By Friends of Al-Aqsa November 7, 2013
The need to boycott Israel is growing
The call for boycotting Israel has grown significantly in recent years. The main purpose of this global campaign is to bring Israel to account for its human rights violations against Palestinians. The reason such civil action is necessary is because governments around the world with the power to intervene have repeatedly failed to utilise international legal apparatus in to hold Israel to account for its crimes.
However, successful boycott campaigns have revealed that ordinary people do have the power to act and respond to Palestinian calls for intervention. The destruction of Palestinian infrastructure through Israeli military assaults, routine demolitions of essential resources such as water wells, and blocking access to farmlands; means that Palestinians are unable to freely harvest their lands and bring their produce onto the markets. It is well documented that farmers are attacked by extremist settlers, and shot at by army personnel. Entire initiatives such as the Olive Cooperative have been built in response to these attacks, so that international solidarity activists can go to Palestine simply to help farmers harvest their crops and document the violent assaults some face on a daily basis.
Fishermen off the coast of Gaza face similar deadly assaults, this time from Israel’s naval vessels. Thus, peaceful farming or fishing is now a luxury for Palestinians, yet Israel is exporting its own produce globally and reaping the financial rewards for it. Its exploitation of stolen Palestinian lands in the West Bank should not be allowed to enter European markets and the boycott campaigns seek to highlight this.
The boycott of illegal settlement produce is becoming established. However, there is now also a move to boycott Israeli produce too, as Israeli companies have been found to breach EU food labelling regulations by labelling settlements goods as ‘produce of Israel’. By doing this, they mislead consumers into believing that the goods are legitimately farmed in Israel, instead of illegitimately farmed on stolen Palestinian land, often exploiting Palestinian labour.
Recent statistics reveal that illegal settlements profit from exporting their produce to Europe to the tune of 230 million Euros a year. When compared to Palestinian exports, this is fifteen times greater in value. Thus, the EU imports 100 times more produce per illegal Israeli settler than it does per legitimate Palestinian resident of the West Bank.
The success of the boycott campaigns reflects the feeling on the ground. Ordinary Brits do not want to be a part of Israel’s racist and illegal occupation policies, and they do not wish to support the illegal settlements by buying their produce.
British Politicians Oppose Boycott
Both the Conservatives and the Labour Party have both come out against boycott of Israel.
David Cameron stated in October 2012:
In a speech by David Cameron at the annual dinner of the United Jewish Israel Appeal, Cameron said on boycotting:
“And to those in Britain’s universities and trades unions who want to boycott Israel and consign it to an international ghetto, I say not only will this Government never allow you to shut down 60 years worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make both our countries stronger but I also say this: we know what you are doing – trying to delegitimise the State of Israel – and we will not have it.”
The Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, recently stated ”it is not Labour policy to support boycotts. We would like to see even stronger economic ties with Israel’. His comments were reported on twitter following a London meeting on 7 February 2013.
European Consumer Labelling laws
The EU is considering making it illegal for Israel to sell produce from the illegal settlements labelled as ‘produce of Israel’. This would be a marked step towards obstructing settlements from profiting from the land they have stolen.
Produce to Boycott
Products to look out for are: dates, citrus fruits and herbs, and manufactured products including cosmetics, carbonation devices, plastics, textile products and toys.
Recently, Morrisons supermarket was found to be selling medjoul dates labelled as ‘Produce of Israel’ but which were in fact from illegal settlements.
1) Every time you go shopping, ‘Check the Label’ on the produce you buy. Ensure they are not from Israel, West Bank or Jordan Valley. If you do see produce from these places, take a photo and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org detailing the store and location.
2) If you find produce from Israel, West Bank or Jordan Valley ask to speak to the store Manager and explain that the produce are from illegal Israeli Settlements as they are grown on land that has been stolen from Palestinians. Ask for them to be removed from the shelves and for them not to be stocked again. Please also ask for the suppliers name if it is not clear as this is useful information. Email your experience to email@example.com
3) If you do not want to approach the Manager whilst you are shopping, contact the stores Head office on their customer service number/email explaining your concern.
Tesco Customer Service Centre, Baird Avenue, Dundee, DD1 9NF
08457 22 55 33
Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd, 33 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HT
0800 636 262
0800 188 884
Customer service enquiries – 0845 611 6111
General or corporate enquiries – 0845 611 5000
By Post: Customer Service Department, Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC, Hilmore House, Gain Lane, Bradford, BD3 7DL
General Enquiries: 0800 952 0101
Write to: Customer Service, ASDA House, Southbank, Great Wilson Street, Leeds LS11 5AD
Holly Lane, Atherstone, Warwickshire CV9 2SQ
0844 406 8800
0870 444 1234
|Cultural Boycott as a Political Tool; Impact and Importance|
BETHLEHEM – Footage released by a rights group on Saturday appears to show Jewish settlers beating an Israeli activist as he tries to defend Palestinian farmers while Israeli soldiers look on.
The videos released by joint Israeli-Palestinian human rights group Ta’ayush show an Israeli activist who has accompanied Palestinians to their farm lands in the village of Khirbet Shuweika in the South Hebron Hills being assaulted by Jewish settlers.
The videos, which could not be independently verified, also show that after the settlers have beaten the activist, an Israeli soldier approaches the settlers but pats one of them on the back and does not attempt to detain or reprimand them in anyway.
According to Israeli alternative news website +972, the assault occurred around 11 a.m. on Saturday.
An Israeli activist affiliated with Ta’ayush had accompanied local Palestinians after they had been prevented from reaching their lands numerous times in recent weeks by local settlers, even though Israeli authorities recognize the area as private Palestinian land.
The Jewish settlers were from the nearby Eshtemoa outpost, and according to an activist affiliated with the group, none of them were detained by Israeli forces.
Following the attack, the activist went to the Kiryat Arba police station and Israeli authorities said an investigation would be launched into the incident.
Israeli news site Haaretz quoted an IDF spokesperson as saying that the video was “tendentiously edited,” and that Israeli soldiers on the scene had acted to “distance” the settlers and call on police to investigate the incident, as per protocol, according to +972.
In 2013, there were 399 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
In the last week alone, hundreds of olive trees across the West Bank have been chopped in a number of incidents targeting Palestinian farmers’ livelihoods.
Here is Oxfam’s official and very brief statement on the ending of its eight-year relationship with Scarlett Johansson, who served as a “global ambassador”. It seems clear that Oxfam – very belatedly – gave her an ultimatum following her recent decision to accept another ambassadorship, this time promoting SodaStream, whose factory is in an illegal settlement in the West Bank.
Oxfam states Johansson’s “role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador”. It was either us or them. Johansson stepped down, making clear she prefers to work for a company that breaks international law over an organisation concerned with humanitarian issues.
Oxfam’s dithering and its final efforts to allow Johansson to present this as a resignation rather than a dismissal reinforces the point I made yesterday about how money talks, even for Oxfam. The charity needs pretty ambassadors to raise funds and to gain media attention. Treating Johansson harshly, even now when the relationship is over, might put off other Hollywood starlets who hope to burnish their humanitarian credentials – at least as long as the work doesn’t interfere with their opportunities to make money, even when it comes at the expense of other people’s freedom.
No one comes out of this affair looking good.
ABP, the world’s third-largest pension fund, said the fund might exclude the stocks ‘as a last resort’ if the Israeli banks fail to act
According to a report in The Financial Times today, three major European pension funds with a combined total of almost €500 billion of assets are “reviewing their holdings in Israeli banks over concerns that the banks finance illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian-occupied territories.”
The three investors are Dutch ABP, the world’s third-largest pension fund, Nordea Investment Management, and DNB Asset Management. In addition, Norwegian pension fund KLP has confirmed it will be examining “dilemmas linked to financing [of Israeli settlements].”
An ABP spokesperson said the fund might exclude the stocks “as a last resort” if the banks fail to act. Nordea, meanwhile, is expected to meet the Israeli banks in March and take a decision on a possible withdrawal of investment at a meeting in May.
As the FT highlights, “the reviews come after PGGM, the second-largest Dutch pension fund, two weeks ago became the first big investor to dump its holdings in five large Israeli banks : Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot.”
The news comes two days after Israeli television broadcast remarks by the government’s top negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who warned that a “crisis” in the peace process will see Israel hit by a “wave” of boycott pressure. Last week, Shas party chair Aryeh Deri urged financial assistance to business owners in the West Bank “hurt by international boycotts”.
A group of Israeli settlers set fire to a West Bank mosque and sprayed it with racist graffiti, Ma’an news agency reported on Wednesday.
The “price tag” attack comes as a United Nations report revealed that settler attacks on Palestinians have almost quadrupled in eight years.
Ayoub Abu Hijlah, the mayor of the northern village of Deir Istiya, told Ma’an that the settlers entered the village before dawn to set fire to the mosque’s door, causing minor damages.
The settlers also scrawled threatening graffiti on the walls of the mosque, including “Arabs out!” and “Best regards from Qusra,” in an allusion to an incident in early January in which a group of settlers was apprehended by Palestinian villagers as they intended to destroy their crops.
Another tag read: “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.”
Palestinian Authority official Ghassan Daghlas said that residents managed to extinguish the blaze before it spread to the interior of the mosque.
Most price tag attacks against Palestinians are never prosecuted, and many take place in full view of Israeli troops. According to rights organization Yesh Din, indictments were only filed in 8.5 percent of 825 completed police investigations it monitored.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report, relayed by the Associated Press, recorded 2,100 settler attacks since 2006, from 115 attacks that year to 399 in 2013.
OCHA figures estimated that in eight years, 10 Palestinians were killed by settlers, and more than 1,700 Palestinians were injured by settlers or by troops in clashes.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law.
The army admits its observers noticed the masked Israeli bandits descending on Qusra – and did nothing
A case of man bites dog: On Tuesday, January 7th, in the village of Qusra, Palestinians united in order to defend themselves from a group of Israeli marauders, taking the latter captive, and turning them over to the authorities. The rare event drew significant media attention.
However one point did not get the attention it required: The IDF told Haaretz (Hebrew) that “an observation post identified the settlers, some of whom were hooded, descending towards the village, but then eye contact with them was lost.”
You get that? The IDF identified a group of masked people heading toward a Palestinian village, and in response it did… nothing. The army entered the picture only after the raiders’ plans had been disrupted, in order to return them to their homes. That is, as far as the Israeli army – which effectively is the sovereign over the West Bank – is concerned, it is perfectly reasonable that masked men will pass by its apathetic eyes to raid a Palestinian village.
Had the villagers of Qusra not congregated to protect their persons and property, the incident would have ended with more damage to Palestinian property and perhaps more wounding of Palestinians – and it seems the IDF would not have cared that much. Now let’s try and imagine the opposite scenario: Masked Palestinians creep toward a settlement. Do you think in this case the IDF observer would consider it sufficient to inform command that it had “lost eye contact” with the suspicious masked group?
Once, the IDF – which according to international treaties and HCJ instructions is entrusted with protecting the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories – would at least pretend to try to protect them from the settlers’ daily terrorism. Seems it has stopped even pretending.
Perhaps because the truth is much worse: this blog has reported numerous incidents of IDF troops providing protection to Jewish marauders while they have attacked Palestinian villages. The following footage, taken by B’Tselem staff, brings the incident to life. The soldiers react with apathy to the masked Jewish civilians stoning Palestinians – and when the Palestinians try to react in defense, the soldiers fire tear gas canisters at them.
So it goes.
Kifl Hares, Occupied Palestine – On Friday, 10th January 2014, at approximately 4 o’clock in the morning a group of twenty settlers from nearby illegal settlements entered the Palestinian village of Kifl Hares. Some of them arrived in cars, others on foot. The settlers made noise and broke windows of parked cars. Palestinians on their way to the mosque for the first prayers were harassed and settlers in cars tried to run them over. Children were frightened and the villagers were afraid to leave their homes.
Previously, on Tuesday 7th January, the Israeli army closed the gate at the main entrance to the village, which leads to the main road. When villagers asked the reason for this, the soldiers stationed in a watchtower nearby answered that the gate would be closed indefinitely for security reasons.
On Thursday, 9th January, an emergency occurred, when an ambulance attempted to take an elderly lady living near the entrance to a hospital in Nablus. The residents requested that the Israeli soldiers open the gate for just five minutes so that the ambulance could reach the main road. The Israeli forces refused and the paramedic had to carry the lady by hand on a stretcher from her house to the other side of the gate. This delayed her arrival at hospital.
The gate has been opened only once in the past few days. This happened on Friday, when the settlers entered the village, implying that the Israeli forces knew of the settler attack.
Illegal settlers and Jewish tourists have entered Kifl Hares on many occasions. The village is located in the northern West Bank in the Salfit district and close to Ariel, the largest of the illegal settlements. The pretext for the incursions into Kifl Hares is a pilgrimage to three disputed tombs. The centuries-old tombs belonging to the village are also important for Muslims. Large numbers of settlers arrive on visits organized by the DCO and with Israeli army protection. Settlers and Jewish tourists from all over the world arrive by bus, frequently during the night. During the incursions, Israeli forces declare the village a closed military zone and Palestinians are required to stay in their homes until the settlers have left. This event occurs around twenty times a year. Nevertheless settlers also come weekly without army protection to pray in the tombs and often to harass or attack villagers. Several years ago Palestinian youth would resist these incursions by throwing stones at the illegal settlers and Israeli forces. This resistance was invariably responded to with night raids and arrests that resulted in imprisonment for up to five years. Since then villagers have been afraid to resist these settler attacks.
Dutch pension asset manager PGGM, one of the largest in the country, said on Wednesday it was divesting from five Israeli banks because they finance illegal settlements.
The announcement comes a month after a major Dutch water supplier ended a partnership with an Israeli water company which supplies Israeli towns and settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“PGGM recently decided to no longer invest in five Israeli banks,” said the company, which manages about 153 billion euros in funds.
“The reason for this was their involvement in financing Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories,” PGGM said in a statement.
PGGM said there was “a concern, as the settlements in the Palestinian territories are considered illegal under humanitarian law,” and regarded by international observers as an “important obstacle to a peaceful (two-state) solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”
It said it would no longer do business with the Hapoalim and Leumi banks, the First National Bank of Israel, the Israel Discount Bank and the Mizrahi Tefahot Bank.
PGGM added it based its decision on a 2004 UN International Court of Justice ruling that the Jewish settlements were in breach of the Geneva Convention relating to occupying powers transferring their own citizens into occupied territories.
The group said it had been discussing the issue with the Israeli banks “for several years” but that the banks “have limited to no possibilities to end their involvement in the financing of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
“Therefore, it was concluded that engagement as a tool to bring about change will not be effective in this case,” PGGM said.
All investment in the banks ended on January 1 “as concerns remain and changes are not expected in the foreseeable future,” it added.
PGGM’s investments in Israeli banks amount to a few tens of millions of euros, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
“But its decision is liable to damage the banks’ image, and could lead other business concerns in Europe to follow suit,” the paper said.
Palestinians welcomed the PGGM’s decision to divest from the banks, Wafa news agency reported.
Palestinian Authority Parliament Member Qais Abdul Karim, said in a statement that he hoped such action would inspire other members of the European Union to follow suit and force Israel to abide by international law.
“Israel should understand that it will pay a heavy price if it continues to occupy Palestinian land and ignore international resolutions,” Wafa quoted him as saying.
In September, Dutch engineering firm Royal HaskoningDHV withdrew from the construction of a sewage treatment plant in East Jerusalem, citing the Israeli’s project’s violation of international law.
Last month, Dutch water supplier Vitens ended a partnership with Israeli water company Mekorot due to the “political context.”
The decision came days after a visit to the Mekorot offices in Israel by Dutch trade minister Lilianne Ploumen was abruptly cancelled.
The visit was part of a larger tour of Israel by Prime Minister Mark Rutte that was marred by a dispute over a Dutch-made security scanner intended to check goods leaving Gaza for the West Bank.
Rutte was to have inaugurated the scanner on the isolated territory’s border with Occupied Palestine, but the ceremony was broken off after Israel said it did not want Gazan goods going to the West Bank.
Israel’s defense ministry wants to isolate the two Palestinian regions, while Dutch officials had hoped the scanner might boost commerce between them.
Israeli deputy Foreign minister Zeev Elkin last month said he was “blindsided” by Vitens’ pullout “and a few more European companies have made similar decisions in the past months, which have blindsided us exactly in parallel with the peace process.”
Zeev, speaking to Israeli military radio, said that peace initiatives should mean “that people don’t breathe down our neck”, but “unfortunately this doesn’t work.”
Since peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials began in July, Israel has announced the construction of thousands of settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, sparking tensions in already difficult negotiations.
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.
A loud buzz of chainsaws greets our arrival following a call from Tuqu’ – a Palestinian village of about 12,000 people, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. We find Israeli soldiers overseeing the destruction of row after row of mature olive trees.
The Palestinian farmers remonstrate with the army. They have land ownership documents dating back generations from the Jordanian, British and Ottoman administrations, but their arguments are ignored by the soldiers holding them back at the gunpoint. I notice a woman pleading with soldiers who order her away, but she will not let up.
November 25, 2013 Israeli Border Guard weeping as Palestinian trees destroyed_A.Morgan
An Israeli Border Guard, a young woman who speaks Arabic, is called to deal with her. I watch as the young soldier stands listening and silently drops her head, turning her face to wipe away tears.
Finally, the buzzing stops, but it is a temporary reprieve. The Israelis have declared this ‘state land’ and the farmers are given four days to cut down hundreds more trees themselves, or the world’s fourth largest army will return to defend Israel from the olive trees.
‘How can we do this?’ asks one farmer ‘It will be like killing our mothers!’
Israeli military harassment of children in Area C
About three quarters of Tuqu’s land is in Area C*, under full Israeli military control, although this was supposed to transfer to the Palestinian Authority within 5 years of the Oslo Agreement. Tuqu’ has already lost hundreds of hectares to the illegal Israeli settlements of Teqoa, Noqedim and Ma’ale Amos that surround it to the north, south and east.
Our team comes regularly to Tuqu’. It is one of four Bethlehem villages where we accompany children to school as part of a UNICEF ‘Access to Education’ programme. Every day, children of six to 18 must run the gauntlet of armed Israeli soldiers and we have been present when the army has tear-gassed the schools. The soldiers obstruct the school entrances with jeeps, and patrol the footpaths with guns, forcing the frightened children to walk across rough fields or along the busy road.
‘It is emotional harassment’ says the mayor.
Recently we met a 16 year old boy who showed us the X- ray of a bullet still lodged in his back since a recent military incursion into Tuqu’. The mayor also tells us that over 20 children have been arrested in the last three months.
Two weeks before the trees were cut down, Tuqu’s mayor had called us because Israeli settlers, accompanied by soldiers, had begun putting up Israeli flags and tents on Tuqu’ land each afternoon.
One of the Israeli settlers I spoke to – a woman with an American accent – justified what she was doing, saying,
‘It is no different than what the Americans did to the Native Americans’.
Following this we saw the army erecting a series of concrete pillars along the roadside, with two red signs warning Israelis that this was a dangerous Palestinian village.
Soon after that, settlers erected a large marquee and put up provocative posters with a picture of a car being fire-bombed. The Palestinian landowner protested, but the military commander told him the settlers would take the land for two days for a party. There was nothing the farmer could do to stop this, but the village held a peaceful protest, whilst a large Israeli military force guarded the settlers.
November 20, 2013 Nadia Matar, Women in Green at Tuqu’_A.Morgan
The people of Tuqu’ know that this is how it starts; a few tents, some flags, then some caravans – an illegal settlement outpost is born. With Israeli state protection and financial inducements it will soon grow to thousands of settlers. More land theft, house demolitions, movement restrictions and violence against local Palestinians will follow.
Two days after the party, the settlers are back. They include a vigilante group called Women in Green** led by a Belgian-born woman called Nadia Matar. We ask what she thinks about the 16 year old Tuqu’ boy who was shot it the back whilst going to visit his grandfather.
‘ He was probably throwing stones.’ She replies ‘Kids who throw stones should be shot in the head ’.
During a visit to Tuqu’ a week after the tree cutting, we see scores of settlers coming towards the village, many bringing young children. A large number of Israeli soldiers position themselves across the road and fields, aiming their rifles and teargas cannons at Palestinian children coming out with their unarmed parents for another peaceful protest.
The settlers hold a ceremony and light candles. It is Hanukkah, and they tell us they are renaming this area with a new Hebrew name.
Under international law it is illegal for Israel, as an occupying force, to transfer its own population into the occupied Palestinian territories. Despite this, Israel’s massive settlement programme has continued unabated for decades, with thousands more homes being planned during the current Peace talks. With many settlements to the east of Bethlehem and other Palestinian centres, the Israeli strategy seems clear: to expand the eastern settlements westward to join up with Jerusalem, bisecting the West Bank and corralling the Palestinian population into a series of isolated cantons. EAPPI is keeping international agencies informed about these developments in Tuqu’ and a legal challenge is underway, supported by UNOCHA and the Norwegian Refugee Council.
* The Oslo Accords led to the West Bank being divided into Areas A (under Palestinian control), Area B (Palestinian civil government and Israeli military security) and Area C (Completely under Israeli military law). Areas B and C were supposed to be transferred to Area A – full Palestinian control, within 5 years. Instead, 20 years on, Israel has consolidated it’s control over Area C, illegally building hundreds of thousands of settler homes. Area C represents over 60% of the West Bank. It is the only contiguous area and therefore control over Area C is essential for communications. It also includes most of the West Bank’s fertile land and water. Israel prohibits Palestinian construction in Area C. Israeli control over, and settlement building in Area C is a major obstacle to a peaceful solution to the conflict.
** Women in Green is a right wing group that opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports Israeli settlement of the West Bank, which it proposes Israel should annex. WiG also opposed Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Nadia Matar, the Belgian-born leader of WiG claims that the ‘Arabs’ in the ‘Holy Land’ are descended from relatively recent immigrants, and should be ‘transferred’ to neighbouring Arab countries.
“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
Palestinian medical sources have reported that twin girls have been wounded after being rammed by an Israeli settler’s vehicle in the Al-Walaja road, west of Beit Jala, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Tuesday.
Mohammad Awad, head of the Emergency Unit in Bethlehem, said that one of the girls suffered a fracture in one of her legs, while her sister suffered various cuts and bruises to different parts of her body.
The 17-year-old sisters were moved to the Arab Society Hospital in Beit Jala, Awad added.
On Monday, December 9, a young Palestinian man was injured after being rammed by an Israeli military jeep in Nahhalin village, west of Bethlehem.
On November 19, 2013, a young woman identified as Zeina Omar Awad, 21, was injured after being rammed by a settler’s vehicle at the main entrance of Beit Ummar. She suffered cuts and bruises, while the settler fled the scene.
On the same day, a Palestinian woman was wounded after being rammed by the speeding vehicle of an Israeli settler, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
On October 22, resident Abdul-Hafith Tayyem, 76, died of serious injuries suffered after being hit by a settler’s vehicle in Al-Fondoq town, near the northern West Bank city of Qalqilia. The incident took place on October 16, 2013.
On September 29, a Palestinian worker was injured after being rammed by a settler’s vehicle, near Husan town, west of the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
On September 20, a Palestinian man was injured in a similar accident with an Israeli settler who fled the scene.
A week before the incident took place, Palestinian child was seriously injured after being hit by a settler’s vehicle as she was walking home from school in Teqoua’ village, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
The child, Hayat Mohammad Suleiman, 8 years of age, was walking back home from school on the main road that is also used by Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements in the area.