Israeli justice in the occupied territories


Tear gas in the throat, again. We escaped through the terraced fields of olives, on the mount slopes. Stun grenades were blasting around me and two Palestinian teenagers. They were running near me for their safety, but also trying to help me. “Go, go, go!”, they yelled everytime I turned around to keep an eye on our persecutors. The soldiers were threatening me by aiming with their M-16’s.

Jewish settlers from the Bat Ayin colony built a wall two kilometres away of the Palestinian village of Safa (near Beit Ummar, south of Jerusalem), on Arab land. This is usually a first step before a  forceful grab. The people demonstrated against it. They arrived peacefully, completely unarmed, and read a statement about the illegality of the construction and how the settlers have been stealing their property (a barbed-wire-protected settlérs’ plantation on Palestiniand soil has reached a point 15 meters away of Safa’s first houses).

Then the teenagers started destroying the stone wall. with their hands: they came without any tool that could anyhow be considered as a weapon. They were using rocks and a rubber tube they found on the site.

Ten soldiers were looking on and were soon reinforced by at least ten paramilitary policemen (probably more), on seven blinded cars. Carrying automatic guns, they attacked. All of us, journalists included. Time to run.

The youths responded throwing stones. They were dangerous, but not so much for the soldiers: I realised that, as in Iran, being nearby their enemy meant that I was more likely to be hit than the actual target.

The path we used to walk there was covered with tear gas, so I chose to run by the terraces. They started shooting tear-gas canisters there too, as many had the same idea. It took me 15 minutes to get to the village, where people stood on the rooftops looking, cheering the stone-throwers and booing the soldiers. The skirmish lasted for about and hour. When the retreating youths reached Safa, the soldiers started shooting tear-gas canisters into the built-up area, over rooftops and backyards. Eyes in tears, old ladies were rushing out their houses and running away by the road to Beit Ummar. Little girls were being taken on arms by their fathers, coughing and crying. The ambulances evacuated at least three wounded Palestinians.

Keren, a Jewish photographer I met in that moment, approached me to tell me that all the people I came with in a car had been arrested: Uri, Neria, Nadav and Cobi. All of them Jewish too. Also, between three and five adult Palestinians who stood on the way of the soldiers, trying to give time for the young ones to escape. Plus a journalist who was covering the incidents, like me.

Yusef, a Palestinian from Haifa, Keren and me went to the army-police combined station with food for the detainees. The Israeli ones were well treated and released after eight hours, having signed a commitment not to go back to the Beit Ummar area in the next two weeks. The Palestinian ones were to remain in prison for four days.

***

In the morning, I had been on top of a hill, south of Hebron, between the illegal Jewish colonies of Ma’on and Karmel, which are separated by about 1,500 metres. About 15 Jewish peace activists were trying to form a barrier, so that the soldiers could not touch the young Bedouin shepherds who graze their goats there. Seven soldiers and three policemen came. After long arguments, a guy and two brave girls, all Israeli, were arrested. “They won’t be too aggressive to us”, one of them told me. “But if they get the kids (the Bedouin shepherds), they will beat them up and jail them for long”.

What was all this about? The settlers don’t want the Bedouin shepherds, who have been grazing their goats there for millenia, to be around anymore. So they have been physically attacking them. The army didn’t like this and went to the settlers to propose a compromise: the settlers would leave the Bedouins alone in exchange for the soldiers keeping the Bedouins away. The army is doing the job for the settlers, that is. Regardless any sense of legality.

***

Besides me, Keren and an Englishman –all freelance journalists–, the five or six other reporters were Palestinian. The Israeli media ignored the incidents, though some of them might have got Safa’s skirmish’s story from two news agencies, the French AFP and the Chinese Xinhua, which published inaccurate notes. They give wrong numbers of detainees (14, says AFP; 6, says Xinhua), suggest that there were almost as many “foreigners” than locals (“dozens of Palestinians and tens of foreign activists”, according to Xinhua, but the only foreigners were the English journalist and me, plus seven or eight Israelis) and quote “witnesses” to affirm that the Palestinians “burned crops” (untrue) and that the soldiers responded with tear-gas and stun grenades to the stone-throwing, when in fact it was the other way round: the grenades and the gas came first.

10 responses to “Israeli justice in the occupied territories

  1. nothing but the truth

  2. Dear Temoris, I’m happy to learn you’re safe and well. It’s also good that you go to the field and report your impressions and feelings and understanding of the situation.

    Your reports are, however, extremely one-sided. If you aspire to present a fuller picture of the situation perhaps you could spend some precious time and actually discuss these issues with settlers and soldiers.

  3. Shalom Amir!

    To me, it seems that you are rushing to dismiss what I wrote. I’m not surprised that you find it “extremely one-sided”: given the radicalisation to the right of the mainstream Israeli society, an old tendency to consider biased and “one-sided” whatever that doesn’t take a blunt anti-Palestinian stance has grown stronger.

    If you read again the story, you will see that it is 99% an account of facts. I’m narrating what I saw.

    I did say, and here you can try to present an objection, that the Ma’on and Karmel settlements are illegal. I didn’t see it, but we all know that the West Bank was invaded by Israel since 1967, that it is an illegal occupation under international law and that every Jewish settlement in this region is therefore illegal. That is no secret for anyone, regardless what the Israeli government and many ideologists may pretend.

    It is also correct to understand that the agreement between the settlers and the army gets the latter to do what the former want, regardless of the rights of the local population. What the settlers are doing is an invasion of private and public property with the active asistance of the State of Israel. I may speak with soldiers and settlers, but that won’t change the legal reality.

    I appreciate your professional recomendation about the people I should talk to. And guess what: I’ve actually been speaking to settlers and soldiers. Right-wing settlers, don’t think that I’ve found pacifists. And I’m gonna have more interviews with them. But this is my blog, I’m writing personal notes here, telling you and everybody what I’ve been through these days. Those interviews will be part of longer stories to be published later.

  4. Hola Temoris,

    When I write your reports are extremely one-sided, it has nothing to do with my opinion regarding one political stance or the other. I do not consider myself a part of either side of the political map. In your stories it’s so crystal clear who the bad guys are and why they do what they do.

    In my humble opinion which you’re free to ignore as it is your blog, you’re disrespecting your readers by presenting a very distorted image.

    I’ll give some examples:

    “The soldiers were threatening me by aiming with their M-16’s.”
    Gives the false image of soldiers trying to shoot live bullets at you and your friends to kill you. In reality, did anyone shoot any live ammunition or were these plastic bullets? Were you warned before any action was taken?

    “on Arab land”
    Who the land belongs to is in the core of the conflict and you’ve already decided. What is and what isn’t “Arab land”? According to many Arabs I had the chance to speak to (Palestinians and Egyptians) , ALL of current Israel is Arab land. It’s not about 67 or the green line. According to many settlers, fighting for the post-67 lands to be a part of Israel is as important as preserving the pre-67 lands. Their reasoning is that the Arab world wouldn’t stop at 67 borders anyway. To their ideology, they’re fighting for the survival of Israel.
    I personally disagree with both sides but I was missing a fuller context in your account.

    “They arrived peacefully, completely unarmed, and read a statement …. Then the teenagers started destroying the stone wall. with their hands…

    Carrying automatic guns, (the soldiers) attacked…

    The youths responded throwing stones”

    I’m now sure we both have different concepts of what “peacefully” means.
    Did the soldiers attack everyone without warning? How many did they manage to kill with their M-16s?

    “as in Iran”

    Yeah, Israel is just the same kind of regime, isn’t it? The fight seems to you like the same kind of fight?

    “The skirmish lasted for about an hour.”

    How could that happen? To all I read before there were soldiers with M-16s on one side and unarmed peaceful people (that later picked up some stones and started throwing them) on the other side.

    “Regardless any sense of legality.”

    So that’s just hard cold facts, right?

    “old ladies were rushing out their houses and running away … Little girls were being taken on arms by their fathers

    How many old ladies and how many girls did you see? 2, 5, 100? Was all the village forced to run away from the soldiers?


    Although it’s okay for you to be extremely one-sided in your subjective account, I still believe a fuller report would do more justice to your readers. Not saying that the forceful land-grabbing settlers and their military aides (your “persecutors”) should be left clean when you tell your stories, just that your story would be more convincing if it would have all the facts in it.

  5. Well, Amir, we’ve been arguing about this for four years already and I know they’ll become 40. You told me once I should come to see it with my own eyes. Here I am, for the second time. And so, here we go.

    Sorry, but I don’t buy your “I do not consider myself a part of either side of the political map”. You have a side, and that is the side of the mainstream Israeli society, keep Jerusalem and most or all settlements, disengage the Palestinians, let them build a minor-of-age statelet without real authority or possibilities of independence, control their demographic growth.

    Your rush to dismiss my entry and what you wrote in this last comment prove it.

    “The soldiers were threatening me by aiming with their M-16’s.” That is just what happened. Nowhere I write that they actually shot bullets. That can not be infered from what I wrote. The mere fact that I don’t say that they shot suggests that they didn’t, otherwise I would have clearly stated it. Some Palestinians said that they shot rubber-coated bullets. I didn’t see it, I didn’t write it. Where’s the bias?

    “on Arab land”. You act as if you were taking a neutral position, “who the land belongs to?” But that’s not a neutral position, that’s taking the side of the Israeli government, who wants to put that in question when it’s never been in question. Amir, it is only the mainstream Israeli society who wants to think that way, because even now it can’t assume that it is massively stealing land (as it did in 48, but that’s another story) from others, by the “right” of conquest. But this is the 21st century, not the dark ages. There is an international legal system in place and Israel must choose whether it wants to be in or out of it.

    “I’m now sure we both have different concepts of what “peacefully” means.” Definitely.

    I saw what happened, you didn’t. It is telling of your determination to dismiss my argument that, despite I am the very only direct source you have of the incidents, you go ahead to disregard my version based on not one single element. Why did you want me to come to see it with my own eyes if you were going to dismiss what those eyes saw?

    The Palestinians went there peacefully. The stones came only after the soldiers attacked. Yes, they gave a warning, ten minutes to leave. Did you expect the demonstrators to apologise and leave quietly, giving up their right to defend their land? On what legal basis rests the power of the army to order the people to go from their own land? In the occupier’s law? In this story, things are one-sided, yes: There are groups who steal other people’s land and those responsible for keeping law and order –the army and the police– don’t protect the victims, they protect the aggressors. Schön. And no, as far as I know, they didn’t kill anyone with their M-16’s. Did I suggest anywhere that they fired their M-16’s?

    “As in Iran”, I wrote. And you replied “Yeah, Israel is just the same kind of regime, isn’t it? The fight seems to you like the same kind of fight?”

    That’s another evidence of your willingness to misinterpret my notes. There are many things that remind me of Iran in the State of Israel, but that is a matter of another text. What am I talking about when I say “as in Iran”? The Israeli regime? The fight? Read it again. I’m talking about the fact that the protesters throw stones in a chaotic way, they do it when their own people is still around their target and they end up cracking their own friends’ heads, not the soldiers. As they do in Iran. But you see? You read what you want to read, regardless of what it says.

    The fight lasted for about an hour. I’m telling you, why can’t you believe it? What’s wrong in this, why would it be one-sided, or impossible? Again, nowhere I suggest the M-16’s were fired. What I say is that they used stun grenades and tear-gas. And the youth spread by a wide area to throw stones. The soldiers spent a long time trying to catch them or chase them away. And, dou you remember that somewhere I wrote that the distance between the settlers’ wall and the village was two kilometres, and that the youths retreated to the village, followed by the soldiers? Oh’, come on, Amir, are you questioning my description of a typical West Bank’s soldiers-stone-throwers skirmish without knowing the dynamics of this fights, which have been taking place for years just a few kilometres away from your home? Or you just pretend that you don’t know it?

    “Regardless any sense of legality.” I wrote. And you replied: “So that’s just hard cold facts, right?” I don’t need to go to an Israeli judge to turn it into a fact (that is, if I had any trust on the fairness of every Israeli judge). The occupation is illegal, you know? Most of your judges will say a different thing, but also Chinese judges fail in favour of the Chinese occupation in Tibet and Xinjiang (and no, I’m not comparing these conflicts, just pointing that you can not rely on the justice of any occupying power). The settlers invade land and the army protects them. Regardless any sense of legality.

    Just as we seem to have a different concept of “peacefully”, we have a different concept of “justice”. It looks as if you would trust Spanish justice in colonial Latin America or French justice in Indochina. Not your forebears: how many terrorist attacks were commited by Irgun (now heroes of Israel) against British colonial justice in Palestine? (I just walked past a hotel in Jerusalem which used to be a British mandate building, a wing of which was destroyed by bombs killing 92 people, “to Irgun’s regret”, reads the official plaque… would they say the same thing about a murderous and bloody terrorist attack in Israel, “to Hamas’ regret”?)

    “old ladies were rushing out their houses and running away … Little girls were being taken on arms by their fathers”, I wrote. And you say: “How many old ladies and how many girls did you see? 2, 5, 100? Was all the village forced to run away from the soldiers?”

    I don’t see what you are trying to argue here. Did you want me to do a survey? I was running away from the tear-gas, remember? It is painful it gets into your throat and eyes and nose, your skin burns (though the Iranian tear-gas is worse, I must say). I saw many people leaving their houses to escape, not only old ladies and fathers with daughters, but young girls, old men, mothers, disabled people… I didn’t know that you wanted a full list of them.. will it be enough if I give you only names? or you need surnames too?

    I think that my story is ok, a narration of what I saw. I’m sorry if I didn’t hold a white and blue flag while I was writing it.

  6. Dude, if after so much time of debating the subject you really think my political opinion is what you wrote, I must be completely wasting my time. Either I am really bad at expressing myself or you’re misinterpreting me. What you wrote is very far from my opinion. My opinion is that for true peace (which isn’t the same as peace agreements) great sacrifices can and should be made by all parties involved. My opinion is that at the end of the day most people want to live their own lives and not be a part of a side of a conflict. I do what I can within my limited ability and wishes to promote that by connecting people.

    I don’t really know if what you mentioned is also the opinion of main stream Israeli society but I haven’t really researched it deeply. I have friends from the entire spectrum of political opinions here and have not personally done statistics.

    I thank you for the clarifications to my comments. I believe that if anyone has read so far, they have received a more detailed account than in the original post.

    You obviously have a strong sense of what is just and what is lawful. We could debate it more but I prefer to stop here not because I have nothing to say but simply because I prefer putting my time into other things which I deem to be more constructive.

    In my humble opinion, the question each and every one of us should ask him/herself is “did I do my part to promote peace and understanding?” and not “did I follow my concept of justice?”. Almost everyone will answer positively to the second question, not many could answer positively to the first. I’m just doing my part in promoting peace and understanding. The same way I criticized your article, I criticized articles who took the opposite side to yours.

    We have a saying about driving your car: “on the road, don’t be right, be smart”. Preventing car accidents isn’t about being right following all the traffic rules but about being smart when situations arise.

    Peace

  7. When the Zapatista uprising in Southern Mexico took place, the Federal government tried to impose peace in its own terms and denounced the Zapatistas as stubborn rejectionists (does that sound familiar to you?).

    “Paz”, the president said, “we want paz and they don’t”. The people in the city streets replied: “Paz… con justicia y dignidad”. Peace, with justice and dignity.

    There has to be understanding, I totally agree, and we have to promote it. But they have kept these people in the West Bank still in the air waiting for peace while the settlements are multiplicating and expanding all over their territory, creating “facts on the ground” that means that more Palestinian land is being stolen, more houses and plantations are being destroyed, and the possibility of creating a viable Palestinian State vanishes.

    I don’t think we have to choose between promoting peace and understanding, on the one hand, and following a concept of justice, on the other. Peace and understanding can only come with justice. Or do you believe in peace without justice?

    That’s the peace of the conquistador.

  8. By the way, I also totally agree with your saying about being smart on the road. But this is about justice, not about driving.

  9. hello guys,

    it’s not easy for me to write english, so it will be only very general comments..

    first of all, Temoris, well written. as a witness who been there with you [until some point] I can only confirm the facts and the feelings.

    Amir, you are the mainstream israeli political opinion. you might see yourself tending left if you consider dividing Jerusalem and retreating to 67 borders, but this ideology still racist, wrong and mislead. it might be a temporary solution, but only as such.

    left and right, at least in Israel, are not absolute terms but relative: if right is the settlers way, and left is the Anarchist Against The Wall way, for example. every thing in the middle is propaganda influenced center and it doesn’t matter if you’ll call it “sane right” or “national left”. saying about every criticism that it’s one sided – that’s a chapter in the new Israeli propaganda website, no?
    in the misleading argument between being justice or clever – are the same! consider the idea that all of us want to live here a decent life. we [the jews] must realize that we will never be alone and on are own here. the sooner we’ll accept the Palestinians [both in side Israel and in the occupied territories] as equal citizens in a secular state the sooner we’ll all live this life without relying on USA. a confederation of cultural and religious autonomies under one federal law will be the only justice and clever solution for all of us.

    being there with the Palestinians in their struggle, to my humble opinion, that’s promote peace and understanding. I do not overshadow what you’re doing, but I do disagree with you of what you think you know about this kind of activism. the main idea for me is to meet the people and see the faces and show them there is a different Israelis from what they know from their neighbors the settlers. for that I’ve been detained.

    I’ll be happy to continue in hebrew..

  10. Thank you both for your comments. I thank you less, however, for trying to express what my political opinion is as you’ve both gotten is extremely wrong.

    Perhaps it’s my fault that in every debate I enjoy challenging the other side by presenting opposing arguments. I have two reasons for it: 1/ I’m against fanaticism and people too certain about their way. 2/ When people are challenged, they make a bigger effort at explaining and supporting their opinion.

    Anyway, what you both write here about where I personally stand on these issues is wrong. To summarize my view so it won’t be left that mystical, I’m more agnostic than anything else. I greatly believe in peace and promoting understanding, be it in this conflict or others.

    Unlike you two, however, I am not so certain about any path offered to promote that goal. I’m not certain a “two-countries” or “one country, two nations” or any other suggested solution is the right solution. I might have been more of an activist had I been sure one way is the good way to follow.

    You were both repeating the issues of Jerusalem and 67 borders. To my understanding, these are both NOT in the heart of the conflict hence I see no special reason to relate.

    Unlike “peace”, which is an easy to measure goal, “justice” is closer to “beauty”. Two people can be very certain about what beauty is but one will say X is beautiful and the other will say it’s ugly. Both of them are correct. Both are mistaken.

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