“The violent behavior of the soldier videotaped aiming his rifle at a Palestinian teen, setting off a storm in the media, especially the social media-was not exceptional.”
So says veteran Israeli reporter Amira Hass intoday‘s issue of Israel’s most respected newspaper, Haaretz. You can read her story on the Haaretz website [ http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.590048].
From Tikkun’s standpoint, we need to point out that there’s nothing unusual about this behavior: occupying armies regularly brutalize the populations they are sent to police as part of the way they justify to themselves their presence on the streets of someone else’s cities or villages. The task itself is dehumanizing not just for the occupied but also for the occupier.
Consider the situation in Hebron, a city of over 100,000 Palestinians built around the site holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are believed to have been buried. It was around this site that Israeli settlers occupied buildings and built a small enclave, and now 18-to-22-year-old Israeli youth are sent to protect the settlers from the anger of Palestinians who are frequently blocked from approaching this holy site. The settlers themselves have been documented to attack Palestinian school children, to deface Palestinian buildings, and to harass Palestinians, under the protection of the Israel army (IDF).
Now, send a young 18-20 year old Israeli teen into this situation with the orders to “protect” the settlers, and after a while you get a dynamic in which the soldiers-to justify to themselves their presence in someone else’s city, and faced with the outrage of citizens who have been systematically harassed by settlers-start to feel outrage at those whom they are sent to police.
We at Tikkun want to insist that this is not because these soldiers are beasts-this behavior eventually emerges among any occupying army: the occupation itself elicits brutalizing and bullying behavior from the ranks of the occupiers. This happens in every occupation, from the Chinese occupation of Tibet, to the American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, to the police occupations of America’s central cities. It’s the same behavior that prison guards exhibit in prisons around the world.
While some Jews believe that their army is an exception, human rights organizations like B’tselem: The Israeli Human Rights Organization and neutral visitors like Christian Peacemakers teams have reported on this behavior for several decades now, each week documenting the inhumane behavior of the IDF in the occupied West Bank (and previously in Gaza).
It is the Occupation, not the evil of individual Israeli youth, that is the essence of the problem, and that is one of the reasons why we at Tikkun have been challenging the legitimacy and morality of the Occupation since we began some twenty-eight years ago. Our teach-ins to the Congress and the Administration, sponsored by our Network of Spiritual Progressives, have conveyed this message to many in Congress: the Occupation is not only evil for Palestinians, it is also evil for Israelis. The Occupation dehumanizes the dehumanizers, distorts the fundamental decency of the Israeli population, and must be ended.
Yet, given the fundamental inequality of power in this situation, it is the ethical responsibility of the Israelis, and those who support them (particularly the people of the United States and Jews around the world) to do every nonviolent thing in our power to do to end this Occupation quickly.
Please read Rabbi Lerner’s book “Embracing Israel/Palestine” to further understand the psychological traumas as in the histories of both peoples that have led to this horrific situation (order it on Kindle at Amazon, or in hard copy from www.tikkun.org/EIP). We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives refuse to demonize either Israelis or Palestinians. It is precisely because we care about the well-being of both sides that we seek to end this horrific situation. You can help us by joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives [ https://org.salsalabs.com/o/525/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_ ] at http://www.spiritualprogressives.org.
Why Do Israeli Soldiers Bully Palestinians?
by Amira Hass
Published on Haaretz.com [ http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.590048 ]
May 12, 2014
Why did his commanders send a soldier with a record of violence to bully Palestinians in Hebron? The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit chose to respond to Haaretz’s question with “no comment.” Perhaps that’s because the right answer is: Violence and bullying are what the Israel Defense Forces’ presence in Hebron and the West Bank is really all about. And another right answer: The IDF’s first mission in the West Bank is to ensure the continuation of the settlement enterprise, which means expelling the Palestinians from their land. The violence of the army and the settlers serves this mission. The proof? The hundreds of buildings in Hebron’s Old City that have been emptied of their owners and tenants.
The violent and bullying behavior of David Adamov – the soldier who was videotaped [http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.587922 ] aiming his rifle at a Palestinian teen, setting off a storm in the media, especially the social media – was not exceptional. What was exceptional was that the Israeli public initially believed he was sent to military prison because of his violence toward Palestinians.
By what authority did Adamov and his fellow soldiers detain several Palestinians for two hours at a military checkpoint whose entire purpose is to ensure that members of the Chosen People can march proudly down Shuhada Street and that Palestinians are kept away? This incident predated that of the now-famous video. To this question, too, the IDF Spokesperson declined to respond. In any event, soldiers (and employees of civilian contractors) detain Palestinians freely at every checkpoint and roadblock.
The robbery of the Palestinians’ time by the Israeli authorities – at every level, both military and civilian – is an integral part of the Israeli domination regime.
Why do soldiers bark obscenities at Palestinians? I didn’t ask the IDF Spokesperson this question. Since I first began covering the occupation, nearly a quarter-century ago, I have learned that soldiers must do so in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance in which they operate. After all, 18 and 20-year-olds can think and feel, in short, be responsible for their actions – and here I part ways with the military experts, obviously. Clearly, 18- and 20-year-olds know the Palestinians are human beings just like us. The trash talk and humiliation builds up the dehumanization, until the soldiers are convinced that the Palestinian is different. Commanders don’t want to stop this, because only then can the soldiers fully carry out their mission: to prevent the Palestinian from walking down the street where he lives, to prevent him from living on the street where he and his parents were born, to destroy the livelihoods of many thousands of people.
Humiliation of the Palestinians by every level of the civilian and military apparatus is an inseparable part of building a nation of overlords.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit also chose not to respond to questions concerning the arrest of Saddam Abu Sneinah, the youth from the video [ http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.588842 ] who was holding prayer beads, and who Adamov said was holding brass knuckles and supposedly threatening him, the poor guy. Threatened? In a settler area, in front of a checkpoint manned by armed soldiers? Next to a military camp? Chief of Staff Benny Gantz – With soldiers who are so weak, insecure and delusional, you should be very worried.
Soldiers beat Abu Sneinah when they arrested him. The IDF Spokesperson did not deny or respond to this assertion. Because it’s the norm. Soldiers beat handcuffed Palestinian detainees. It’s part of the dehumanization, of the routine violence. It’s gone on for 47 years (the occupation), for 66 years (the State of Israel), and we’re not done yet. Nor did the IDF Spokesperson issue a response when asked whether the fact that such beatings are the norm meant the commanders support the beating of detainees. The soldiers kept Abu Sneinah handcuffed and blindfolded for an entire night, on a concrete floor with no mattress. The IDF Spokesperson did not deny or respond when asked if this was torture. The IDF Spokesperson did not identify either the commander who ordered Abu Sneinah’s arrest or the commander who was responsible for the atrocious conditions in which he was kept. The IDF Spokesperson also did not respond when asked why, when Abu Sneinah was released, after 24 hours, he was rearrested by different soldiers at the checkpoint near Shuhada Street. He was held for another hour, and the heroic soldiers beat him some more.
There was no point asking the IDF Spokesperson why the soldiers don’t speak Arabic. The center operated by Youth Against Settlements – that’s the organization that published the videos of the encounter between Adamov and Abu Sneinah – has a Hebrew class for Palestinian children from Hebron’s Old City. So they can understand what the soldiers are saying, so they’ll remember that despite their job, the soldiers are human beings, with hearts and minds. “How are you?” one of the “youths” asked a soldier in Hebrew a few days after the Adamov incident. “Praise God,” answered the soldier, leading some settler children to shout at him: “Why are you talking to an Arab?”
“You son of a bitch, as soon as I get a chance, I’ll shoot you,” a soldier named Effi told Issa Amro, one of the founders of Youth Against Settlements. “Keep your ugly mouth shut,” another soldier told Amro. On the orders of a Russian-accented civilian – a woman – the soldiers raided the organization’s center, ostensibly in search of rock-throwers.
One can understand the soldiers and the way they talk to the Palestinians: The curses, the derogatory language, help the armed Israelis to pretend to be superior and righteous. It’s hard for them to confront the courage, nobility, determination and restraint with which the older Palestinian activists receive them. It’s hard for them, and others like them, when they are confronted with the courage, nobility, determination and restraint with which the vast majority of Palestinians continues to bear our violent and brutal presence, in the confident knowledge that it will end.