Almost every week, photographs and video of weekly activity by Ta’ayush in the southern West Bank circulate on social media. Ta’ayush is an Israeli-Palestinian grassroots partnership to end the occupation through non-violent direct action, currently focused on Israeli activists from Jerusalem working with Palestinian farmers in the especially troubled South Hebron Hills area. The videos and pictures generally circulate among fellow activists and supporters, rarely making the mainstream news in Israel. Typically, they show some sort of confrontation between on one side activists and farmers trying to access and work on their land, by ploughing a field or shepherding a flock, and on the other side Israeli soldiers, police, and settlers who prevent them from doing so, sometimes violently. More than 300 videos documenting such routine acts of denial of access to land, often accompanied by arrests and violence, are located on a Ta’ayush activist’s YouTube Channel, guybo111, which has attracted more than 400,000 views. The videos document the routine of Israeli Occupation, the creeping annexation of Area C of the West Bank, including small acts of dispossession and coercion. As routine, the videos and events they show in raw footage, accompanied by minimal textual explanation, are rarely considered newsworthy. Sometimes someone bleeds, but it doesn’t lead in mainstream Israeli media.
This week, however, a video of one such event was picked up, by both the Y-net service of Israel’s mainstream newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, and the on-line news service of Walla!, a main Israeli web portal. Whereas the activist video carried (in English) the heading: “Umm Al Amad 27.4.2013, IOF no need to add a word!” the Y-net (in Hebrew) article is titled “’Arab lover’: Soldier documented yelling at Leftist Activists,” and in English, “Watch: IDF soldier lashes out at activists.” The headline of the article on Walla! is: “Soldier threatened: ‘I’ll give you one in the head, you’re worse than the Arabs’.” For activist circulation, the video needs no explanation or translation, the location being given by its Arabic name rather than the nearby illegal outpost settlement, Otniel, and the Israeli army labelled as Israeli Occupation Forces. The text that accompanies the video on the +972 blog, which opposes the occupation is committed to human rights and freedom of information provide more explanation
Israeli Ta’ayush activists who were accompanying Palestinian shepherds in the southern West Bank village Umm al Amad on Saturday were confronted by a soldier who lost his cool, to say the least.
According to Guy, the Israeli activist who filmed the video below, this is private Palestinian land (the Otniel settlement is nearby) that the IDF and settlers routinely try and keep the Palestinian residents out of. In the video below, the soldier can be seen first approaching the Palestinian shepherd, screaming in his face in Arabic: “You better watch it!” Then Guy tells the soldier not to scream at him and to leave him alone, to which the soldier turns to Guy, screaming: “Get out of here you Israel haters, I’ll kick the crap out of you. You are worse than the Arabs.”
He then turned to one of the female Israeli activists and said: “Shut up, Israel hater who goes to bed with Arabs.”
On Y-net news, only Otniel is mentioned, the soldier is identified as a reservist, and in addition to the testimony of the activist, an army spokesperson is quoted saying:
“Leftwing activists gathered near Otniel. While security forces were trying to disperse them, a reserve unit and an activist confronted each other. Following the release of the video, the IDF will question the reservist about the incident and the proper measures will be taken. In general, this incident does not reflect the behavior expected of security forces and the issue will be clarified.”
The longer Walla! report mentions that other soldiers tried to calm the reservist who had lost control of himself, and also provides some background, explaining briefly about Ta’ayush, as well referring to a more serious violent incident a year ago in which Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner struck an activist with his rifle butt (after which he was removed from his position). The report also quotes an unnamed senior officer in the West Bank who considers the Israeli activists to be provocateurs who stir up trouble.
So there was a minor incident, remarkable neither for harm done to Israeli “leftist” activists or Palestinian farmers, which raises the question of why this week’s incident became newsworthy. Perhaps it is news because something of the mask fell away from the occupation. Wrapping itself in a mantle of quasi-legality, bureaucratic procedures, and policing tactics, the occupation likes to present itself as calm, business as usual. It doesn’t like to appear as its racist, sexist self, according to which all Israelis who act in solidarity with the civil and political rights of Palestinians are traitors, and thus “worse” than Arabs (who are seen to be inherently bad), especially Israeli women, whose “disloyalty” upsets the ethno-sexist assumption that Jewish women should belong to Jewish men. In this light, the Ta’ayush activists are provocateurs, provoking the occupation forces to show that it has no legitimacy in claims to provide “security,” and that the very premise of Jewish ownership of all the land is racist.
More than that, the Biblical Hebrew phrase used by the offending soldier “ochrei yisrael” does not simply mean “enemy of Israel” but “troubler of Israel”. While it is a curse often flung at Israeli leftists, its Biblical provenance should be, well, troubling to the cursers. One such “troubler of Israel” is Achan, the Israelite stoned and burned (along with his family) for looting precious and idolatrous objects from Jericho during Joshua’s invasion of Canaan, for which the Israelites were punished by God with defeat in their first assault on Ai (Joshua 7). Those who hurl the insult of “troubler of Israel” at leftists are perhaps comfortable with the reminder that the Promised Land had to be seized violently by the Israelites under the leadership of the ethnic cleanser Joshua. Yet the troubling implication is that the current conquerors of the Promised Land are themselves guilty of looting idolatrous objects, in this case the land itself, in whose service they are prepared to commit all sorts of immoral acts, and all kinds of modern idolatries.
The prophet Elijah is also called a “troubler of Israel” by King Ahab, although Elijah then turns around the accusation, labelling Ahab’s idolatry as the trouble brought on Israel (1 Kings 18). Merely calling Ta’ayush leftists “troublers” does not make them the idolaters, the sinners, since the charge can be reversed. This is the trouble that Ta’ayush cause, walking in the ways of righteousness by lending support to the oppressed, and by doing so, provoking the ire of the idolaters of the land.