Where Israeli attack dogs lie in wait.

attack dog Mohammad Amla back

Mohammad Amla’s back after he was attacked by IDF dogs.

When you learn a second language—even if you live in that language for a decade and a half, work, pray, fall in love, go to parties in that language—even then, there are always new words to discover. Surprises when you open the newspaper.

The other day, on a beautiful, lazy Friday afternoon in the holy city of Jerusalem, I learned a new Hebrew phrase: leshasot klavim— “to set dogs [on a person].”

In this past weekend’s Haaretzwriter Gideon Levy interviewed Mohammad Amla, a Palestinian day-laborer who for the past twelve years has supported his family (including the health care expenses of his deaf daughter) with the money he makes as a handyman in central Israel. He lives outside of Hebron but there’s always a way to get through Israel’s Security Barrier; once on the other side, Amla more often than not has obtained a legal work permit through the ungentle and wildly expensive services of an Israeli contractor. Between travel to and from Tel Aviv, rent on the dilapidated apartment he shares with six other men, and bribing his handlers, Amla doesn’t have much left at the end of the month, but even so, he told Levy, the money has been just enough to make it worth the effort.

Except that a few weeks ago, soldiers waited in ambush at one of the holes in the barrier. They waited with dogs.

The soldiers started firing rubber bullets at [Amla and two friends], and then another group of seven soldiers emerged from the Palestinian side of the fence. They were masked and accompanied by dogs. The frightened young men tried to continue in their flight back to their village, and then the soldiers unleashed the dogs [shasu klavim] on them.

“The dog jumped on me,” says Amla, “grabbed me forcefully, put his claws on my back and then also grabbed me by the neck with his teeth…. I fell facedown. I was suffocating. I felt that I was dead, dead. Unbelievable pain. And I was shouting to the soldiers: ‘Take it [the dog], release me,’ and they didn’t do anything.”

This is far from the first time that Israel has been caught setting dogs on unarmed Palestinians. The military maintains it suspended the practice in 2011, but multiple eyewitnesses and/or victims have come forward and provided testimony that attack dogs are still in use. One case involves an innocent bystanderanother, nonviolent protestors(click the second link for video of the latter event). Moreover, in each of these cases, including Amla’s, dogs were only one source of violence deployed by the soldiers in question: Palestinians typically also find themselves kicked, beaten, or shot at with rubber bullets, and in one case, a soldier dropped a rock directly on a man’s head as he lay—bitten, beaten, and bloodied—on the ground.

Each of these stories is horrible. Each is horrifying. But Amla’s contains two further truths that official Israel has long refused to admit.

The first: Palestinians get around the Security Barrier every day. They supply Israel with cheap, easily exploited labor, and are only stopped when the authorities want to make an example of someone—in which case permits are of no use because (as Amla’s story demonstrates) dogs, fists, and rubber bullets are unleashed before any questions are asked.

The second truth is buried so deep in the well-worn story of the decades-long occupation that it’s almost invisible: The dogs, and the soldiers who handled them, were on the Palestinian side of the fence. Israel is at complete liberty to do what it wants, where it wants, on the West Bank, and the point of its behavior is not merely to keep the respective peoples on their respective sides of a fence constructed ostensibly for that purpose. The point is to demonstrate Israel’s freedom to disrupt and control Palestinian lives at will, and to punish those who question that freedom.

It’s odd that after all these years and all this writing about the occupation and its inhumanities, I managed to miss “leshasot klavim,” but these things happen.

The real problem is that official Israel is banking on the fact that a lot of us will miss the phrase, and that even more of us won’t notice the activity. That we’ll sit under the bright Jerusalem sky or in our favorite coffee shops in Manhattan, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and Mohammad Amla will mean as little to us as he means to them. That we won’t give a moment’s thought to Jewish soldiers setting attack dogs on a refugee people.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Photo source Alex Levac for HaAretz


Draft resistance and bravery.

israeli soldierIt’s hard for non-Israelis to fully grasp the enormous role that the military plays in Israeli society. For mainstream, non-ultra-Orthodox Jews, one’s military service is, or is conceived of as, the formative experience of one’s early adulthood. Just as Americans of a certain class discuss going to college—unquestioned, necessary, crucial to everything that comes next—so do Israeli Jews talk about the army, with the added sense that the soldier is caring not only for his or her individual future, but for family, country, and in a larger sense, the entire Jewish people.

Which is why it’s genuinely remarkable when someone refuses to serve.

Natan Blanc, a 19 year old from Haifa, has been refusing since November, in keeping with an understanding that he began to formulate four years ago during Israel’s Cast Lead operation in Gaza. Called up for duty, Blanc informed his draft board that he would not serve, and was immediately sentenced to ten days in military prison. He released this statement at the time:

I began thinking about refusing to [be] conscripted into the Israeli Army during the “Cast Lead” operation in 2008. The wave of aggressive militarism that swept the country then, the expressions of mutual hatred, and the vacuous talk about stamping out terror and creating a deterrent effect were the primary trigger for my refusal. Today, after four years full of terror, without a political process [towards peace negotiations], and without quiet in Gaza and Sderot, it is clear that the Netanyahu Government, like that of his predecessor Olmert, is not interested in finding a solution to the existing situation, but rather in preserving it….

As citizens and human beings, [we] have a moral duty to refuse to participate in this cynical game. That is why I have decided to refuse to be inducted into the Israeli Army on November 19, 2012.

In the meantime, Blanc has repeated his refusal and been sentenced six times, for two-three weeks at a time. As +972 reported on Wednesday:

In accordance with military regulations, Blanc is being sentenced by medium-level officers in short disciplinary proceedings, sent to prison, then back to the induction base, and then tried again. There are no real limitations to the number of times this process can repeat itself, in what has already been described by Amnesty International and several others human rights NGOs in other cases as arbitrary sentencing. Blanc is sticking to his refusal and says he won’t consider turning to the military psychiatrist [note: a course taken by many who don’t want to serve in the IDF] as an alternative route to his declared and principled refusal.

For the most part, Israel tries to keep cases such as Blanc’s quiet (there are of course many other examples, both new draftees and reservists), and one can see why: The less attention paid to refuseniks, the less influence they’re likely to have on others, and the less impact their sacrifice will ultimately have on the society they’re trying to change.

Many Israeli Jews—even many leftwing Israelis, even many active in peace and co-existence efforts—would bristle at my description of Blanc’s actions as a sacrifice. “I’m sure they’re having a very nice time resting in their jail cells,” a decidedly leftwing friend once said to me about an earlier group of conscientious objectors, “while other people do their jobs.”

But sacrifice it is. The social and often familial cost is huge (witness the off-the-cuff response of my leftwing friend, and extrapolate that out to your entire high school class, their parents, and every Seder you will ever attend), and the impact that Blanc’s decision will have on his future opportunities is equally vast. If he stays in Israel, virtually every job Blanc ever applies for—from bus boy on up—will inquire about his military service, and when it transpires that he refused to serve and did time for it—well let’s just say that this young man knowingly threatened his career trajectory and entire life’s earnings before he was even at the starting gate.

Full disclosure: I have extensive Israeli family, and one family member was recently drafted. By and large, these are people who find the occupation anathema and who consistently vote for leftist parties—one has been known to vote for the joint Jewish-Arab Communist party. As far as I know, the notion of refusing service has never been seriously considered.

I do not judge my family. I live in America because my husband and I could no longer accept Israel’s demand for military service as moral, and we chose to lift that choice—Blanc’s choice—from our children’s shoulders. I don’t know if our family judges us. I’ve chosen love over clarity of vision.

While serious arguments can be made against draft resistance in a nation so often in need of defending itself, I have enormous respect for Blanc, and wish him nothing but the best. Bravery takes many forms.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.