Interesting Account of ISM Activists in Hebron and the Everyday Brutality of
the Israeli Army
RICHARD HARDIGAN, 14.12.14.
slogans were not new to me. “Tomorrow there is no school in Gaza; there are no
children left”, had been chanted during the recent Gaza massacre by angry
fascist mobs in Tel Aviv. I had seen “Gas the Arabs” spray painted in black
letters on the walls of the closed shops in Hebron’s H2 district. But I had
never heard such sentiments uttered so calmly before. The effect was chilling.
Israeli soldier, a sniper, was talking to us, and we were in Hebron, in the
West Bank, which has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. The
soldier did not tell us his name, but he said he would be very proud if we
would publish his photo, and he posed for the camera with two members of his
sniper team. All three were carrying their rifles over their shoulders, and
they were smiling. One was flashing a victory sign. I couldn’t help but wonder
what the victory was to which he was referring. He had just shot an unarmed
eighteen-year-old Palestinian boy who had thrown two stones from the roof of a
building three hundred meters away. Whom had the soldier defeated? What was the
struggle that our hero had endured before finally emerging victorious? Perhaps
the struggle had not really been between this soldier and his Palestinian
victim, as the western media would have us believe. Maybe it had been a
conflict between humanity and compassion on one side, and oppression, racism
and intolerance on the other. I knew which side had won today.
|Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinian activist Imad Altrash|
spent the last two months working for the International Solidarity Movement
(ISM) in Palestine. On the ISM website, it describes itself as “a
Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the long-entrenched and
systematic oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian population, using
non-violent, direct-action methods and principles”. I had been in Hebron for
the last two weeks, and I was supposed to fly back home from Tel Aviv two days
later, but I was concerned. ISMers are always worried during the days before
they are scheduled to leave the country. They anticipate intense questioning
and searching at the airport, so it’s crucial for them to have their stories in
order. One wrong answer and one could be prohibited from ever entering Israel
again. Jason, a sixty-year-old activist from Liverpool and one of my ISM
colleagues, kept telling me not to worry.
soldiers at the airport are so stupid that they’ll believe anything you say.”
German ISMer in her early twenties, on the other hand, insisted that we
practice my story.
were you doing in Israel? Why were you here for so long? Israel is small. How
can you spend two months in such a tiny country? Why do you have a beard?
You’re forty years old. Why are you not married?” I didn’t have an answer to
most of those questions (especially the last one), but I was prepared to tell
them that I was a divinity student working on a paper, and that I needed to
conduct my research in Bethlehem. I even had a working title. “Does Luke’s
claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem at the time of Quirinius’ census match
the historical record?” The officials at the airport couldn’t possibly question
that, could they?
|Israeli soldiers occupy Palestinian house|
goal was to pass through the exit procedure at the airport smoothly, there were
several basic rules you had to follow. You were not allowed to have entered the
West Bank (except to visit Bethlehem), and in fact you would be tempting fate
if you even mentioned the West Bank at all. You had to have spent your entire
visit in Israel. This meant you needed pictures. Lots of them. Of Israel.
drive contained shots of events I had witnessed all over the West Bank. There
are weekly demonstrations in the village of Kufr Qaddum, south of Nablus, where
the Israelis closed an access road to Palestinians, allowing only settlers to
use it. Here Israeli soldiers routinely attack protestors with everything from
tear gas to live ammunition to skunk water, a foul smelling substance fired
from a water cannon that is so malodorous that you can detect its presence on
your clothes up to five years later. I attended four of these demos, and I had
several images of the bloodied victims of a particularly brutal Israeli attack.
Then there were the pictures of the funeral of a mentally handicapped man
murdered by Israeli soldiers in the El-Ein refugee camp in Nablus. The IDF
routinely enters refugee camps at night to make its presence known, and on this
occasion they had come upon a man returning home from the local mosque. After
the man did not follow the army’s instructions to put up his hands, presumably
because he did not understand them, soldiers shot him four times – three times
in the stomach and once in the chest. My video showed an angry crowd carrying
the victim’s body, wrapped in the red, green, white and black Palestinian flag,
through the narrow streets of the camp. I’m sure these were not the kinds of
pictures the border officials were looking for.
provided me with an SD card filled with pictures of the Wailing Wall, the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Mount of Olives, among other tourist
destinations in Jerusalem. But I still believed my colleague Charlie had the
best advice of all regarding getting out of Israel.
want to make it through the airport, just wear an IDF t-shirt.”
(Hebron is its Hebrew name), with approximately 250,000 Palestinians, between
500 and 850 Jewish settlers, and 4000 Israeli soldiers to protect them, is the
most populous city in the Occupied Territories. Hebron is a city under
occupation, and just like in the rest of the West Bank, Israel uses both its
armed forces and its settlers to punish the people of Hebron for their
existence. But Hebron is different in another way. Only here do the Israeli
settlers actually live inside the city itself, including many who live in an
area close to the hub of the city, designated as H2. (H1 is the part of the
city over which the Palestinian authorities have control.) H2 contains the
famous Shuhada street, a formerly busy shopping area that was closed to
Palestinian access in response to the Goldstein massacre of 1994. In February
of that year Baruch Goldstein, a thirty-seven-year-old American doctor and
religious zealot, opened fire on Muslim worshipers in the Ibrahimi mosque,
continuing to shoot until he had no ammunition left. He killed 29 Palestinians,
wounding another 125 and was himself beaten to death after the carnage. On
Goldstein’s tomb, which became a pilgrimage site for Israeli religious
extremists, are written the words “He gave his life for the people of Israel,
its Torah and land”.
around Shuhada street is now a veritable ghost town, since the only
Palestinians who are allowed to enter, which they must do through one of the
checkpoints, are those who live in H2. This rule was instituted by the Israeli
authorities shortly after the massacre and has destroyed the neighborhood’s
once thriving economy. Today settlers live in various parts of H2, including
Tel Rumeida, a hill that overlooks the old city.
apartment in Tel Rumeida is a safe haven to us. Not only is it where we live
and eat and sleep, but it also provides a respite from the violence and the
injustice that we witness almost on a daily basis. Although I had been there
for only two weeks, I definitely felt a strong connection to it. My favorite
part of the house was the roof. I would sleep there every night and be awoken
in the morning by the muezzin of a nearby mosque. The roof afforded me
spectacular views over all of Hebron. Since the house is located on a street
used both by settlers and Palestinians, the roof also allowed us to witness
some of the daily conflicts that occurred between the two groups.
apartment is known by the Israeli soldiers and settlers as the “Anarchista
House”. It felt strange to know that the people that think of you as their
enemy know exactly where you live. And these weren’t ordinary people. All
soldiers and some settlers are heavily armed, with the shoulder-slung M-16
seeming to be the ubiquitous weapon of choice in Tel Rumeida. There’s a sign on
the inside of our front door warning us not to ever let IDF soldiers enter the
apartment, not under any circumstances. But how do eight unarmed volunteers
stop one of the world’s most powerful armies from entering if it wants to?
four hours a day there are at least two soldiers keeping watch about ten meters
down the hill from our house. Some of the soldiers are friendly and will smile
or nod at us, but most simply glare at us hatefully. They resent our presence.
Charlie tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. “They don’t want to be
here. They’re just following orders,” he said. It was a tired refrain that you
find in armies all over the world and in my mind is most often associated with
former Nazi soldiers who try to justify their actions during the Holocaust. We
sometimes try to communicate with them, but most often their English is too
broken for any meaningful exchange, even if that was what they desired.
soldiers below us were excited. Four of their colleagues commandeered the roof
of a nearby house that is owned by a Palestinian family. It was a sniper team.
We were on the roof of our building, almost directly behind them, and we could
follow the direction of their gun sights to see where they were aiming. Three
hundred meters away there were two Palestinian youths milling around on the
roof of a not-yet-completed three story building.
Miguel, two Spanish ISMers, joined Jason and me on the roof, and we considered
the soldiers! Throw stones at them! Run up to them and distract them!” None of
the ideas seemed reasonable. Jason and Miguel decided to run down to the three
story building to warn the youths, while Juan and I stayed on our roof to
monitor the situation. After fifteen minutes I received a phone call from Jason,
who passed me on to a young Palestinian man.
those kids to get off the roof! There are snipers, and they’re going to kill
them!” I yelled into the phone with my limited colloquial Arabic. After a few
seconds, the phone went dead.
seemed to be beating in my throat, as I watched the boys and the soldiers and
waited. Did they understand my advice? Would they heed it? Would the soldiers
shoot them before they had a chance to escape?
evening we have a meeting in the apartment at which we discuss our failures and
successes of the day, and we make plans for the next twenty-four hours. We also
talk about our feelings. ISM work is difficult, and it can be emotionally
taxing. When you witness extreme injustice and you constantly see unnecessary
suffering, it can wear on you. That’s what this component of the discussion is
about. To give us all a chance to share our thoughts and worries and to know
that we are not alone in what we fear. It is my favorite part of the meeting.
Yesterday Miguel, in his thick Spanish accent, asked, “It is useless. These
fucking soldiers do what they want anyway. Why are we even here?” It is a
feeling and a fear we all share to some extent, and it is a topic that seems to
come up a lot.
reminded of Miguel’s words as the young men on the roof suddenly scampered
behind a water tank, appearing to hide. I felt euphoric. There was no doubt
now. I had made a difference. It was because of me that these kids had not been
euphoria vanished quickly as the teenagers on the roof re-appeared from behind
the water tank. Even worse, one of them languidly picked up a stone and tossed
it from the building. Then another one. I picked up my camera and started
filming, because I knew that this was the moment the soldiers had been waiting
for. According to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, “the army’s
open-fire regulations clearly stipulate that live ammunition should not be used
against stone-throwers, except in cases of immediate mortal danger.”
knew better. A shot rang out, the sound loud enough to startle me, although I
had been expecting it, causing my camera to shake. One of the men on the roof
fell down and then hobbled to safety behind a pillar. It turns out that he was
shot in the calf, and later pictures appeared on the ISM website of a cast
covering his whole leg.
happened next was possibly even more disturbing. One soldier grabbed the
marksman’s leg, another slapped his hand on the ground in celebration. The mood
appeared light. There were smiles and laughter. A soldier imitated the hapless
victim’s motions after he was shot, grabbing his leg, limping around. They
appeared to be entertained by the whole incident. It was almost as if they were
acting in a movie, which, unbeknownst to them, they were.
Charlie became incensed, and he ran downstairs and out into the street. A
short, pudgy, unassuming Australian, he was one of the colleagues of mine that
I admired most. Four years ago, walking down the street in Tel Rumeida, Charlie
had been attacked by a group of Hebron settlers that had beaten him unconscious
with a metal pipe, breaking his nose in the process. He remembered little about
the incident, but it did take him several years to work up the courage to
return to Palestine. But now he was back here in Hebron, confronting soldiers
and settlers alike.
feel good, shooting unarmed children like that?”, he yelled at one of the
soldiers, snapping his picture. The soldier grinned.
Arabs. I wish I could kill them all.”
week ISM published the video I took on its website and on Youtube. It received
quite a bit of attention, and the Israeli army even responded by sanctioning
the soldiers for their behavior, although it did not reveal the terms of the
punishment. Military officials did insist that the boys on the roof had been a
legitimate target, since they had been throwing Molotov cocktails, a statement
that was a complete and utter fabrication. Instead, they explained that it was
the soldiers’ celebratory behavior that had been deemed inappropriate and had
been the cause for their punishment.
at the meeting the evening of the shooting was somber. We had all been in
demonstrations where the army used live ammunition, and most of us had seen
Palestinians get shot, but usually the bullets seemed to come from nowhere, out
of a cloud of teargas. The connection between the shooter and the victim was
tenuous, and we usually saw only the victim. We did not see the shooter, and we
could pretend that he didn’t exist, or at least that he was not human. This
time it was different. This sniper was real.
sweated, and he smiled. And he had shot that boy. For no reason. And he had
laughed about it. I just couldn’t come to grips with it.
tomorrow I would go to Jerusalem, and then the next day I was to fly out of Tel
Aviv, and I needed to practice what I would say to the airport officials. What
was the title of my divinity paper again?
Hardigan is a
university professor in the United States.
VIDEO (see above): Soldiers and Settlers Attack Palestinians, ISM Volunteers in Hebron
For the past two days in al-Khalil (Hebron) Israeli soldiers have stopped and searched many Palestinians in Tel Rumeida. At approximately 22:00 two nights ago, a colonial settler began aggressively photographing Palestinian children who were playing football in the street on Tel Rumeida hill. Two ISM activists began filming her.
She then approached one ISM volunteer and pushed the camera very close to his face.
Other settlers arrived and began to harass the Palestinian children and tried to steal their football. The settlers also began to push some of the Palestinians. One settler tried to force entry into a Palestinian shop whilst shouting, “I’m going to butcher you”.
A group of Israeli soldiers initially tried to block the settlers and prevent them from attacking the Palestinians, but when this was unsuccessful, decided instead to force the Palestinians to move. They attacked the Palestinians using stun grenades and pushed a number of people. The settlers and soldiers then began attacking ISM activists who were filming. The soldiers cocked their guns several times and pointed them in the faces of ISM volunteers. A soldier stamped on the foot of one of the activists.
Two ISMers, and an activist from Christian Peacemaker Teams were physically hit by settlers who tried to steal their cameras. One activist turned his back to a solider and began walking away as instructed by him and was kicked forcefully from behind in the testicles by the soldier. Soldiers then positioned themselves to prevent Palestinians from returning to their homes.
Shortly after this, around 40 Palestinians left the mosque at the top of Tel Rumeida hill and began walking down the hill towards their home. They were stopped and threatened by the soldiers. The soldiers eventually agreed to let people return home but insisted that people walk one by one. At the same time, soldiers allowed a large group of settlers to congregate at the junction. Palestinians were therefore forced to walk through the settlers alone, and were subject to intimidation and threats.
An ISM activist present: “The soldiers and settlers were very aggressive and frightening, so much was happening at one time, it was hard to know what was going on. They kept yelling at us in Hebrew and wouldn’t listen when we told them we didn’t understand. At one point a military jeep drove up a hill towards a group of Palestinians (who were leaving the mosque) and us. We were caught in a corner and couldn’t move. The jeep stopped in front of us, they threw a stun grenade first, and then several soldiers jumped out of the jeep, cocked their guns in our faces, and yelled at us in Hebrew. They were so angry, it felt like they wanted to shoot us.”
During this time, the Shamsiyeh family was attacked by settlers (15-year-old Awne Shamsiyeh was recently interviewed by ISM). The settlers entered their garden and forced cameras in their faces. One settler punched a Palestinian woman. Another female settler, who appeared to be around 17-years-old, hit an 11-year-old Palestinian child on the hand with a rock causing swelling and bruising.
The soldiers did nothing to prevent the attack, but instead shouted at the Palestinian family and ordered them back into their house.
At approximately 22:00, settlers from the illegal settlement Tel Rumeida erected a fence blocking a Palestinian home, preventing the family from reaching their house.
The Hebron district is a site of frequent aggression, by Israeli soldiers and settlers, towards Palestinian residents and their property. See related link.