Last week my blog, ‘The Silliness of ‘Security’ and Puppets for Peace’, poked fun at Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch for banning the 19th annual Palestinian children’s theatre festival by closing temporarily the El Hakawati theatre in East Jerusalem, where it was to be held. The minister’s repressive order exposed the ridiculousness of Israel’s security doctrine, showing how empty Israeli government claims are about acting in self-defence. A theatrical protest against the closure used the slogan ‘Aharanovitch is brave when facing children’.
There is a direct connection between his preventing the staging of children’s theatre for Palestinian children and the real-life drama that was documented earlier this week on video by Palestinian field researchers for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Israeli soldiers from the Givati Brigade stationed in Hebron detained Wadi’ Maswadeh, aged five years and nine months, after he allegedly threw a stone at an Israeli car. The soldiers remained impervious to Wadi’s tears and the pleas of onlookers not to arrest such a young child, who was crying as he was placed in an army jeep and while the soldiers waited in his home for his father to return. For a couple of hours, the boy suffered much distress, until the soldiers handed him over to the Palestinian police (who then released him), but only after his father was bound and blindfolded en route to the Palestinian police. The seven Givati boys were also brave when confronted with a child well below the age of legal criminal responsibility, which is twelve.
The ‘security’ that the Israeli soldiers in Hebron serve is certainly not the security of its Palestinian residents, nor of the State of Israel; it is the security of the several hundred Israeli settlers in the H2 area of Hebron. H2 was established by the 1997 ‘Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron’, a follow up to the Oslo II interim agreement in 1995. Under the terms of the complex agreement, Israeli military forces redeployed from much of the city, designated H1, but maintained military control of H2, then home to some 30,000 Palestinians, as well as much of the city’s commercial life, along with the handful of buildings in which the settlers live. Not surprisingly, there has been constant tension and periodic violence between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinian residents. Israeli security measures on behalf of the settlers, which severely restrict freedom of movement and entail excessive use of force, in addition to lack of law enforcement in response to settler violence, have made life unbearable for the Palestinians, many of whom have abandoned the area. Hence, the videos documenting Wadi’ Maswadeh’s detention show almost deserted streets, while the solders’ behaviour partly explains why the area is so empty.
The latest incident is thus yet one more in a long series of events, by no means the most atrocious. Commenting on the detention, Mairav Zonshein remarked that:
what is most shocking about this incident – besides the very fact that soldiers detain a five-year old child, shocking and horrible in and of itself – is how calm everything is. There was no violence exerted by the soldiers … the soldiers, don’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with the scene they are actively engaged in; it doesn’t occur to them to question the actions.
Ami Kaufman, also writing on the +972 blog, adds that:
One has to be in an extreme state of apathy toward that child in order to treat him like that. And apathy like that can only be the product of racism.
We might expect racism to prompt hatred towards the Palestinians and Wadi’. Yet, calm and apathy prevail. How should we explain the absence of empathy or sympathy? Why do the brave Givati boys not treat Wadi’ as a child? American Jewish philosopher Judith Butler provides an answer in her book Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? Framed through Israeli security discourse, Wadi’ is not a child, but an extension of a stone, of a weapon. Operating on the principle of ‘defence without limits’ to protect Jewish Israelis and the settlers, the Palestinians are permitted no resistance to occupation, all of which is treated as offensive. The soldiers did not see Wadi’ as a vulnerable child because they have already made a prior distinction between people whose lives are deemed precarious and in need of security, and those whose lives do not count because they are instruments of war. On the same day that the story from Hebron broke, the Jewish News Service reported that:
Figures released by Hatzalah [Rescue] Yehudah and Shomron, a volunteer emergency medical response organization in Israel [sic], show that there were 5,635 attacks in the first half of 2013 against Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem, and the greater Jerusalem region.
According to the framing of Israeli security discourse and occupation, it is the lives of the occupiers that are precarious, not the occupied. The settlers must be protected from all attacks, including stone throwing, and in pursuit of that goal, the lives of the Palestinians are made as precarious as possible. Former Israeli military Hebron commander Noam Tivon said as much:
Let there be no mistake about it. I am not from the UN. I am from the Israeli Defense Force. I did not come here to seek people to drink tea with, but first of all to ensure the security of the Jewish settlers.
To drink tea with Palestinians would be a step towards acknowledging that their lives matter too, and that they too deserve security and workable living conditions. But the occupation in general and H2 could not be sustained if the brave Givati boys and the rest of the occupation forces recognised that Palestinian lives are as grievable as Israeli lives, and that Wadi’s tears and fear should be felt as keenly as those of their own younger siblings.