Sunday, April 10, 2005

Collective Punishment of the Threatened

April 9th is no longer only the anniversary of Deir Yassin. Yesterday, three boys aged 14 and 15 were shot dead by soldiers in Gaza when they ran towards the “security fence” to fetch a soccer ball. They were unarmed.

Yesterday was the 74th day since Sharon and Abbas began ceasefire talks in January. Since the talks began, five Israelis have been killed, four in the last suicide attack in February. During that same period 30 Palestinians have been killed by settlers or soldiers.[1] Another Palestinian minor was killed today. His name was Nasser. He was 17 years old.

Yesterday was also the day extremist settlers announced they would bomb Al-Aqsa mosque (Temple Mount), the holiest site in Palestine for Muslims. Such an attack would provoke a violent reaction from Palestinians that would destroy any hope for peace in the near future, effectively sabotaging Sharon’s plan to forcefully evacuate all the settlers from Gaza this summer. Some settlers don’t want peace; they don’t want any compromise at all, because they believe that they are doing God’s work and that He will protect them.

In response to the bomb threat, the army set up temporary “flying” checkpoints for Palestinians all over the West Bank. Let me repeat: the army set up checkpoints for Palestinians because settlers threatened to incite violence. It’s the same logic by which Hebron was put under curfew after Goldstein’s massacre and farmers are forbidden from plowing their land and grazing their sheep when settlers might attack. It is easier to restrict Palestinians—who aren’t allowed guns or political representation—than to stand up to the fundamentalist settlers.

I encountered a flying checkpoint on my way to As-Sawiya yesterday. Some Palestinians said they had been waiting in their cars for nearly 4 hours. They told me that earlier that day the line had stretched all the way up to Zatara checkpoint, more than a mile away, which itself had a one-hour wait for Palestinians. Most travelers probably had to wait at both.

I walked to the front of the checkpoint where I found four soldiers who were supposed to be checking IDs. One was talking on the phone and laughing and another was taking pictures of Palestinians waiting. I asked the two young soldiers why they were fooling around, keeping hundreds of people waiting. They nonchalantly went back to work. They seemed bored and apathetic. I watched them angrily and took pictures. They were very curious about me and kept asking me questions. I told them I would tell them about myself and my work as soon as it wasn’t at the expense of Palestinians’ time. They were game. Suddenly they started letting cars go through quickly, hardly checking any IDs.

The soldiers made a kind of game out of letting the cars through, teasing Palestinians with their pointing, summoning (with a wave of their hands), and stopping (with a flat hand). They often kept cars waiting a few seconds before letting them through, even if they didn’t check them. They occasionally took breaks to smoke and chat but grew weary of my glares. Once the last few cars were finally through, the soldiers turned to me and asked what I was doing. I told them I lived in a nearby Palestinian village. One said, “You’re lucky you’re not Jewish or the Arabs would kill you.” I thought that was funny, and informed them that I was in fact Jewish. They told me I was nuts and I told them they were brainwashed and that I didn’t appreciate them calling my neighbors and friends dangerous. That was the end of our conversation.

We have an ongoing debate in the IWPS house about whether or not settlers and soldiers “choose” to commit their crimes or whether they are simply unaware of what they’re doing. Some believe that people who are blind from propaganda and fear are not making a choice because the alternatives have never occurred to them. Others believe that they are ignoring the truth, choosing not to register the fundamental injustice of being able to pass freely on roads where people with a different ethnic background wait for hours or aren’t even allowed. What about all the Israelis who have no idea about what is going on in the West Bank and Gaza, just a few miles away? Is their ignorance excusable? Even most so-called “leftist” Israelis who oppose settlements don’t know the extent of the situation, despite the abundance of information available—even in mainstream Israeli newspapers like Haaretz. For many, the Occupation is just too depressing to think about. And like everywhere in the world, people are preoccupied with their own lives and families.

Whether Israeli public ignorance is involuntary or intentional, I suspect that when the Occupation ends and the injustices are exposed and condemned—and I do believe they will be some day—most Israelis will say they had no idea what was happening and how bad it really was. I guess the worst part is that for the most part, it will be the truth.

[1] Middle East Policy Council (December 31, 2004).

“Numbers do not include Palestinian suicide bombers (or other attackers) nor do they include Palestinians targeted for assassination, though bystanders killed during these assassinations are counted. However, [Israeli] soldiers killed during incursions into Palestinian lands are counted. Data collected from B’tselem, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

No comments: