Violence in Nabi Saleh.

btselem_logoOn Friday afternoon, Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for Israeli human rights NGO B’tselem*, was hit in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet fired at close range by a member of Israel’s Border Police (technically an arm of Israel’s police force, the Border Police function as an arm of Israel’s military and are understood as such by the Palestinians they patrol).

Michaeli, a Jewish Israeli, was shot while filming in the village of Nabi Saleh, where residents regularly stage demonstrations to protest the seizure of their water spring and other village property by settlers. As B’tselem reported this past January:

From the outset, the demonstrations at Nabi Saleh have taken the form of nonviolent processions, setting out from the village center and proceeding to the spring in order to protest the unlawful takeover of village lands. The early demonstrations reached the main road that separates the village from the spring and the settlement, and there they were dispersed by the Israeli security forces.

After several demonstrations, the security forces prevented the procession from leaving the village.

When the Border Police broke up the protests in the past, village youth would sometimes respond by throwing stones, and security forces would respond in turn with an escalating variety of non-lethal and lethal weapons—but as the case of Mustafa a-Tamimi shows: Tear gas, for instance, might not be lethal, but when a tear gas canister is shot-point blank at a person’s head, it becomes very lethal, indeed. (A-Tamimi is far from the only demonstrator at whom canisters have been shot directly, as this video and this video demonstrate. The videos also demonstrate that the violence often begins on the Israeli side; the violence in the latter video likewise resulted in the death of a demonstrator).

The rock throwing has largely stopped, though, and a kind of pas de deux has developed in which a few dozen unarmed villagers march toward the main road to demand the return of their lands and are met and blocked by armed Israeli security forces, who then give chase.

Last Friday, as the work of a different videographer demonstrates, the villagers had set three tires on fire, past which ten or so Border Police marched, opening fire as they did. The Israeli forces then regrouped and ran directly at the demonstrators (who were, it might be remembered, in their own village), discharging weapons. As the video makes clear, the Israelis weren’t in danger at the time and indeed, at that point, numbered hardly less than the actual demonstrators still on the scene.

As a result of this action, Michaeli was hit—and as her video shows, Border Police continued to discharge their weapons in her direction even when she was already on the ground and receiving treatment.

It’s worth looking at a picture of her leg immediately post-injury, and at a picture of the bullet after it was removed, and considering what might have happened if Michaeli had been hit in the head or chest. It’s also worth noting that Sarit Michaeli was armed with nothing but a rather visible camera when she was fired upon.

As B’tselem notes in its statement regarding the incident:

The shooting contravenes military directives. The bullet was fired from a distance of fewer than 20 meters, considerably nearer than the stipulated 50-meter minimum. Moreover the person shot was a photographer who posed no threat to security personnel.

Perhaps the most important thing to note, however, is what Michaeli was doing there in the first place: Documenting the very behavior to which she herself fell victim.

A protest was held at Nabi Saleh last Tuesday as well, but that time, live fire was used. An Israeli spokesman reports that about 100 Palestinians were involved in a “violent and illegal riot,” throwing stones and rolling burning tires toward security forces:

One soldier was injured during the riot, and soldiers sensing imminent danger to their lives fired towards a main instigator, registering a direct hit.

For their part, Palestinians called the events “confrontations,” and reported the following:

Mahmoud Tamimi, 22 years old, was shot with a live ammunition bullet in the leg when he was trying to help Mohammad Tamimi, 10 years old, who had been shot with a rubber coated steel bullet in the leg while standing on the hill side where the confrontations were taking place.

It’s also been reported that a journalist documenting the clashes was attacked by security forces, and his camera broken.

Pictures can be seen here of the aftermath of the direct hit on Mahmoud Tamimi—in one, a group of Palestinians carries him away, as a member of the security forces stands to the side. In another, a group of uniformed Israelis surrounds the injured man, and one of the soldiers, rifle across his back, appears to be shoving one of the Palestinians.

Is this a violent riot which posed a threat to life and limb? It’s possible that the pictures we’re not seeing tell a different story, but the photographic evidence available suggests a reality that was, at the very least, not quite what the Israeli spokesman described. Moreover, when protestors who offer no threat whatsoever are rushed at with rubber bullets, it’s hard to take at face-value the explanations for the use of live fire.

Or it is for me, at any rate. As Sarit Michaeli could tell you: B’tselem isn’t out there documenting tea parties. They’re out there documenting regularconsistent, and deeplytroublingviolations of human rights law by Israel’s security forces, frequently contrary to the military’s own statements and/or regulations.

And the sad truth is that if an Israeli or a Jew isn’t there to report back, we pretty much never pay attention. Even then, we might not.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

“B’tselem” means “in God’s image” – a reference to the verse in Genesis understood in Judaism to mean that all of humanity was created in God’s own image.

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Israeli PM Netanyahu: “Such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers.”

As was reported yesterday, an Israeli officer is to be investigated for taking his M-16 to the face of an international protester in the middle of a nonviolent demonstration on the West Bank.

In the meantime, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “Such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers and officers and has no place in the Israel Defense Forces and in the State of Israel.”

Which is lovely of him, of course — except that as an Israeli, I can assure you that not only does “such behavior” have a place in both the IDF and in Israel, that place is time-honored. The difference is that this time, the dude who got smacked was blonde. If you’re Palestinian, no one notices.

According to Amnesty International’s 2011 annual report:

Consistent allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including of children, were frequently reported. Among the most commonly cited methods were beatings, threats to the detainee or their family, sleep deprivation, and being subjected to painful stress positions for long periods.

According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem:

Over the years, B’Tselem and other human rights organizations have documented hundreds of cases in which soldiers and police have slapped and kicked Palestinians, insulted and humiliated them, and delayed them at checkpoints for no reason. On occasion, more serious violence has also been exposed.

These include the story of a shepherd beaten and humiliated for no apparent reason:

On Friday, 4 March 2011, [Nayef] ‘Abayat was grazing his family’s flock…. Around mid-day he gathered his sheep and was walking along the road leading to his house…. As he was walking, three military jeeps pulled up and three soldiers got out and came over to him.

According to ‘Abayat, one of the soldiers asked him what he was doing there and kicked him before he could answer. The blow knocked Abayat to the ground, injuring his elbow, which began to bleed. The other soldiers searched him, cuffed his hands, and blindfolded him. Then they threw him onto the floor of the jeep, which then drove off. They drove for about two hours, during which the soldiers insulted and swore at him. The jeep came to the Etzion army base, where the soldiers left him waiting in the yard for a few hours, still blindfolded and cuffed. The soldiers next to him continued to swear at him and insult him, and one of the soldiers pushed a tomato into his mouth.

‘Abayat was 24 when this incident took place — but as was reported in The Independent last August, the Israeli military doesn’t limit its abuse to adults:

[C]hildren [accused of throwing stones] as young as 12 are hauled from their beds at night, handcuffed and blindfolded, deprived of sleep and food, subjected to lengthy interrogations, then forced to sign a confession in Hebrew, a language few of them read.

Quoting figures provided by Defence for Children International Palestine, the story reports that 87% of Palestinian minors arrested by Israeli forces are subjected to physical violence.

Perhaps the Prime Minister hasn’t read these reports.

Perhaps he hasn’t seen this video footage, of an Israeli soldier cocking a loaded rifle and pointing it directly at the face of a Palestinian man, from a distance of some three inches. Or this footage, in which an Israeli soldier is seen assaulting a Palestinian (who happens to be a B’Tselem activist) on his own land. Or this footage, of the Israeli police yanking a man wearing a Palestinian headscarf out of a group of protesters, and beating the crap out of him in the middle of a parade (the victim happens to be an American Jew).

It’s possible the Prime Minister hasn’t stumbled across any of that, or across this footage either, wherein two Border Patrolmen boast of their power over the Palestinians who pass through the checkpoint they man:

We handle people who want to make trouble for the country. Whoever comes close, wants to make trouble, we break them. What do I mean ‘break them’? We let them suffer, in the sun, in the rain, so that they learn not to mess with the Border Police.

and another says what he really thinks of the people who can’t get anywhere on the West Bank without first going through him:

Animals. Animals. Like the Discovery Channel…. There are monkeys, dogs, gorillas. The problem is that the animals are locked [up], they can’t come out. We’re humans. They’re animals. They aren’t humans. We are.

It’s possible the Prime Minister is so criminally ignorant of the doings of Israel’s own military that he’s unaware of all this. Anything’s possible.

But the Palestinians who live with it day in and day out are not so ignorant.

As an Israeli, I suggest you listen to them.

Gilad Shalit and 5,383 Palestinians

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere (and in meat world I happen to be in Israel) so in the meantime I’m running some old posts — today I’m running an updated version of a piece I ran a year ago today. It never fails to stun me how much sturm und drang there always is in Israel/Palestine without anything ever actually getting any better….

Today is the fifth anniversary of the capture of Gilad Shalit. Shalit was serving at an Israeli military post on the border with Gaza when he and his unit were attacked by Palestinian militants. Two other Israeli soldiers were killed; Shalit was taken into Gaza.

This event came a day after Israeli forces went into the homes of two suspected Hamas members in Gaza and kidnapped them, taking them to jail in Israel. According to Israeli human rights group B’tselem, working from figures provided by the Israeli government, Israel currently holds 5,383 Palestinians in its civilian and military detention systems. Also according to B’tselem, and other Israeli human rights organizations, Palestinian prisoners are “routinely tortured” in Israeli jails.

In a joint statement released yesterday, B’tselem along with several Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups called for Shalit’s immediate release:

Human beings are not bargaining chips

Marking five years since the capture of Gilad Shalit, Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations state:

Hamas must immediately end inhumane and illegal treatment of Gilad Shalit

Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit has been in captivity for five years. Those holding him have refused to allow him to communicate with his family, nor have they provided information on his well-being and the conditions in which he is being held. The organizations stress that this conduct is inhumane and a violation of international humanitarian law.

Hamas authorities in Gaza must immediately end the cruel and inhuman treatment of Gilad Shalit. Until he is released, they must enable him to communicate with his family and should grant him access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Truth be told, I wept when Shalit was taken, as I wept over the loss of the soldiers he served with, Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker. I spent hours before the computer, listening, reading, willing the facts to not be facts. These are my people, and as I read the stories of these young men’s lives, I felt I knew them. I cannot imagine the torment their families have lived through in the past  nearly 2,000 days

But I likewise call on Israel to recognize that the political prisoners it holds are just that.

I would call on Israel and my fellow Israelis to think of the families on the other side of the fences and walls. I would call on Israel, and my fellow Israelis, and the world at large to remember all of the many, many God-awful mistakes that Israel has made (including a series of military attacks in which hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinians were killed) in trying to force Hamas to free Shalit — to absolutely no avail.

There are two sides here, and much as I mourn my own people’s losses and pray for Shalit’s safe return home, I cannot forget the suffering that my people, in turn, have caused.

The only way to end the madness is to end it. The only way to end the madness is to build a just peace.

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In December, 2010 it looked as if a deal might have been struck to swap Shalit for nearly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. I wrote about it at the time, but as we all know, nothing came of those negotiations. I want to quote some of the facts and figures from that post here; to read the whole thing, click here.

I have compiled a short, and certainly incomplete, timeline outlining the things Israel has done since June 25, 2006 in retaliation for the capture of its soldier, in retaliation for subsequent Hamas retaliations to Israeli attacks, and/or in the name of bringing Shalit home without negotiation:

  1. June 28, 2006 – Israel launches an assault on Gaza, dubbed “Operation Summer Rains” and said to be aimed at freeing Shalit. Great damage is done to Gaza’s infrastructure in the first days, including the destruction of several bridges and the Strip’s single power plant, leaving much of Gaza without electricity or running water.
  2. June 28, 2006 – Israeli jets fly a sortieover the home of Syrian President Bashir Assad, an act of saber-rattling directed at the government Israel accuses of being one of the main sponsors of Palestinian militant organizations. The IDF simultaneously “[raises] its alert level on the northern border, mainly for fear that Hizbullah or other groups will attempt to take advantage of the situation and cause an escalation.”
  3. June 29, 2006 – The IDF kidnaps64 Palestinian legislators and officials from inside Gaza, including eight government ministers.
  4. October 10, 2006 – The UN reportsthat a total of 256 Palestinians have been killed since June 28, of whom 60 are children. 848 have been injured. Some 355 acres of agricultural land have been destroyed, and 3,000 commercial fishermen have lost their incomes because the Israeli navy will not allow them access to fishing grounds off the Gaza coast. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed and 31 Israelis injured. In response to the operation, Hamas has fired 465 Qassam rockets into Israel.
  5. November 1, 2006 – Israel launches “Operation Autumn Clouds,” focusing its attack on the Beit Hanoun neighborhood which frequently serves as a base for rocket fire into Israel. Over the course of eight days, the UN reports that at least 82 Palestinians are killed and 260 injured, and HaAretz concludesthat “the IDF wreaked havoc and terror in Beit Hanoun and left behind hundreds of wounded, as well as destroyed houses, uprooted orchards and a water system that was brought to a standstill. But despite all this, the declared aim of the operation was not achieved and the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel continues.”
  6. November 14, 2006 – The UN expressesits “shock at the horror of Israeli targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun while they were asleep and other civilians fleeing earlier Israeli bombardment.”
  7. February 27, 2007 – Israel launches Operation Warm Winter; between Feb 27 and March 4, Israeli forces kill120 Palestinians, including 34 children, and 269 Palestinians are wounded. In the course of hostilities, 224 rockets and 49 mortars are fired into Israel; one Israeli is killed and 14 injured.
  8. December 27, 2008 – Israel launches Operation Cast Lead, now more commonly known as the Gaza War. In the first day, at least 225 Palestinians are killed and 700 wounded; B’tselem reports that in the course of the war, which lasts until January 18, 2009, Israeli forces killed 1,387 Palestinians, of whom 773 did not take part in the hostilities and 119 were under the age of 11. Three Israeli civilians were killed by Qassam rocket fire, six Israeli soldiers were killed in combat, and four were killed in a friendly fire incident. In July, the United Nations Development Program reported that it would likely take the Palestinians a year to clear the half a million tons of rubble created by Israeli bombardment and bulldozing in the course of the war. It’s widely presumed (and suggested by official Israeli statements) that the continued captivity of Gilad Shalit is at least one of the reasons for the launch of the war.