My apologies to readers of this blog for my long absence in posting on this blog. I am going to make up for it in the following weeks as I am participating in a program with the World Council of Churches in the West Bank (see disclaimer at the bottom of this blog). I will be here for 3 months, living in the small rural village of Jayyus in a typical house in the village but with 4 other internationals participating in the program.
During our initial orientation and training for the program, we listened to a talk by a young ex soldier named Shay Davidovich.
Shay grew up in the Ariel settlement which is one of the largest settlements in the West Bank and is situated in the Seam Zone in what is known as the Ariel finger. The Seam Zone is that area in Palestine that lies between the Separation Barrier and the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice line) and the term “finger” refers to the Seam Zone region that pokes into the West Bank like a finger, ending with the Ariel settlement at the tip.
Shay grew up in an Israeli family that had no particular interest in the issue of the Palestinians and after high school graduation he joined the Israeli military and was stationed in the West Bank. Fairly quickly into his service in the West Bank, Shay started to question his role and it’s relationship to the narratives that he had been taught as a student about the West Bank and Israel’s role in that region. This led to a gradual process of disillusionment that Shay related to us, and this process culminated in his joining the movement known as Breaking the Silence. This group consists of ex Israeli soldiers who have chosen to speak out openly about the things that they experienced as soldiers in the West Bank.
Amongst a number of other disturbing facts, Shay related a particular story of how Israeli soldiers in the West Bank are instructed as to how to conduct an arrest on Palestinian civilians. One might assume that new soldiers get involved in mock role plays using other soldiers as arrestees and arrestors, but at least in Shays case, you would be wrong.
According to Shay, soldiers are taught how to arrest Palestinians by choosing a Palestinian family that is known by Israeli intelligence to have had absolutely no connection to violence or violent demonstrations. The idea being that this would bring the risk level of new soldiers learning arrest procedures getting hurt, down to a minimum. I guess that sounds sensible to some. The soldiers would then go to the village where the family lives, in the middle of the night, usually between midnight and 5am, and carry out the arrest. The person arrested, usually the father or an older male, would be blind folded and hand cuffed (hands behind the back) and taken away without explanation. A day or two later the person would be restored to their family, once again, without explanation. The family would have no idea that this was a mock arrest. Given that Palestinians are routinely arrested and receive prison sentences of up to two or three years for, what would seem to my mind, fairly minor offences that many Palestinians believe that these arrests are just excuses made up by the Israelis to harass and control them, the upset that these mock arrests cause the families can not be underestimated.
Shay told us that as a soldier, he was instructed that the military’s job was to control the Palestinian population and that the main way to do this was to continually let them “feel your presence”. This meant that Palestinians must continually be let know who is boss and that it is the Israeli military that make the rules to achieve this goal of control.
Shay showed us a short film, that was actually made by the Israeli military, allegedly to teach Israeli soldiers how to achieve this goal of “letting them feel your presence” in the context of checkpoint duty. The video showed disturbing scenes of Israeli soldiers beating Palestinian civilians at crowded checkpoints, even while the Palestinians had their hands tied behind their backs. This video somehow made its way to Israeli television and a public outcry ensued. The soldier who in particular was shown to be handing out the most abusive treatment was court martialed and given a prison sentence. A petition, signed by 60 members of the convicted soldiers unit, said that the soldier accused was being used as a scapegoat and that this type of incident was common place and that all superior officers in charge were aware of the situation and know that it was standard procedure.
The Fourth Geneva convention, of which Israel, as well as all UN member nations are a signatory to, states clearly the responsibilities of an occupying power towards civilians of that occupied people. It states clearly that while security concerns are an issue for an occupying power, that these concerns can not be used as a continual excuse to abuse an occupied population and hence absolve the occupier of their moral and legal duty to protect and provide safety for the occupied population.
I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (email@example.com) for permission. Thank you.