Tag Archives: Israel Defense Forces

A modest proposal: debate arguments, not motives

Accusing the other side in a debate of a hidden agenda never gets us anywhere.  So let’s just not.

In the Israel/Palestine debate, there’s a trap that both sides fall into, repeatedly – and I’m no exception – which makes it more of a mud-slinging event than a discussion.  In a nutshell, the trap is claiming the other side has a hidden agenda.

I propose we all try to avoid this trap, for everyone’s sake.  To make that possible, let’s take a quick look at what it is, and how to avoid it. Continue reading A modest proposal: debate arguments, not motives

Fear and tear gas in Nabi Saleh

(June 10, 2011)

Today I had a small taste of confronting the Israeli occupation from the Palestinian side, and I confess that even my brief exposure was traumatic.

Heeding the invitation of my friend Gershon Baskin for Israelis to join him at the weekly non-violent protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, in the hope of mitigating the brutal force the Israeli army exerts against the protesters, I set out early Friday morning with most of the things on the list Gershon sent me – food, water, sunscreen, a towel against tear gas – in my backpack, and a sense of foreboding in my heart.

When I said I was afraid of being hurt, Gershon replied “you’re right. It can be dangerous.” He had no words of comfort, except for repeating that he was going to call the army command before the demonstration started and tell them that dozens of Israeli supporters were going to march with the Palestinians, and ask them to take that into consideration.

As planned, we arrived at 8 a.m. for the 1 p.m. event, hoping to get into the village before the army sealed it off. But it was too late: soldiers blocked the entrance and waved us off. They had also put up a sign declaring the village “Area A” – under control of the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords, which Israeli law forbids Israelis to enter. The village is really Area C, which Israelis are allowed into. The sign was a lie. We parked a ways up the road and then the dozen or so activists who had arrived hiked into the village through the fields for twenty minutes. On the way, Gershon advised us to speak quietly and silence our phones. The village had been declared a “closed military area,” and we were violating the law.

We soon found out that two activists who tried to enter the main way were arrested and charged with “attempting to break through an army barricade.”

After gathering in the village square, we were invited to the home of one of the village leaders, a friend of Gershon’s, with whom he had coordinated our solidarity visit. Over coffee in his spacious salon our host briefed us about the village’s struggle to reclaim its land on which the settlement of Halamish was built. He said the Israeli High Court ruled in their favor but they never got their land back or were allowed access to their fields abetting it. Settlers took over Nabi Saleh’s spring and for the past two years the villagers had tried to march to it every Friday but had been held back by the army.

Gershon told us that at first a lot of Israelis had signed up for this action, but as the week went on they started cancelling out of fear. He said he didn’t blame them. I didn’t either: after being the first one to sign up, as Gershon told me, out of a sense of outrage at the army’s brutality and my wish to join the campaign to challenge it, my fear took over. As the day neared I slept worse every night, and the last night I hardly slept at all.

While we waited for the march, there was less talk of principles of non-violent resistance than of practicalities: what to do against tear gas and how to behave if arrested. My friends and I agreed we were here to make a point by our presence but our cowardice would keep us at the back of the crowd where we would be less exposed. I kept thinking of my family worrying about me at home and couldn’t wait for it to be over, even before it started. An Israeli journalist who was with us felt that we were insufficiently welcomed by the villagers, that they could have been more appreciative of the effort and gesture we made in coming out. An activist answered her that it wasn’t for us to tell the Palestinians how to behave. I admit I had also expected a little more visible appreciation for what in my society is an extraordinary show of solidarity with those most Israelis see as enemies. But when I considered how badly they had been treated by Israelis for so long – and where were we then? – I understood their complex feelings. Besides, they did welcome us into their homes and tell us they would do everything they could to protect us.

In one of the homes we visited, our host told us his 19-year-old daughter had been beaten up by Israeli border police last month and put in the hospital. In an unusual turn of events, the police were put on trial and she was summoned to testify against them. When the same young woman admired my new wide-brimmed straw hat, I gave it to her in exchange for her showing me how to wrap my scarf around my head Palestinian-style. An activist offered me jasmine perfume to spray on the front of my scarf as an antidote to the anticipated tear gas. Another advised us to buddy up and a third said the most important thing about tear gas was not to panic.

As the event drew near, Gershon made his phone calls to the army but was not successful: at the two offices he reached – the local and regional commands – he was unable to speak to the officers in charge and left messages with unreliable-sounding young soldiers. It looked like the central plank of his initiative – informing the army of our presence and asking them to be gentle – was falling apart.

At 1:15 people started streaming out of the mosque and amassed for the march. A young man with a megaphone said a few words and I translated for my fellow activists: “Today we are marching for the martyrs who died on Israel’s borders with Syria,” referring to a protest earlier in the week. We looked at each other in confusion. Weren’t we marching for an end to the occupation and allowing the villagers to access their spring?

We didn’t have long to ponder this because within 100 meters and 60 seconds the first tear gas canister was fired from far off at the entrance of the village into its center. Immediately everyone started running back, away from the soldiers, but, as it happened, towards the tear gas: it had landed behind the group, and the only way to get away from it was to run right through it. I found myself with two of my buddies, one particularly affected and, sure enough, panicky. Although I too was gagging and tearing, this put me in the position of being the abler one and my attention was on helping my friend. The three of us found our way to the home we had been invited to use for shelter, and there we were cared for until we felt better. Our hosts had much experience with gas, as it was used in the village in large quantities every week and often fired at or into homes. When this happened, the effect lingered for days. Sometimes, furniture caught fire.

As we left to rejoin our comrades, our host said “please remember us and come back not only in situations like this, but to visit us.” I promised to remember but doubt I will visit.

Outside we could hear the repeated pounding of canisters being fired at a distance, but we stayed in the village center while the confrontation was elsewhere. I informed my friends that I had had enough, I really couldn’t take it anymore, and was ready to go home. They were too, but it was not at all clear there was a safe way out of the village: the army was likely to spread gas everywhere, even in the fields. I felt trapped and hunted. There was nowhere safe to go. It was also clear that there was nothing I could do or say, and it didn’t matter who I was: the military machine was proceeding apace, and its orders were to act relentlessly to contain and especially deter the Palestinian resistance. Activists observed that not only did the presence of Israelis not make things better, it had apparently made things worse. Huge amounts of tear gas were fired for hours and several activists and villagers were evacuated by ambulance.

We were told the village was sealed and there was indeed no safe way to leave. But my friend and I got lucky and got a lift out with a BBC van that had managed to enter the village with its press privileges.

The terror of being exposed to physical harm did not leave me for hours. I know I am not brave in that way. Besides a relatively mild whiff of tear gas I was not even hurt. But worse was the feeling of being trapped and threatened. The activists who have been experiencing this regularly for years can laugh, and the Palestinians who have no choice can scoff at my delicacy. After all, I can decide that I did my bit for the struggle, this is not for me, and go on to entertain my friends with stories of my little adventure. But if I multiply my brush with fear a million times over, I think I got a glimpse of what it feels like to be under military occupation, having no voice and living under the constant threat of violence day in and day out.

In the comfort of my home in Jerusalem, I wonder if the jasmine is blooming outside, or if that scent rising up from my neck is just lingering in my imagination.

Burning racism: Eden Abergil, at it again


Via Room 404 / Ido Kenan

Remember Eden Abergil, the young Israeli woman who became an instant Internet meme after posting photos from her army days in which she poses with bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainees? (If not, Google her.)

Ido Kenan over at Room 404 brings us some news from the famous Facebook profile. The Itamar massacre has prompted her to re-post one of the most memorable photos from, as the album was called, “the most beautiful time in her life” and spew some fresh unreflected racist hatred into the net.

Seen on the right, we have, from top to bottom, a video of (reportedly) soldiers abusing bound detainees, with the charming caption “death to the Arabssssssss”; then the picture that made Abergil famous with the caption of, roughly, “fuck you, stinking Arabs!!!”; and finally a video of images from the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar with the caption “let’ssssss do a Holocaust for the Arabs nowwww and immediatelyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!”.

Kenan reports that when a friend half-jokingly warned Abergil this all might wind up on TV, she replied “Death to the Arabsssss!!!! Let it show up!!!”

It’s worth noting that back after her “beautiful” pictures originally surfaced, she apologized.

H/t to Itamar Sha’altiel. This post is not a direct translation of Ido Kenan’s post, but still  mainly reproduces the information he posted, in English. Credit is due to him, I just thought this worth sharing in a way accessible to non Hebrew-speakers.

Settlement construction as counter-attack?

A lot has already been said about the despicable murder of a sleeping family in the settlement of Itamar on Friday night. A lot has also been said about what has been said about the murder. In particular, I’d like to point to Dimi Reider’s critique over at +972 about the lousy response from most of the activist Left, and to the pointed words of Rehavia Berman (Hebrew), with which I agree entirely. (As he says, the state has to, unfortunately, apprehend the murder, try them, and let them rot in jail — “unfortuantely” because the barbarous killer deserves to be tortured extensively and left alive, perhaps after removing some useful organs like hands, feet and eyes. But alas the state has no right to do that kind of thing and really shouldn’t exercise justice in that way.)

I just wanted to point out something particularly intriguing: the government’s lightning-fast decision to approve a bunch of new settlement houses in the West Bank in response to the heinous attack. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time the Israeli government admits that construction in the settlements is an attack against Palestinians. How surprising that they aren’t constructed purely out of love of the land!

My very first political hate mail!

I just received, for the first time ever, random hate mail from someone who noticed I disagree with their view of how to best serve Israel’s interests:

Rough translation: "LEFTIST PIECE OF GARBAGE WHO LICKS THE ASS OF THE JEW-HATING ARABS... YOU ARE THE SEED OF AMALEK, RABBLE ESCAPED FROM EGYPT. YOU SHOULD BE EXILED TO SDEROT YOU PIECE OF FILTH. AMEN, MAY A KASSAM ROCKET FALL UPON YOU, SCUM OF THE EARTH."
Rough translation: “LEFTIST PIECE OF GARBAGE! WHO LICKS THE ASS OF THE JEW-HATING ARABS… YOU ARE THE SEED OF AMALEK, RABBLE ESCAPED FROM EGYPT. YOU SHOULD BE EXILED TO SDEROT YOU PIECE OF FILTH. AMEN, MAY A KASSAM ROCKET FALL UPON YOU, SCUM OF THE EARTH.”

(This is apparently in response to a couple of comments I made here [Heb] about the strange scare tactics the IDF is using against the popular struggle in Nabi Saleh, which you can read about in English here.)

Unfortunately this person’s user account appears to have been deleted. I was hoping to be able to talk to them (in a somewhat more polite and conciliatory way.) Oh well.

Pogroms– err, hiking!

Baruch Marzel.
Baruch Marzel
Image via Wikipedia

As some may have already heard, today for the second day in a row a Palestinian teenager has been killed by settler fire. Assuming for the sake of argument that the version on Ynet is not a total embellishment, what happened today was that a few settlers were out on a peaceful hike when some Palestinians started throwing rocks at them. Fearing for their lives, they responded with live fire and hit a boy in the head, who is now clinically dead. Subsequently,

[e]xtreme rightist Baruch Marzel of the SOS Israel organization urged the settler public “not to be deterred and continue traveling throughout the Land of Israel. The Arabs must take into account that Jews are not suckers and are allowed to defend themselves against those who want to take our lives,” he said.

There’s a few interesting things about this case. First of all, the settlers going for a nice stroll through the Holy Land were, obviously, carrying firearms; there’s nothing unusual about this. Second of all, they were there asserting their right to go wherever they damn well please in the Land of Israel, disregarding the established practice (and law?) of coordinating this kind of thing with the police and military.1 Third of all, once the clash had begun, the IDF showed up and defended the illegally hiking provocateurs, wounding further Palestinian civilians.2

There’s a logic to each of these things that’s at least well-understood in Israeli society, if not outright accepted or taken for granted:

  1. It really wouldn’t be safe to hike in a large group unarmed, even if in recent years it hasn’t been quite as bad as it used to.
  2. Settlers have always argued that Jews should be allowed to go and live wherever they want (preposterously claiming that Arabs can, an outright lie); while most Israelis probably see this kind of thing as a provocation, the basic logic is appealing and accepted on some level. Ideally, I too wish it were possible and safe for Jews, Muslims, Christians, or just humans in general to go and live wherever they want.
  3. The IDF is the military of Israel, and Israel sees its mission in physically defending the Jewish people, including any Jew, anywhere, from violence. That’s how the Holocaust justifies our statehood, after all. Also, Israeli taxpayers (which include the settlers) rightly expect the army they pay for to come to their aid when they face violence.

However, taken together, especially points 2 and 3, these things result in a tragically skewed balance of violence. Palestinians who wish to defend themselves must do so with stones. Israelis can do so not only with their own guns (which are sometimes full-fledged military-grade assault rifles) but with the assistance of an advanced modern army with a bigger budget than any other organization in the country. Combine this fact with Israel’s lenient attitude towards settler provocations, settlers can easily just “go hiking” somewhere where there are Palestinians, and be fairly certain the latter will come out of it with more bullet wounds than themselves.

I don’t mean to insinuate that all settlers are out to kill as many Arabs as possible. Some certainly are, but I’ve known too many lovely people who come from settlements to make generalizations about the whole population. However, there is an ideological settler movement which holds it to be perfectly fine to use violence against Arabs in order to maintain freedom of movement. This movement is currently not effectively reined in by the Israeli government and security establishment, and I’m not sure it ever has been. While the army regularly claims “keeping the peace” to be its motivation, such as when imposing a closed military zone somewhere, it usually ends up helping provocateur settlers rather than hindering them. In fact, settlers now know they just have to go to, say, a water hole, clash with some Arabs, and they will no longer be allowed to go there and collect water.

It should be obvious these provocations do not further our overall common interest of living in peace.

It gets worse though. Arabs prosecuted for violence towards Jews rarely win. It is common practice for the state to submit secret evidence, which the defense is not even allowed to see, and such “evidence” is often used to convict them. Sometimes, dubious information extracted from youths under duress is used as well, as it famously was in the case of Abdullah Abu-Rahma of Bil’in. On the other hand, Jews prosecuted for violence towards Arabs often have their case dropped before trial, and if convicted will always have a very lenient sentence. It’s also far unlikelier that the state will even try to prosecute them in the first place.3

The bottom line

Even if the bits of logic each kind of make sense on their own, the situation in the West Bank is currently a very vile form of apartheid. Not kinda-like-apartheid. Apartheid.4 If the Israeli state were truly interested in peace, public order, sovereignty, etc., the IDF would easily be able to keep the settlers from provoking violence.5 If the Liberman/Netanyahu/Barak government doesn’t do something quick (like, today) we may see more and more enterprising settlers go on “hiking trips”-cum-pogroms next week. And all the while, Egypt is exploding in revolution, our neighbors to the North and East aren’t looking as stable as they used to, and every week another country recognizes the Palestinian Authority as a sovereign state in the ’67 borders.

The Middle East is headed towards a world of violence, and frankly I don’t see anyone in the position to stop it. Shalom aleynu, wa salaam aleykum, wa salaam ma3hum. Peace be with us all.

Footnotes

  1. This isn’t limited to the West Bank; I used to go hiking in an organized youth hiking thing and all hikes were coordinated with the security forces and escorted by an armed civilian. []
  2. Fourth of all, Marzel sees the armed killers as the victims, but whatever. []
  3. All of this is just my semi-educated impression. I may have read it somewhere, but I admit I can’t be certain. If I’m wrong, please provide data to contradict what I said! I’d be glad to be corrected! []
  4. It should be noted the division of rights in this apartheid is not based purely on race, but also on citizenship. It is apartheid none the less. []
  5. One way to do this, off the top of my head: take away weapons from all civilians in the West Bank, provide IDF protection only within settlement and in activities coordinated in advance and deemed non-provocative. Dismantle indefensible outposts as though they were unrecognized Bedouin villages. []

Interesting times…

A lot is going on on the Israel/Palestine front in the last few days… Unfortunately I’m a bit bogged down with schoolwork and work, so don’t expect long screeds from me before the end of next week (when classes are over, though not the exams)…

Just a few interesting links for the moment.

“The Gaza Flotilla Inquiry: Afloat in a sea of whitewash”

Sunday, +972 Mag

Roi Maor going over some of the failings of Turkel Commission’s “investigation” of the Gaza siege and the attack of the Mavi Marmara; even information within the report, not to mention public announcements by officials, starkly contradict the Committee’s “conclusions”.

A kick in the Israeli Left’s collective behind [Hebrew]

Monday night, Friends of George

Itamar Sha’altiel is rightly pissed off at the Left’s decidedly lame reaction to the Palestine Papers, their decidedly lame reaction to everything else going on, and their decidedly lame habit of lamely reacting to everything — not to mention their preoccupation with stealing votes from one another rather than focussing on winning the public back from the Right. The Right, he points out, has mastered the steering of public discussion to the point that even their legislation of late seems mainly part of that manipulation. Meanwhile, the Left shows off its socially progressive legislative record, instead of asking the pointed questions that beg to be asked of those in power.

A truly inspiring rant of rage.

“The leaders got it all wrong: Palestinian view on Palestine Papers”

Today (Tuesday), +972 blog (guest post)

Maath Musleh discusses some of failings of the West Bank leadership (perhaps “ruling elite” would be a better word?), as well as Hamas, surrounding the Palestine Papers. The piece also points out that mere peace is not the end-goal:

What Abbas and his peers don’t understand is that peace is not the target. If peace was the target, then the Palestinians could have just left and handed over their land to the Israelis. There you go – no more war.

But this is not about peace. It is about rights and dignity. Of course everyone wants peace. But peace is not just an absence of war. Peace is a state of being, in which people have their rights and dignity. It’s a state of being whereby no one infringes on anyone’s rights. For the Palestinians, the state of peace is what will be when the occupation ends and the refugees have their rights and dignity.

I’ll leave you with that for now, and turn to doing the work I’m paid to do. (Case in point: putting together bibliography databases for the Baure Documentation Project.)