Just another day of violence

Illustrative photo: Settlers and IDF soldiers near the settlement of Yitzhar.

Illustrative photo: Settlers and IDF soldiers near the settlement of Yitzhar.

A group of ten settlers assaults two Palestinian farmers, with IDF troops as bystanders. Just another day of occupation

The media is in the habit of reporting “price tag” attacks: they’re rather easy to report. There’s often arson, and the arsonist generally leaves a clear message. It’s very photogenic, and allows the common Israeli to tut about those nutcases who use wild violence, not orderly violence like the army does, mutter something about the government being unable to deal with them, and move on.

Those who are familiar with the subject of settler violence, however, know that “price tag” is not the important story, but merely the one that’s easy to tell. The real story, which hardly leaves traces and therefore rarely makes headlines, is that of the daily terror intended to scare Palestinians away from their land. And in this story, the line between the violence of the settlers and the actions of the body purporting to be the sovereign, the IDF, is blurry, since the settler violence cannot exist without, at least, quiet assent from the military.

Here’s a story that didn’t make the headlines. One day at the end of Febriary, Ahmed Bassam Ahmed Uda and his cousin, Fouad Daoud Salim Shkhada, both residents of the village of Huwara, went to work on Ude’s land outside the village. They worked uninterrupted for four hours, and then, as they finished working, Uda looked up and saw, on the nearby ridge, about four Israeli civilians coming down in their direction from the settlement of Yizhar.

Uda understood immediately what was about to happen, but believed everything would be fine: between him and the Israeli civilians were more than 600 meters and he intended to rev up his car and escape. But as he pushed the ignition, he was surprised to see more Israeli civilians jumping at him from a nearby ambush, stoning the car. He and Shkhada found themselves surrounded, and Uda decided to abandon the vehicle and attempt to escape by foot. He picked up his chainsaw, the most expensive item in the car, and both of them jumped out. At this point, they could count six Israeli civilians.

Uda noticed several soldiers leisurely coming down in their direction from Yizhar, and relaxed for a second. But then, another group of Israeli civilians arrived, bypassed the soldiers, and Uda and his cousin found themselves surrounded by more than ten of them. A number of Israelis attacked Shkhada, with clubs and metal bars, and he collapsed. The Israelis continued to beat Shkhada even after he fell, as he screamed in pain and tried to protect his head from their beatings. Uda tossed the chainsaw aside, collected stones, and attempted to reach his cousin and help him. At this point, he took a shattering blow to his jaw – he doesn’t know where it came from or who was responsible – and collapsed.

At this point the soldiers finally arrived. Of course, they did not shoot the Israeli civilians as they would Palestinians, if the roles were reversed – the IDF Spokesman already informed reporter Carmela Menashe that IDF troops don’t shoot Jews (Hebrew) – and neither did they use non-lethal weapons, because you don’t use gas on Jews. They asked the Israeli civilians to stop: Uda heard one of the soldiers say “enough” to his attackers, and apparently it indeed was, because the attackers left.

Shkhada had to go through several surgeries and was recently transferred to the Tel Aviv hospital Ichilov for treatment. It is unclear whether his leg will recover. Uda suffered from severe pain in his jaw. The Israeli media did not report this attack. Apparently, unless there is an unusually incriminating video, an assault by Israeli civilians on Palestinians, under the aegis of the IDF, is no longer newsworthy.

The IDF troops are responsible for law enforcement in the West Bank. They are supposed to provide protection for the occupied population and its property. They were supposed to protect Uda and Shkhada. They were supposed to detain the rioters and keep them in custody until the police arrives. They did none of the above. You get the impression they got there only to make certain that the settlers won’t go overboard – that they were there to say “enough” at the right time, so that, God forbid, the natives won’t get restless after another casualty. They did not stop the attack; they did not detain the attackers; they just made certain the violence won’t escalate beyond a certain point. By doing so, of course, they took responsibility for it. It’s their violence now, and it’s time for the Israeli public to acknowledge that.

Worry not however: the Israeli media will continue to make a mockery of its duties, and will let the public carry on sleeping.

Yesh Din employee attacked by Israeli civilians

מוניר קאדוס בבית החולים

מוניר קאדוס בבית החולים. צילום: דף הפייסבוק של הכפר בורין

Last Monday (March 23rd), Israeli civilians attacked Yesh Din field investigator Muneer Qaddus, as he was documenting Palestinian workers building a road. Prior to the attack, the Samaria Settlers Committee called for settlers to come to the place in order to thwart the construction of the road

Israeli civilians stoned on Monday Yesh Din field investigator, Muneer Qaddus, as he was escorting Palestinian workers near the village of Burin. Yesh Din has reason to believe the attack was directed specifically at Qaddus, due to his position as a Yesh Din investigator, who documents violent incidents in Burin and in the vicinity. Qaddus was rushed to a hospital for medical care, and suffers from two fractured ribs, but is well aside from that. The attackers also damaged Qaddus’ video camera.

Qaddus was escorting Burin villagers as they were paving a road in their village, which is near the illegal outpost of Givat Ronen. The paving of the road was coordinated with the IDF, and IDF soldiers were present to defend the workers. Despite the presence of several IDF soldiers, they failed to prevent the attack.

Prior to the attack, the Samaria Settlers Committee called, on its Facebook page, for Israeli civilians to reach the place in order to disrupt the work. The page noted that an earlier attempt to lay a road there was disrupted by settlers – likely a reference to events of last January. The call was repeated by the site of HaKol HaYehudi, whose operators were recently indicted for inciting to racism and violence.

This is the second incident in less than a year, in which Yesh Din employees are attacked by Israeli civilians in the West Bank. The case against the prime suspect in the last attack was closed by the police, as it claimed “the guy is not connected to the residents of Havat Gilad and also doesn’t look like them.” We call upon the Israeli police and its Nationalist Felonies department to investigate Monday’s incident thoroughly. They can begin by summoning the managers of the Samaria Settlers Committee for interrogation.

Michael Ben-Yair regrets the failure to evict the Jewish settlers in Hebron

In an interview, the former Attorney General states that the Jewish settlers in Hebron should have been evicted after the Goldstein massacre. Ben-Yair considers the situation in Hebron a form of apartheid, refers to “Price Tag” attacks as Jewish terrorism, and regrets consenting to the construction of the by-pass roads to settlements 

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Michael Ben-Yair. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz

About a month ago, I met with Michael Ben-Yair for an in-depth interview offering him a chance to share his thoughts on issues of highest national importance. Ben-Yair is best known to the public as a former attorney general who served in that position under Rabin’s second government. He is also a member of Yesh Din’s Public Council. The following text is a record of our conversation, with some unavoidable omissions.

“The situation in Hebron is anomalous”

A few weeks ago, we marked the twentieth anniversary of the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs. You were there when the government decided how to respond. You effectively approved an arrangement that you later called Apartheid. How did this happen?

In the aftermath of the Goldstein massacre, there were two important steps I believe should have been taken: one which should have been taken but never was; and another that was, but was eventually only loosely implemented. Let’s start with the thing that wasn’t done: The Jewish settlers in Hebron were not removed following the massacre.

Would an eviction have withstood the test of the Supreme Court?

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Shuhada street, Hebron. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz

There were tense relations between Jews and Palestinians in Hebron even before the massacre. The removal of the Jewish settlers was not intended as an act of punishment. The plan to evict the Jewish settlers in Hebron, which was later restricted to the settlers in Tel Rumeida, was intended for prevention rather than punishment. There was a desire to prevent the very tense relations between Jews and Muslims in Hebron following the massacre. The massacre formed part of the tension that had already existed in the city.

I am not talking about the evacuation of the settlement of Kiryat Arba but about the Jewish settlers in Hebron, who were fairly few at this time, and about those living in Tel Rumeida. The subject was considered and ultimately not implemented for what I assume were political reasons – the desire to avoid extreme tension between the government and the settlers. But if you ask me, it was a mistake not to do it at the time, because today the reality is truly anomalous: there are places such as Shuhada Street that are closed to Muslims, while the road itself is open to a handful of Jews and the soldiers who accompany them… The Muslim neighbors live in cages and have to move from house to house like animals in a compound.

This is what you once referred to as Apartheid.

Apartheid refers to segregation in the sense of one law for some people and another law for others. So if Muslims are not allowed to walk along a road and Jews are, then that’s truly Apartheid. There’s no way around it, and it’s a real pity that this situation was created.

I’m not one of those who think that Jews should be prevented from visiting Hebron. But I am one of those who believe that if you come to settle in the heart of a hostile social environment, and the relations in this area are certainly hostile, and even if you do not do this out of spite but out of a desire to return to ‘Abraham’s home,’ or something like that, the result will still be serious concern of bloodshed. And that concern is the reason for this segregation. So in my opinion, the authority responsible for security and public order there should think carefully before allowing Jews to settle there, thereby creating this tense relationship. That completes the part about what wasn’t done.

What was done after the massacre? We drafted a procedure for enforcing the law on settlers and imposing public order. The procedure was fiercely criticized at the time. In my opinion it enhanced enforcement rather than impeding it, and that’s just what was needed. But I am not sure how strictly this procedure was followed after my period of office.

Hebron. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz

Hebron. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz

Is there anything that you regret?

Yes – two main things. At some point the OC Central Command told me that they wanted to create security components around the settlements, including by-pass roads. What is a ‘security component?’ It’s a fence around the settlement with a kind of road three meters inside the fence. I said, ‘OK, so what do you want?’ He replied that they wanted this fence to be situated 50 meters from the outermost house in the settlement, in order to prevent shooting attacks. I told him that if the objective was to prevent shooting, a much greater distance would be needed. So then he said it was to prevent attacks with Molotov cocktails. I replied, ‘So build a higher fence. Do you realize how much land you are confiscating?’

Many of the settlements are situated on privately-owned Palestinian land. An additional confiscation for this security strip is a serious disruption – the land will be taken from Palestinian farmland. Even if we claim that this is state land, we are not talking about the State of Israel. I recognize that there are security needs, but we have to apply some kind of discretion and reach a rational compromise between security needs and what the law allows. This is a matter of the right to property, which is a basic right of the landowners – which the settlers are not.

I told him that in my opinion five meters from the outermost house was sufficient. Though that is a lot of land. In some places there are deserted areas and there is no reasons why the fence should not be closer. The argument went on for months until Rabin – this was before his assassination – took me to one side during a reception at his home and told me to resolve the matter. So I agreed to compromise on 25 meters, though I did so with a very heavy heart because I knew what that entailed. I’ve been told that after I left the position the fence was moved out to 400 meters; I don’t know how true that is.

I regret those 25 meters. It was too much – it wasn’t the right decision. The settlers didn’t even want the fences, because they restrict the settlement’s expansion. They wanted the area to be wide open. So my position wasn’t about what the settlers want, but a critical position based on what should be genuine security needs. Why do you need a fence at a distance of 50 meters when it means taking land from someone who won’t be able to farm it anymore?

And what was the problem with the by-pass roads to the settlements?

The by-pass roads are an extremely serious problem. In this case, despite my self-criticism and anger, I was more ‘generous.’ I accepted the argument that by-pass roads were needed in order to prevent settlers driving through Arab villages. The army argued that the settlements were a fact on the ground. Neither they nor I had built them, but they exist and we have to respond to their security problems. They need to drive from one place to another – many of the settlers work in Jerusalem or inside the Green Line. At present they have to drive through Arab villages, and this means that the journey is dangerous. I accepted this argument and agreed to build the roads, under various restrictions. Each case required my approval. I sat down with the maps and approved the by-pass roads. Today we know that these roads are used by settlers or by the army, and that they were built on land confiscation from Palestinians. If there is anything I regret it is these kinds of issues – the violation of human rights and property rights of the Palestinians.

Freedom of Incitement

The word "Kahana", sprayed on a gate in Hebron.

The word “Kahana”, sprayed on a gate in Hebron.

I strongly regret the very liberal interpretation of freedom of expression during the period before the assassination of Rabin. I think we acted in an extremely liberal manner and argued that the statements made during the demonstrations against Rabin fell within the limits of free speech. We recognized that the statements were outrageous and annoying, but we did not feel they required criminal sanctions.

Today I believe that there is a distinction between freedom of expression and freedom of incitement. There was certainly incredible incitement at the time, and there must be limits. When expressions fall into the category of racism or grave injury to the foundations of democracy – not the expression of a political opinion, but an attack on democratic foundations – then democracy must defend itself. We should have reacted much more strongly, and I very much regret this. For me, the assassination of Rabin goes beyond its political meaning. First and foremost, it was an extreme attack on the essential foundations of Israeli democracy, and in this respect I think we were a bit too liberal.

Following the Goldstein massacre, you declared the organizations Kach and Kahane Chai terrorist organizations, but their members simply rebranded themselves as “Kahane’s People” and went ahead as usual. On the other hand, the authorities have recently begun to use interrogation techniques on Israelis that were previously reserved only for Palestinians. A specific example is Yehuda Landsberg from Havat Gilad. What is your position on this issue? 

After I published my opinion, and after the ISA had provided its professional opinion as a basis for discussion and the head of the ISA presented the information available at the time regarding planned activities by Kach and Kahane Chai, we recommended that the government declare Kach and Kahane Chai terrorist organizations in accordance with the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. The government did so. Following the declaration, we used a wide range of means, including detentions, against Kach activists – Noam Federman, Baruch Marzel, and others whose names I cannot recall. They escaped, and Baruch Marzel was arrested in Haifa. Then we prevented them from entering the entire area outside the Green Line. We took all kinds of measures and this went on for six to twelve months, and then we came to the point of Rabin’s assassination.

"Kill Arabs", sprayed on the street in Hebron. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz

“Kill Arabs”, sprayed on the street in Hebron. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz

Do you still think it was right to use administrative detentions?

Look, administrative detention is problematic and anyone who denies that is mistaken. On the other hand, it isn’t a black and white matter either. You have to weigh things and find a balance between conflicting basic rights – and such conflicts occur frequently. One right is not to be subject to detention that is not based on evidence.

In the security sphere there can be no doubt that Kach and Kahane Chai are clear cases of security offenses. It’s Jewish terrorism. In this field you don’t always have evidence. You have intelligence information – and if you don’t use that information for the purpose of prevention when you don’t have evidence for criminal prosecution, then what’s the point of having an intelligence service?

It’s a classic problem – the contradiction between intelligence and gathering evidence.

Your aim is to provide prevention, not punishment. If you don’t restrict a given person’s freedom of movement, whether by an order preventing him from entering various places or by administrative detention, then what tools do you have? Are you just going to let something happen? Even administrative detentions, and certainly administrative detentions of Jews, are subject to judicial review. They were not detained in accordance with the Defense Regulations – they were detained on the basis of Israeli law, and this includes the obligation to bring them before a judge within a relatively short period. So there is judicial review. In some cases, this tool is vital.

You object to administrative detentions because you are thinking of a different situation – the period when thousands of Palestinians were subjected to administrative detention. Tens of thousands, even. I’m not talking about that kind of inflation in the use of administrative detentions, which is certainly intended to silence the population and I’m sure was not based on security needs or substantiated intelligence. Much of the intelligence that is received from Palestinian informants is actually about settling personal accounts, and the IDF and ISA are trigger happy when it comes to these detentions. But there was no such inflation in the case of Jewish terrorism. Only a handful of people were detained. If there was evidence enabling prosecution, then of course it would be preferable to prosecute them, but the fear is of elements that can lead to bloodshed. I’m not trying to justify it; I just want to point out that sometimes there is no alternative. You cannot claim that the protection of human rights is absolute and that you don’t take into account what the consequences may be in terms of the disruption of public order. It’s the same dilemma as in the case of freedom of expression, as I mentioned earlier.

No Gatekeepers – Jurists and the Occupation

Efrat settlement, West Bank

Efrat settlement, West Bank

If I am not mistaken, during the Rabin period there was a real construction freeze.

That’s correct. Firstly, after the second Rabin government was formed it decided to change the priorities and to transfer budgets from the settlements for the development of the Galilee and the Negev. I remember that a decision was taken to freeze construction in the settlements, including internal expansion. I submitted an opinion ahead of the discussion regarding Givat HaTamar or another neighborhood (I can’t remember in which settlement) and following the discussion a complete freeze was imposed on construction, including tenders [already issued – YZG].”

Did the Supreme Court approve the freeze?

I don’t think it even reached the Supreme Court. All I can remember was the sit-down strike by MK Yahalom and other Members of Knesset from the National Religious Party (which still existed at the time) outside the Prime Minister’s Office. But as everyone knows Rabin wasn’t moved by this – and he eventually paid with his life.

You were interviewed for Raviv Drucker’s series but you weren’t pleased with the end result. What bothered you?

They interviewed me for five hours and eventually included just a few minutes. I didn’t even want to be interviewed and I didn’t think the whole business was serious. The first time Drucker contacted me, he told me, ‘Look, The Gatekeepers didn’t deal with the real gatekeepers – the attorney generals are the true gatekeepers.’ I told him that in my opinion it would be a very boring interview and that you couldn’t compare it to the film The Gatekeepers. What was interesting and important about The Gatekeepers was the contrast between the everyday work of the heads of the ISA and the things they had to do and their own political opinions. It was a very important film, I think, particularly because the heads of the ISA expressed political opinions that differ from those you would expect to hear given their functions.

This doesn’t apply in the case of the legal advisors. It’s more about gossip than any ideological impact. I don’t like the media and I even turn down offers for attractive interviews. But I told Drucker that if the other attorney generals agreed to be interviewed I wouldn’t break ranks, because that would be a bit arrogant, as if I were cutting myself off from the public. I wouldn’t exclude myself, because to do so would mean excluding others.

I thought they would raise a wide range of issues including the criminal sphere and areas that are important to me, such as the ISA and other aspects of the conflict between law and security. Those are areas where my views are slightly unorthodox. For example, regarding operational accidents in the IDF, my position was that if there was negligence, the officer should be held accountable – including in the case of operational accidents and not only accidents during training, assuming there was negligence. Or the ISA and the subject of torture: During my period of office we restricted the use of shaking. My position later formed the basis for the Supreme Court ruling in the petition submitted by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. We also amended the penal code and introduced a stricter penalty for a holder of custody when an interrogee is injured under his custody.

Settlers in a house in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem

Settlers in a house in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem

In your book Sheikh Jarrah, about the neighborhood of the same name, you refer to the laws that have been used there as unjust laws. But laws must be interpreted and implemented. In The Law in These Parts, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz claimed that without jurists there would be no occupation. How do you see things?

When there is an unjust or a discriminatory law, the judge is entitled to say that he thinks that the law is discriminatory or unjust and violates accepted foundations. He can decline to act in accordance with the law. He cannot strike out the law, because it was enacted under the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. But otherwise the result will be unjust and irrational. A judge is not a workman; he is an artist, not a craftsman or a technician. He should create something that is right and just and use legal tools to create a just outcome.

For example, In 1950 the Absentee Property Law was enacted. The law effectively establishes that properties held by residents who had fled to an enemy country or territory at the time the law was enacted are defined as absentee properties and transferred to the management of the Custodian of Absentee Property. In most cases, the Custodian transferred the property to the Development Authority or sold it. Prior to the enactment of the law many of these properties were known as “abandoned property” and were allocated to Jews within Israel and in West Jerusalem. For example, my family received two apartments and a shop in Sheikh Bader.

“In 1970 the Legal and Administrative Administration Law was enacted, in the aftermath of the Six Day War. This law states that properties that were held by the enemy’s Custodian of Absentee Property – i.e. property abandoned by Jews who fled to the territory of the State of Israel – may be released by their historical owners, i.e. Jews, and transferred to the Custodian General. These properties can be released once the historical owner presents proof of ownership. The law was worded in a way that means that the Custodian General, who effectively acts in the place of the Jordanian Custodian of Absentee Property, has no discretion regarding the release of the property.

The third law is the Absentee Property Law (Compensation), 1973. This law establishes that an absentee who becomes a resident – in other words, an Arab resident of East Jerusalem – who held property in West Jerusalem and fled to the Jordanian-held territory and thereby became absent is entitled to request compensation for his property from the Custodian of Absentee Property. The value of the property is according to its value on November 29, 1947, with a modest and very limited revaluation that is far below the current value of the property. In other words, there is one law for abandoned Arab property and another for abandoned Jewish property. This is unjust legislation.

But these laws were not the only thing that affected the situation. What else happened in Sheikh Jarrah at the time?

We also have to consider the reality on the ground as well as the law. All the [Jews] who fled from Sheikh Jarrah received compensation from the reserve of abandoned properties in the west of the city. You can’t start preparing property surveys during a war. My cousin, who died some time ago at the age of 90, fled from Sheikh Jarrah like the rest of us and received an Arab home in Katamon. He undoubtedly received compensation that was several times the value of the property he abandoned. Even in 1948 that house was worth more than the house he fled from in Sheikh Jarrah.

In the case of Sheikh Jarrah, at least, I know for certain that everyone who fled the neighborhood received compensation from the abandoned property in the west of the city. So if you received compensation, how can you demand the historical property? You want to have the historical property and compensation? Is that moral? And then the property is sold to a right-wing association that receives support from international organizations and from Jews. By the way, the [Palestinian] residents made a mistake in court. They claimed that they were protected tenants, but they should have stated that they were the owners and that they acquired ownership during the War of Independence.

The court should act wisely. The court cannot discuss such matters on the basis of property law, but on the basis of commonsense. When we received the payment, we did not sign any waiver, but we never thought of demanding our house back. The court should accept this and rule that the law does not provide a response to a situation created by war.

You rarely give interviews but you are very active on Facebook, and the media shows a lot of interest in your page. That is fairly rare among jurists. How did this come to be?

I am already far removed from the world of law. I don’t deal in law any more. After I resigned from my position as attorney general I worked in arbitration for a while, but I no longer accept new cases. I don’t consider myself a public figure, but I am involved in life, I have an opinion and I express it. I think Facebook is a good tool – I don’t belittle it. If you use it properly as a tool for communication with a wide circle of friends, it is effective. I have many Facebook friends whom I don’t know personally, but after a while I realize that we have a lot in common and that we are interested in the same subjects. I devote about half an hour a day to Facebook. My comments on my Facebook account are mainly in the political sphere, although I haven’t been a party member since 1968.

Which party was that?

Rafi [Ben Gurion’s breakaway party from Mapai] – although today I am far removed from that party’s opinions. I was one of those who admired Ben Gurion as a youth and as a student. I write from a human rights perspective, and I am particularly interested in the field of education. For example, I was very interested by the affair surrounding Adam Verta, the ORT school network, and Education Minister Shai Peron. The education system is in very poor shape. I am a graduate of the military residential school in Haifa, and on my Facebook page I protested the fact that the cadets will be spending Shabbat in Efrat. Their mere presence there is a political statement. Is anyone checking what people will tell them there over Shabbat dinner with the families? This is political indoctrination of high school students in an occupied territory that is the subject of disagreement even within Israeli society. This is certainly not an appropriate way to handle cadets who will later form the backbone of the standing army. I corresponded with the commander of the school and pointed out that even the official position of the State of Israel is that this is not its territory, but occupied territory.

Vengeance for Qusra

The burnt house, Silwad

The burnt house, Silwad

Price Tag settlers take their vengeance on uninvolved Palestinians, and torch a house – which, fortunately, was empty

About two months ago, a band of pitiful pogromchiks were captured in Qusra by the residents, as they were on their way to a carry out a Price Tag attack. They were soundly beaten, and then turned over to the IDF, which did not hide its satisfaction at their fate. On second thought, perhaps the IDF should have thought twice about this satisfaction: if Palestinian self-defense can handle this band of ne’er-do-wells, all the legends about it being a more secret and compartmentalized organization that the Cheka in its height, that its members can keep silence under interrogation better than a fish who took monastic vows, and therefore the incompetence of the authorities is understandable – all of that fades away.

We warned at the time that reprisals for this humiliation to Jewish pride are to be expected, and at the end of February, one of them took place. That night, unknown persons reached the eastern house in the village of Silwad – which was not involved in the Qusra incident, but unfortunately for it, resides near the illegal outposts of Amona and Netzah Binyamin – and set the house aflame, leaving behind slogans which became the trademark of “Price Tag” pogroms. This time the slogans read “Qusra” and “Arabs out 904.”

The house is the residence, for some 45 years, of a Palestinian widow, Ravida Abd AlGhani Khamed. She lives alone and the house has neither fence nor gate; and as it is isolated, it is an easy target. Fortunately, on this specific night, Khamed was not at her house. Otherwise it’s hard to believe she would have survived.

One has to be a particularly despicable person to set a house on fire at night, a rare kind of cowardly murderousness. This is of course not the first case of its kind, as settlers have set houses on fire with their residents inside before, and still such an act ought to chill every decent person. Yet, given the lower-than-grass success rate of the SJPD, even though it now boasts of a “nationalistic crime department” which has already become a joke, one assumes this case, too, will be closed. Me, I would put my money on the “perpetrator unknown” grounds for closure.

Every self-respecting police force would just about drop everything else and go and find the despicable cowards who torched a house at night. Yet, we did not get the impression that there is undue urgency among the investigators. Then again, it is the SJPD. If its job is law enforcement, it’s pretty terrible at it.

So, for now, the arsonists are free, And Ravida Khamed will now have to decide whether she returns to the house whose tranquility was transformed into horror, where sleeping now requires courage, or to give up her life as she lived it for 45 years and move elsewhere. If she does move, then, to quote George W. Bush, the terrorists have won. No decent person, however, can blame her – only the terrorists and their accomplices by negligence in the police can be blamed.

They have eyes, but they fail to see

1528673_814318698597467_866249638_nThe army of the “Silicon Wadi” fails to see tree thieves – even when it has security cameras 200 meters away

In early January 2014, after wandering the bureaucratic desert for over a year, the International Red Cross and the villagers of Sinjil managed to get permission to plant 7,500 trees in the northern side of the village. Their joy didn’t last long: Israeli civilians began targeting the new saplings almost immediately.

The first attack occurred January 22nd. The deputy chairman of the local council, Rabkhi Hassin ‘Abd Al-’Aziz Gafri, received a message from one of the farmers working on the project that a massive theft had taken place. An Israeli DCO Offcier was rushed to the scene, and the Police came after. A thousand saplings were stolen that night. Gafri estimated the damage at several thousand Shekels. Gafri noted that the theft took place between a military post and the illegal outpost of Givat Harel; that the military base is 200 meters from the scene; and that it is equipped with security cameras. Therefore, he was hopeful that the crime would be solved.

To which you have to say: LOL. Ten days later, on February 2nd, Gafri received another urgent call. Once more, saplings were stolen – this time, about 1,200 of them. Once more, the DCO was called, once more the police came. Once more, Gafri noted the presence of the military post, just over, 200 meters away, with security cameras. In his frustration, he told the investigator the following words: “I told the investigator he should see in the computer how many complaints I made against the settlers, in my own name alone, and that nothing came of them. Where is law enforcement? The situation is only getting worse. I told him we’re talking about a huge planting. It takes four hours to uproot it… where is the army? There is a military base overlooking the area. Where are the soldiers, where are their security cameras? Go to the cameras and check them. He just listened and was silent.” Gafri justly noted that the region is under Israeli security control and that Israel is responsible for the security of the residents.

And again, one week later, same place, another theft. This time, the thieves managed to get their hands on “only” 500 saplings. This time, it was the Israeli DCO who called the Palestinians; it was well-drilled.

The uprooting of hundreds of saplings requires a team of several people, working for several hours. The Palestinians estimate this would require four hours; even if we assume that they exaggerated and that two hours would be enough, there is a military base 200 meters away, equipped with security cameras, which manages three times in a row to not see a group of people coming down to the plots and carrying out physical activity for quite a while – an activity we can assume is not very quiet.

Such incidents, taking place time after time, can be explained in two ways. The first is that the IDF troops are thick screw-ups, who fail to notice an incident 200 meters from them even after being warned it takes place time after time. The other explanation is that they don’t feel like noticing it, because why do they need the pain in the neck of going out at night in order to scare away Israeli citizens who, after all, are only stealing the property of, well, you know, Palestinians.

The planting of the trees, we remind you, is a Red Cross project. This is the level of protection the IDF is either capable of or willing to – and as every IDF soldier knows, “can’t” is kin to “won’t” – provide to a project of one of the most important international organizations. We would also remind you that the primary duty of the IDF, as an occupying force, is to provide protection to the occupied population and its property, and that it has been avoiding this duty for decades.

Keep this in mind next time someone speaks of the “most moral army in the world.”

As the splinters fly

1932121_806906856005318_2142148294_nIDF troops harass the residents of Qaddum, and poison a baby with CS gas while they’re at it

The security forces have a problem with the village of Qaddum. We’re not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s the weekly demonstrations that its residents are holding. What is clear is that they have decided to teach the village a lesson.  Recently, a mysterious officer, who according to testimonies of the residents calls himself Captain Sabri, walks around telling people he will come and teach them a lesson. Some of the residents suspect him of being an ISA (Israeli Security Agency, AKA Shin Bet) officer.

Whatever Sabri’s organizational loyalty may be, he keeps his word. The Friday demonstrations are dispersed with an iron fist, and beyond that the residents also report recurring attacks on the village, even on days when no demonstrations are held. These attacks include the throwing of stun grenades and CS gas canisters, CS gas being the more aggressive form of tear gas.

In one case which actually made the Israeli media – of course, under the utilitarian fear that one more person killed by the IDF will make the kettle boil and cook us a new intifada – an old man from Qaddum, Saeed Gasser Nassar Ali, aged 85, died after inhaling gas which seeped into his house following a demonstration. The doctor who treated Ali found it hard to give him the best treatment possible, since he too was suffocating from the gas. Let’s say that again: the man suffocated in his house, and died shortly after in the hospital. Not during a demonstration. In his house.

Three weeks before Ali died, M., a resident of Qaddum, woke up at about 1 AM. His brother warned him that the army was raiding the village, and that all windows must be closed. Soon after, even though he thought he had closed all the windows, gas seeped into the house. The first to feel it was seven year old A., who began screaming that he can’t breathe. Then four year old R. began complaining he was feeling ill. The gas came through the windows of the bathroom, which is close to the children’s room and was forgotten.

M.’s wife was in the bedroom, holding H., a two month old baby, in her arms. When the gas reached the bedroom, she too had trouble breathing. M. noticed H. was turning blue and throwing up. He called an ambulance, and reached the village’s doctor – the same doctor that, a few weeks later, himself under gas attack, would have trouble treating the late Ali. The doctor gave H. an injection and hooked him with oxygen, and soon afterwards he was evacuated to a hospital in Qalqiliya. The doctors told the parents H. was in critical condition; happily, by the morning he was significantly better.

None of this will make the news. No one died. It’s just two children and an infant, poisoned by tear gas in the peace of their home. That’s the way occupation works: it requires terror, and effective terror necessitates the knowledge that no place is safe, that even the peace of the children’s room may be violated at any moment, by a cloud of something burning and suffocating. Don’t look away, my dears: this is what we finance. This is what the flying shards, flying as the tree is cut, look like. Like the broken egg without which no omelet can be made, and all the other clichés we tell ourselves when we say – “there’s nothing we can do”. Perhaps we can begin by not suffocating babies with gas?

Fear not: no IDF soldier will be harmed as a result of complaints filed after such events. As apparent in the case of Jawahar Abu Rahma, killed after inhaling gas three years ago, in which case we still lead a legal struggle so that the IDF will begin an investigation (!) into her death, the soldiers have nothing to fear. They’re covered. In our case, M., the father, does not intend to lodge a complaint. The rhetoric of “the most moral army in the world” failed to convince him. He knows there is no point in the effort and the heartache. And who knows, if you complain, maybe you’ll be targeted for harassment. So what’s the point? Better to make sure all windows are properly closed. Maybe, next time, it won’t be your baby.

“People sleep in their homes and breathe gas”

1903090_802792649750072_363490635_nThe residents of the village of Izbat Al-Tabib learn what happens when the IDF wants to show them who’s boss

It was just another Thursday, January 9, 2014. Rhoda Ali Khamed Khader, a 38-year-old widow from the village of Izbat Al-Tabib was at home with her family. “My mother and my daughter said they were hungry. I went to the kitchen and brought fruit, apples – we began eating. Suddenly I felt I wasn’t breathing, my throat was burning, I felt like I was drinking the juice of a hot pepper, my eyes were burning, I was sick, my eyes became swollen, full of tears, I coughed heavily.” Soon after, Rhoda Khader lost consciousness and needed medical attention. The medics who treated her also treated her mother, Rashiqa, aged 77; her father, aged 80 and her 19- year-old daughter. Our brave soldiers managed to hit three generations with one tear gas canister. Bravo!

What Khader described is the result of an attack by CS gas, the more virulent sort of tear gas, used by the IDF. The attack actually began earlier that night. Mussa Asad Khamed Tabib described the course of events in the following way: During the morning, the army placed a checkpoint at the entrance to the village and accosted the residents, as per the ritual. Around8:00 PM, a soldier came over to the tent where Tabib was sitting, along with other men. The soldier photographed the people, and left. Two hours later, the tent filled up with CS gas. It’s unclear where it came from; Tabib estimates that soldiers fired it into the tent from afar. A short while afterwards, a jeep stopped near the tent, a soldier climbed out, looked with satisfaction at the coughing and suffocating men, turned back to the jeep, and, addressing the people inside, said, “bulls eye”. Shortly afterwards, the soldiers begin shooting CS gas canisters at the village houses, as well. This second volley is the one experienced by Rhoda Khader.

The incident is not unique. Two nights later, on January 11, again at night, the IDF returns to the village and once more fires gas canisters at houses where innocent people are trying to sleep. Earlier that day, a Border Police officer had come to the village, and Mussa Tabib confronted him: “People are sleeping in their homes,” he says, “and breathing gas.” Our attorney, Emily Schaeffer, addressed a sharply worded letter to the Military Advocate General, stating that “such events, and similar events which continue to take place up to the date of writing this letter, raise a severe suspicion that the goal of the IDF units involved is to disrupt the lives of the villagers, and punish them for organizing a quiet protest (by operating a protest tent and holding quiet demonstrations). Of course, if this is the case, then it is a manifestly unacceptable action. The throwing of stun grenades and tear gas canisters towards the houses and near the school puts the life, limb and property of the villagers at risk without legal justification. Furthermore, threats by military personnel against the representatives of the villagers are an abuse of their position and are without justification.”

These occurrences are not incidental. They are Standard Operating Procedure. The army even has a codename for them, “Livnat Shibush,” and they are used in several villages in the West Bank. In the past, we documented a similar action of the IDF in the village of Urif (Hebrew). An activity that has its own codename is not “an isolated incident.” The point of this attack is not to hit a specific target; it is to terrorize the population, making it clear who controls the region, who’s the boss. That’s how all occupation armies work. The American army in Vietnam referred to such missions as “showing the flag” missions: making clear that even when the forces are unseen, they are there. The message is simple: don’t get overly confident.

Such behavior has another name: “Collective punishment.” As such, it is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, or, in other words: it is a war crime. Article 33 of the Convention reads: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” The depressing conclusion – which I allow myself to write, as I have no intention of seeking employment with the Ort schools – is that the IDF has a routine of committing war crimes.

And worse, the citizens of Israel have become so inured to this routine, that they accept it with apathy – apathy they come out of only when someone dares to say the truth in public.

A minor infraction at the end of the incident

1656044_10152222305392604_1746173583_nA 14 year old boy goes to meet friends. He comes home with bullets in his neck and hand. The IDF considers that to be “a minor infraction”

At the end of July 2013, J., a boy from the village of Silwad, set out with his brother and two other boys to visit a family of friends in the western side of Silwad, a distance of about a kilometer from his house. One of the boys was asked to deliver a bundle of clothes to the family. They reached the house, gave the bundle over, and headed back. On their way, they met a friend shepherding his flock, and sat down next to him. And then J.’s world turned upside down.

He noticed three soldiers coming out of the trees behind them, blocking the path they had intended to take home. Soldiers on the village roads are not a common sight, so the group changed its course, and started climbing the nearby mountain.

As they reached a bend in the path, they heard gunshots. The group scattered instantly. J. himself says he went into shock, since this was the first time he had heard gunshots so close to him. He was slower than the others. He heard a second volley, and then felt a hit in his right arm; a third volley, and he was hit by a bullet in the neck. J. managed to walk a few more steps, and then collapsed by the wall of a house. He was evacuated to a hospital in Ramallah, where it was determined that the bullet entered the right side of his neck, and existed through the left. He was hospitalized there for four days.

We wrote to the IDF, demanding an investigation into the incident. Four months later, we received an answer that can only be described as infuriating. The debriefing of the incident, wrote the Prosecution for Operational Affairs, showed that on the same date there were clashes between IDF forces entering the village and residents who allegedly threw stones at its forces. The Military Advocate General reached the conclusion that the shooting took place in accordance with the rules of engagement, “with the exception of a minor infraction at the end of the incident.” Nowadays, that is how the IDF refers to the shooting of a live bullet into the neck of a 14 year old boy. Accordingly, we were informed that disciplinary procedures were undertaken against the commander of that force. Not that we were informed of the results of that procedure.

Um, no, no. Firing live ammunition, even at protesters, is not in accordance with the orders, unless the soldiers’ lives are in danger. The IDF doesn’t even try to claim that J. and his friends were threatening the lives of its troops. Also, this wasn’t one shooting; J. counted three separate volleys. Furthermore, from the description given by the IDF, it seems J. and his friends weren’t even in the area were the IDF soldiers were attacked, assuming they were indeed attacked.

The firing of live ammunition at uninvolved civilians is a crime, all the more when minors are involved. Such an incident should not end with a disciplinary procedure, but with a criminal investigation. Accordingly, our attorney, Emily Schaeffer, appealed and demanded the opening of an MPCID investigation ASAP. Recently, we learned that the appeal was rejected. The prosecution is of the opinion that though firing after the first volley – as J. and his friends fled – was improper, given that the officer in question was dealt with in a disciplinary procedure and was even fined, the very fact of the disciplinary procedure exhauststhe need for a criminal investigation. We’re uncertain whether the sum of the fine was 10 cents, as per the infamous fine of the colonel responsible for the Kafr Qassem massacre – and we don’t know because the prosecution didn’t mention the sum.

But, even if the fine was serious and not a joke – though if it was serious, why didn’t the prosecution note the sum? – We cannot accept a disciplinary procedure as a replacement for criminal law. After all, if the bullet that hit J. would have deviated just a few millimeters from its course, and the boy would have joined the long rank of minors killed by the IDF, a criminal investigation would obviously have been opened. How can putting a bullet in the neck of a person, agreed to have been uninvolved, end with a disciplinary procedure and a fine?

During the Vietnam War, a common phrase among American soldiers was the “Mere Gook Rule”, meaning that whatever you may do to the foreign population, nothing will happen to you. These aren’t humans, these are merely Vietnamese. When the IDF subscribes to the notion that shooting a 14 year old boy in the neck is just “a minor infraction at the end of the incident,” it sends that same message to its troops: These are mere Palestinians. Do with them as you will. Nothing will happen to you. At worst, you’ll face a disciplinary procedure.

And when that’s the message conveyed by the military prosecution to its ground troops, it itself becomes an accomplice to the crime.

Wind, water, bread

The main feeling after visiting Umm Al Khir is that of shock: do you insist on stealing even this little bit?

At the beginning of January, in the company of our field researcher Muhaned ‘Anati, and our field operations coordinator Yudit Avidor, I visited the village of Umm Al Khir. The reason for the visit was an attempt to understand what it is about this place that draws so much violence. We have been following the incidents in Umm Al Khir since 2010; we have 13 cases of them. 12 deal with settler violence, and one with violence on the part of the security forces.

Umm Al Khir was built in the 1960s, prior to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, by Bedouins expelled in 1948 from the Tel ‘Arad area. Since the occupation of 1967 onwards, the Israeli government has willfully neglected Umm Al Khir. It sits in Area C, which is under full Israeli control, both civil and military (as opposed to Areas A or B). Area C is also the area which, should the Bennet Plan be implemented, would be annexed to Israel. One could assume, then, that Israel will make certain the region is developed to the benefit of all its inhabitants.

Then again, when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

*          *          *

Umm Al Khir recently made headlines after someone – a pathfinder found footprints leading to the settlement of Carmel – poured water on the local taboun and put it out of order. We’ve written about it here. The taboun of Umm Al Khir made it to the HCJ, after the Civil Administration wanted to demolish it.

I expected, then, to see an impressive, imposing structure. Intellectually, I knew it was made of mud and straw, yet I had some expectations. This is how it looks:

Photography: Yossi Gurvitz

Photography: Yossi Gurvitz

In the background of the taboun you can see the settlement of Carmel. Sulieman, one of the leaders of the village, told me of a Bedouin saying: “The wind, water, and bread – without these, a man cannot live.” The taboun serves the needs of Umm Al Khir: without it, there would be no bread.

#1 - suleiman and the taboun No logo

Photography: Yossi Gurvitz

The document Suleiman is holding/clutching is an HCJ decision from 2011, following a petition filed by the residents, forbidding making any change to the taboun until another decision is made.

 

Photography: Yossi Gurvitz

Residents of Umm Al Khir near the taboun. Photography: Yossi Gurvitz

There are about 150 residents in Umm Al Khir, and the taboun supplies them with bread. A taboun must be fired at all times. Basically, it is a pit filled with embers of animal dung, which is fed daily. For as long as the taboun is fired, it maintains a steady level of heat. If it is doused with water, the pit must be emptied, cleaned, filled again and fired again; the taboun needs about 36 hours to reach its steady level of heat. The meaning of dousing it is that a group of people, who already have little, are left without bread for two days and more.

The residents told us that they suggested turning off the taboun, whose smell is disliked by the settlers of Carmel – if the army would, in return, make certain that they receive a daily bread supply from the relatively nearby Hebron bakeries. They did not receive an answer.

But the taboun is not the issue. At best, it is the pretext.

#4 - two sides of the fence

The story, as it seems, is the one we know from other cases in the West Bank: that of annexation and ethnic cleansing. The story is about the lust for land, about a military-settler-government-legal complex, intended for the dispossession of people who have little by people who have too much. After all, if the people of Umm Al Khir are left without bread, if their oven is extinguished, they would have no choice but to leave. And then the residents of Carmel could take over their land, which is so close, almost at the end of their fingertips.

#5 - umm al khir & carmel

We used to call it a quiet transfer.

Examined from this angle, the behavior of the Israeli civilians who harmed the taboun should not surprise us – and the behavior of their collaborators in the Israeli government is even less surprising. This is the same modus operandi of the illegal settlements, as presented in our report about Adei Ad, The Road to Dispossession: making life intolerable for the Palestinians until they flee. The newly vacated land will, in time, be taken over by Israeli civilians.

#6 umm al khir 2

For the residents of Umm Al Khir the wilderness depicted above is home; it is all that there is. And the government of Israel, who twice invaded their land, will not leave them even that much.

In your names; in mine; by our tax money; by the young men we sent to the army, turned into jackboots.

But he doesn’t look suspicious

1510938_779399008756103_94317710_nThe Judea and Samaria Police manages to screw up investigations of attacks on Israeli human rights activists, not just Palestinians

Some six months ago, on June 25th, 2013, three Yesh Din personnel – activity coordinator Yudit Avidor and two volunteers – went to document the continued illegal construction in the vehemently illegal outpost Havat Gilad; this documentation was intended for an upcoming High Court of Justice hearing. Soon after they reached the place, the Yesh Din representatives were attacked by three goons who had come from Havat Gilad on motorcycles. The attackers blocked the path of our vehicle, threatened the passengers, physically assaulted them, broke one of its windows, damaged the car, and for good measure stole the vehicle’s toolbox.

As we are committed to the nice legal fiction according to which the Judea and Samaria Police (SJPD) is vigilant in enforcing the law, we were quick to lodge a complaint. In the beginning of November 2013, the SJPD informed us that it had closed the case, citing its favorite grounds, “unknown perpetrator.”

This raised a few eyebrows. The Yesh Din representatives had supplied the SJPD with a rather accurate description of the attackers. One of our volunteers said in his testimony that it’s possible the attackers, who stole the car’s toolbox, may have left fingerprints on the only screwdriver left in the car; after all, the attackers had not worn gloves.

Avidor, who was asked to peruse the police’s album of known perhaps after stating that she had a very clear recollection of one of the attackers, identified a suspect, a guy named Y. Avidor further told the interrogators that she was willing to attend a police-arranged confrontation with him.

The police leisurely summoned Y., who was interrogated finally on October 16th, 2013, making it clear that the interrogators didn’t really want to do their job. In his testimony, Y. – who is a student who works in Havat Gilad as a handyman – contradicted himself. At first he did not remember where he was on the day of the incident, and then said he was certain that he wasn’t in Havat Gilad. The investigators didn’t bother to check his alibi, nor did they search his dwelling, conduct a lineup, hold a confrontation between Avidor and Y., or ask the two other eye-witnesses/ vitcims? /complainants? to participate in a lineup, or even to look at their picture album; the police didn’t even bother to see if there were any fingerprints on the screwdriver given to them.

And why would they? Y.’s interrogator added a memo to Y.’s faux interrogation, stating as follows: “It should be noted that after a conversation with him, the guy is not connected to the residents of Havat Gilad and also doesn’t look like one of them, he is an engineering and management student, third year, and when I asked why he didn’t show up for interrogation following the message left on his phone by Investigator Yehudit, he replied that he was in India for two months recently, and therefore was not available at all.” My emphasis.

Well, if to begin with he doesn’t look like one of the Havat Gilad people, what is there to investigate?

In an appeal sent by our lawyers, Adv. Anu Lusky and Adv. Noa Amrami, demanded not only the complete investigation of the case, but also the indictment of Y. – noting that the evidence against him is sufficient to indict him. We’ll keep you posted, assuming there is any news.

But I’m not holding my breath. The SJPD has a long history of slowly killing investigations of incidents of Palestinians falling victim to settler attacks, even when the police capture the attackers red-handed. There’s no good reason to think this case will be different.