximately four minutes outside the courthouse, with Israeli border police present.
After they had the short conversation with their lawyer they were taken to the immigration office in Tel Aviv. The two activists tried to refuse to enter this building as they knew their lawyer was attempting to argue against their arrest [which was eventually declared illegal]. It was at this point Israeli forces became extremely aggressive, dragging both Vincent and Fabio by their handcuffs causing their wrists to bleed.
Vincent attempted to resist as they dragged both boys up a set of stairs and it was at this point a man from the immigration center kicked him in his ribs and his face. They were taken into a room and after one hour, were able to contact their lawyer, though they were not allowed privacy for this phone call.
Vincent asked if he could file charges against the man who has beat him, and he was told he was not allowed to do this.
At this point Vincent and Fabio were given food for the first time in 25 hours.
The boys were then taken to Giv’on prison in Ramle, close to Tel Aviv. They were unable to contact their lawyer again and received no information about their case, until they were finally able to be contacted by ISM two days later.
Vincent and Fabio are very likely to be deported within the next few days, their arrest has been ruled illegal by an Israeli court but this has not made any difference to their situation. Their treatment since being arrested should serve as a reminder in terms of how Israeli forces are able to treat their prisoners, whether justified or not. However, Vincent and Fabio as internationals have received far better treatment then Palestinian prisoners. The brutal treatment of Palestinian prisoners echoes throughout Palestine and serves as a daily reminder of the Israeli occupation.
Occupied Palestine – Yesterday, Wednesday 8th January, at approximately 11am in Khalil (Hebron), Vincent Mainville and Fabio Theodule (Swiss and Italian citizens respectively), were arrested by Israeli border police officers.
The two international activists were first detained while trying to stop Israeli forces firing live ammunition and tear gas canisters towards a group of Palestinian youth and children throwing stones towards the soldiers.
Israeli forces accused the two activists of trying to assault a border police officer and obstruction of military action. Both activists are committed to non-violent solidarity work.
Vincent and Fabio were handcuffed and transferred to Jaabara police station, where they were left in the handcuffs for over three hours before finally being allowed to contact legal representation.
The two activists attended Hasharon court this morning in Jerusalem; they were escorted by Israeli border police and were handcuffed throughout the night. When they arrived in the courthouse they were escorted to several different rooms before being led outside the court without seeing their lawyer. Vincent and Fabio were then taken to the immigration center where deportation procedures were begun without a court hearing.
Although the judge later ruled that the activists had been illegally arrested, it was too late to prevent their transfer to immigration and therefore prevent their deportation.
The activists are now being held by Israeli forces and it is not known how long they will be held for before they are deported from the country.
The ruins after the fire was extinguished
AL-KHALIL (HEBRON) – On 26 December 2013, while CPTers were doing their routine monitoring of the school patrol at the Qitoun checkpoint, schoolboys threw several volleys of stones at the checkpoint for about a minute. Border police responded by throwing a sound bomb and then firing a teargas grenade.
The grenade entered the second-story window of the Al-Karaky family’s three-room apartment. They were drinking coffee when it landed in their living room and fled the house. The canister started a fire inside the house after the family left.
Everything in the small apartment—including numerous books, among them holy books such as the Qur’an—was burned or ruined by water from Hebron’s Municipal Fire Department, which arrived promptly to put the blaze out.
This incident is not the first time objects have come through the window of the Al-Karaky home, when boys have thrown stones at the checkpoint and border police have responded by firing back. “We’re always trapped between the stones and what the soldiers shoot,” a family member told a CPTer. They never expected, however, that these almost routine exchanges would result in the four people who lived there losing everything.
BETHLEHEM – A group of settlers injured a local Palestinian official in the south Hebron hills on Saturday after attacking him with a rock, a local peace group said Monday.
“On Dec. 28, a group of settlers attacked Palestinians who were plowing a field in the South Hebron Hills village of At Tuwani. Hafez Huraini, a member of the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee, was injured in the attack,” Operation Dove said in a statement.
Huraini told the group that five settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Maon, four of whom were children, attacked the villagers as they worked on their land.
One of the settlers approached Huraini and hit him over the head with a rock.
Residents from at-Tuwani gathered and managed to force the settlers away, but they continued to throw rocks at the villagers before finally leaving the area.
The attack took place at 2.45 p.m. and Israeli forces arrived in the area at 4.15 p.m., by which time Huraini was at a hospital in Yatta receiving treatment.
“This is resistance: to go daily to your land. We are protesting every day, every night,” Huraini said.
In November, Operation Dove said the illegal outpost of Havot Maon was expanding at a “phenomenal” rate.
Home to around 200 settlers, the outpost is one of the most violent and radical in the occupied West Bank.
On the night of December 5, 2013, Israeli immigration authorities denied entry to Patrick Thompson at the Allenby Bridge connecting Jordan to Occupied Palestine. Thompson was attempting to return for another stint on the team in Hebron. He initially told authorities that he was entering as a tourist, to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Tel Aviv, and then points south, before re-entering Jordan. An Israeli official was concerned about his previous stay of four months in Israel.
After detailed questioning over a period of three hours and a search of his computer hard drive, authorities found a logo of CPT and told him they were denying him entry because he had lied to them. Thompson told them that he specifically did not mention his work with CPT or his destination as the West Bank because of the way Israeli authorities had treated many others when they volunteered this information willingly. Authorities denied entry to Jonathan Brenneman, another CPTer, in September, when he declared his membership in CPT and his plans to travel to Hebron. Thompson then waited another hour or so before the authorities officially denied him entry. When he boarded a bus to go back across the border into Jordan it was 1:30 a.m., a full six hours after his arrival at Israeli passport control.
Thompson is the fourth CPTer to whom Israel has denied entry this year. In addition to denying entry to Brenneman in September, authorities turned away two reservists in July because of stamps in their passports from their time with the Iraqi Kurdistan team—even though the Kurdish Regional Government has friendly relations with Israel.
“You destroy the soldier himself”
That was the response of Munir, a Palestinian who is faced with Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint opposite his shop in Hebron every day, when I asked him how he thought being in Hebron must affect the soldiers.
I have had so many encounters with Israeli soldiers during my time in Hebron – it is impossible not to, due to the intensity of the military occupation.
I have passed the time of day and talked with some of them about what we are each doing here. Some have told me of their boredom, that they would much rather be on the beach. One helped keep a stray dog away from Palestinian school children who were frightened and I thanked him. Another told the police to leave me alone when they were harassing me about where in the street I was standing during the school run, and I thanked him too.
They have also spat at me, shouted at me, threatened to arrest me and called me stupid in Hebrew and a “sharmoota” (“whore” in Arabic). I have refused to follow their orders to move or stop taking photos. I have watched heavily armed soldiers throw stun grenades, and tasted the tear gas they shoot at Palestinian children on their way to school in response to small stones being thrown at their checkpoint. I have seen them harass and detain Palestinians trying to go about their lives, push kids for “facing the wrong direction” as Israeli settlers walk past, and arrest children. I have watched them laughing and joking many times in situations that are far from funny – most recently in the aftermath of an extremely serious attack by Israeli settlers against a Palestinian family.
I have come to know some of the Givati Brigade of the Israeli army, currently serving in Hebron, by sight and a few by name. You can often tell how many schoolbags will be searched or Palestinians detained for ID checks by who is on duty. Almost without fail, the local Palestinians say that their treatment on a given day depends on the mood of the soldiers. I have often wondered what must be going through their minds and wished that I could talk to them properly about what they think. Amidst the tension and violence of Hebron, this is normally impossible.
One Friday night settlers blockaded a Palestinian family’s gateway and stopped them from leaving their home at Tel Rumeida in Hebron. I asked the nine watching Israeli soldiers to please help. They wouldn’t. One of them, whose name is Kawalski*, said “everything is fine.” 34 Israeli settlers were stopping a Palestinian family from walking down the street and thus from entering or leaving their home. Many of the settler children were shouting abuse, hitting our cameras and spitting at us.
They went on to throw two buckets of water at us, followed by a bucket of bleach. It was an awful scene and I cannot see how he could have thought it was fine.
Most of the soldiers in Hebron are young, ranging from 19-22 years old, and are conscripted into military service for three years. This is compulsory with a few exceptions, so most of them have not made a positive choice to be in the army. Yet in Israeli society there is real kudos attached to being a combat soldier like those in Hebron – just take a look at the Israel Defense Forces Facebook page. Only a tiny minority ever refuse to serve and spend time in prison as a result. Kawalski, the soldier on that Friday night, must be no more than 22 years old. After the incident, I wondered a lot about his “everything is fine” comment and thought maybe it was actually his internal reasoning – him trying to persuade himself it was all OK and he was in control (he most definitely was not).
Later, when he called an ambulance for my colleague after the attack on us that he had failed to prevent, he must have been forced to acknowledge that everything had not been fine.
Thousands of settlers and their supporters came to Hebron recently for Shabbat Chayei Sarah, which commemorates Sarah of biblical times, who is buried in Hebron. It was a difficult weekend, with heightened tensions and violence. Movement restrictions were even tighter than usual – the Ibrahimi Mosque and nearby Palestinian shops were forcibly closed. Most of Shuhada Street, which Palestinians are never allowed to walk down, was closed to my colleagues and I as well – “Jews only” as the enforcing soldier told me. Extra soldiers drafted into H2 checked the ID of Palestinian men every 50 metres.
I was patrolling with a colleague and we went to an area with a few Palestinian homes and many settlers nearby. I felt nervous because large groups of settlers, some armed and some drunk, are not normally a great thing to encounter. A Palestinian family was harvesting olives on a hill where many settlers were hanging around. We checked if the family was OK and sat down under a tree, hoping to deter the settlers from coming to bother them, throw things at them etc (there was a fence between us and the Palestinians so we couldn’t help with the olives). A couple of Israeli soldiers were standing nearby.
After a bit, a group of male settlers tried to make their way towards us and I stood up, worried about what would happen next. But rather than standing back and letting them come over, the soldier stepped in the way and asked the settlers to leave. They did. I had never seen such a thing before and, when the settlers had moved away, I thanked the soldier. “Don’t worry” he said. Shortly after, a second group of settlers tried to come and the soldier and his colleague again turned them away. After this the soldiers came to ask if we were OK. I was slightly stunned that they were looking out for us and for the Palestinians. I thanked them both and said that we would move on soon. They told us there was no need for us to leave and not to worry, they would make sure everything was OK with the Palestinians. This was the opposite of what I am used to in Hebron, where the soldiers will often do whatever they can to get rid of us, and simply stand by as settlers harass and attack Palestinians. The first soldier told me that his name was Yossi* and he was not normally based in Hebron.
Later, when there were no settlers watching, I bumped into Yossi again. I asked him if he understood what I was doing there. “You want peace” he said, and told me that he wanted peace too. He told me that after my colleague and I had gone, the settlers had pushed him and thrown stones at him. He was astonished by this and couldn’t understand it. I asked what he knew about Hebron – not much. His orders that day had been to keep the Jewish and the Palestinians apart. I told him what it is like in Hebron – the settler violence, the soldiers refusing to help, the clashes, and showed him pictures. It was all news to him. “It’s good that you are telling me this, I will tell my commander”, he said. I really appreciated this but told him I didn’t think it would help – his commander was 24 years old and decisions about what happens in Hebron are made high up in military and political circles. None of those in charge will be unaware of what actually goes on in Hebron.
Yossi told me that he loved being in the army. He told me that he loved his gun. “Why do you love your gun?!” I asked him, “It’s for killing people.” “No!” he said, “I love target practice, I don’t want to kill anyone.” “But why do you think they give you a gun?!” I asked. I learned that Yossi was 19 years old. He seemed like a good, decent young man and I believed him when he said he wanted peace and didn’t want to kill anyone. But, as I have previously written about other discussions I’ve had with Israelis, I was surprised by his lack of understanding about the facts of the conflict he is part of. I asked him to keep being nice to the Palestinians and he told me to take care in Hebron.
My encounter with Yossi really made me think. That I was so surprised at his fair conduct says a lot about the norm for soldiers in Hebron.
I wonder how it comes to be that so many of the young soldiers behave in the morally unacceptable ways I have so often observed or seen evidence of: arresting children and beating them up; demolishing Palestinian houses with bulldozers and then preventing tents and emergency aid from being delivered; even deliberately shooting innocent people, as veterans’ organisation Breaking the Silence has documented. Sometimes they will be following their orders in doing these things, and sometimes not. Mohaned, a 13 year old from the town of Beit Ummar, told me how soldiers raided his house at 3am, blindfolded and arrested him wearing only his underwear. He was held for 10 days, in which he was slapped, hit with the butt of a rifle, beaten and then released.
Surely it is important to ask how young men, most of whom start off as normal, decent guys like Yossi, end up doing these things?
On a day off I visited the Golan Heights and got talking to some soldiers about their jobs. One of them said that they themselves had been discussing these issues, “Some of us were talking – we are children and they give us guns.” I met another soldier in Haifa, Israel. He was 23 years old and had previously served in the Golani Brigade in Hebron. He recalled an army education week when there had been a discussion about putting the heads of dead Palestinians on poles. He had been in the minority 20:1 to say that such things were wrong. Another former Golani soldier simply refused to speak about what he had done when he served in the army.
My friend Sam is Jewish, an Israeli of British origin who I got to know in our student days. After my blog about my some of my experiences in Israel, he emailed me saying, “I think another big reason why it’s hard to convince Israelis about what’s going on in the territories is that almost every Israeli knows somebody who serves in the territories… it’s hard for us to believe that they are monsters.”
His use of the word “monster” really stuck with me. I don’t believe the soldiers are monsters – perhaps with a few exceptions, as with all people. But sometimes they end up doing monstrous things on a regular basis. They are born into a system which takes apparently normal teenagers and seemingly trains them to behave in these ways.
One soldier who served in Hebron told Breaking the Silence, “In Hebron, I was disturbed and frightened most of all by the unregulated and uncontrolled power, and the things it made people do.” Another said, “Another thing that has stayed with me from Hebron? I think of myself as a little injured maybe, I don’t know. Not physically injured. More emotionally injured.”
Rather than monsters, I think it makes the young soldiers part of the tragedy of the conflict. I am pretty sure that it will damage them too, that they will suffer in the long run. Aside from the terrible harm that the military occupation does to the Palestinians, I am sure that Israel also hurts itself and its own young people in what it does. What kind of society, what kind of country, will Israel end up as?
Avraham Shalom is in a position to know. He led the Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service, between 1980-86 and in the film The Gatekeepers he says,
“We have become cruel. To ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population.” The Israeli army has become “a brutal occupation force.”
*Not his real name