Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Break the Silence!

THE Independent newspaper had a report last month from Donald Macintyre on how the Israeli army is maltreating civilians in the Hebron area.

How IDF behaves in Hebron
Saturday, Apr 19
Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army

It quoted a young man who recently completed his military service, talking about incidents in which Palestinian vehicles are stopped for no good reason, the windows smashed and the occupants beaten up for talking back – for saying, for example, they are on the way to hospital; the theft of tobacco from a Palestinian shopkeeper who is then beaten "to a pulp" when he complains; the throwing of stun grenades through the windows of mosques as people prayed. And worse.

The young man's decision to speak was "part of a concerted effort to expose the moral price paid by young Israeli conscripts in what is probably the most problematic posting there is in the occupied territories. ...Hebron is the only Palestinian city whose centre is directly controlled by the military, 24/7, to protect the notably hardline Jewish settlers there".

The young man was introduced by an older ex-soldier, Yehuda Shaul, who served in Hebron at the height of the Intifada, and is a founder of Shovrim Shtika, or Breaking the Silence, which has published the testimonies of 39 Israelis who served in the army in Hebron between 2005 and 2007. "They cover a range of experiences, from anger and powerlessness in the face of often violent abuse of Arabs by hardline Jewish settlers, through petty harassment by soldiers, to soldiers beating up Palestinian residents without provocation, looting homes and shops, and opening fire on unarmed demonstrators".

Then there was the treatment of a ten-year old boy to make him lead the way to a 15-year old stone thrower:
"The kid was really scared, realising we were on to him. We had a commander with us who was a bit of a fanatic. We gave the boy over to this commander, and he really beat the shit out of him ... He showed him all kinds of holes in the ground along the way, asking him: 'Is it here you want to die? Or here?' The kid goes, 'No, no!'

"Anyway, the kid was stood up, and couldn't stay standing on his own two feet. He was already crying ... And the commander continues, 'Don't pretend' and kicks him some more. And then [name withheld], who always had a hard time with such things, went in, caught the squad commander and said, 'Don't touch him any more, that's it.' The commander goes, 'You've become a leftie, what?' And he answers, 'No, I just don't want to see such things.'

"And the parents saw it. The commander ordered [the mother], 'Don't get any closer.' He cocked his weapon, already had a bullet inside. She was frightened. He put his weapon literally inside the kid's mouth. 'Anyone gets close, I kill him. Don't bug me. I kill. I have no mercy.' So the father ... got hold of the mother and said, 'Calm down, let them be, so they'll leave him alone.'"

Breaking the Silence is receiving support from Israelis concerned not only for the human rights of Palestinians but for the effect on their own society when young men return from military service protecting the right-wing settlers(who are armed themselves), having been taught that inhumanity and brutality against innocent civilians and children is "normal".

It is not just a problem in Hebron, occupied Palestine and Israel. When the Breaking the Silence veterans took their photographic exhibition and message to the United States there was an organised campaign to silence them, and Zionist groups mobilised other ex-soldiers to threaten legal action against them for supposedly slandering the Israeli military.

Response to the Independent report here was somewhat muted. More liberal apologists for Israeli policies will probably fall back on the last ditch that at least the existence of groups like Breaking the Silence shows how moral and democratic Israeli society is. But there is nothing liberal and democratic about the occupation, which has now lasted for two thirds of the Israeli state's existence. Nor are the right-wing settlers any respecters of fellow-Israelis' rights, let alone those of the Palestinians. Here is an item from the mainstream liberal daily Ha'aretz. Note the reference to the Breaking the Silence group as "Leftist", and police calling them "extreme left-wingers". These things are relative.

Leftist group: Police barring us from monitoring Hebron settlers
By Mijal Grinberg, Haaretz Correspondent
May 2, 2008

The group "Shovrim Shtika" (breaking the silence) said that the police have recently begun barring the organization from touring Hebron to monitor the actions of settlers. The main reason for this, according to the group, is the fact that the police has surrendered to the policies of the settlers in Hebron and Kiryat Arba.

The police, for their part, describe the "Shovrim Shtika" tours as a "platform for extreme left-wingers to enter the Jewish territory and create an imbalance in the area." The police maintain that they have not done anything that deviates from the law.

An altercation erupted Thursday between activists and settlers from Hebron and Kiryat Arba. Yehuda Shaul of "Shovrim Shtika", who has been organizing tours of Hebron for three years, said that he arrived in Kiryat Arba and turned with his group to show them an outpost outside the settlement and was then stopped at the entrance by a group of settlers who surrounded the vehicle he was in.

The right wing activists tell a different story: Noam Arnon said he and his friends were among the few people at the scene who did not surround the vehicle. He said that the car Shaul was in had driven backwards in efforts to run over another activist.

A police officer who arrived at the scene forbade the group from touring Hebron, even though the tour was already coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces and the police, and despite the fact that the settlers can travel freely anywhere in the area.

According to Shaul, this was the third such incident this week. He explained that this kind of restriction was a part of a growing trend. Attorney Michael Sfard said that the police behavior in these incidents has become "the executing arm of the Jewish settlement in Hebron, and if this behavior doesn't change, legal action will be taken."


* Palestinian ex-fighter and prisoner Bassam Aramin, whose daughter Abir was killed outside her school by Israeli Border Police, is due in Britain this week and will be joined by ex-Israeli helicopter pilot Yonatan Shapira. The two are co-founders of Combattants for Peace.

* Israel at 60 -What a State!, a show featuring Jeremy Hardy, Mark Steel and Shazia Mirza, is on tomorrow evening, May 8, 8pm at old Hampstead Town Hall. It is organised by the Jewish Socialists' Group, proceeds will go to B'Tselem human rights group, Friends of Freedom and Justice in Bil'in, and the National Coalition of Anti-deportation Campaigns here in Britain. For more info. and to enquire if there are tickets left, see

* There's a march in London on Saturday, May 10, against the Occupation, for Palestinian freedom, the right of return, and a just peace for both peoples. Called by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, assemble 1pm at the Temple on the Embankment, march to Trafalgar Square rally.

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