Tag Archives: Haaretz

The Provocation: Ta’ayush and the Picnic

taayush.soldier hitting“Whose provocation?” asks the Ta’ayush activist who has recorded on video an Israeli soldier striking one of her fellow activists. Rightly, she says the provocation came from the soldiers who had come only to see what was happening, not even to serve a “closed military area” order, not even to make the Palestinian farmer stop ploughing the field next to the olive grove, not even to tell the other Palestinians, Italian volunteers and Israeli activists to get lost. So, in that sense, the blows dealt by the soldier to another activist filming him were unprovoked. He seems to have worked himself up into aggression by his own monologue about the “traitors” who were accompanying Palestinians from the town of Bani Naim to work on their land under the noses of the settlers of Pnei Hever. The local relations of occupation between the two places have been rehearsed many times before but of course the settlement has an army on its side in this uneven conflict. On this occasion, and following reports of the incident in Ha’aretz and other news outlets, even the Israeli army deemed that the soldier, Alon Segev, had used excessive force and discharged him from reserve duty. His blows were unprovoked.

Yet, in another – and good – sense, Ta’ayush were being provocative. I was with the Ta’ayush activists in the South Hebron Hills that day, August 10th 2018, but I was elsewhere, accompanying a shepherd, when this incident occurred. When after a short hike I joined the group near Pnei Hever the activist who had been hit was just being driven off to an emergency room as he was feeling unwell. Then I found this provocative scene. While the guy on the tractor got on with his ploughing, Israelis, internationals and Palestinians sheltered from the hot sun under a tree. Hot, sweet tea and coffee were served, some snacks were passed around. Various conversations murmured on in different languages, in a blend of Hebrew and Arabic about the spring connected to a cave whose water used to feed the fields we were in but is now within the fence of the settlement, about politics and peace, about Catalan and linguistics, about how the Israeli matriculation exam in Arabic doesn’t enable students to speak Arabic. By the time the ploughing was done and the picnic was packed up, I had given my address to two of the Palestinians, one who is already studying a PhD in the UK and the other who is about to come to study.

picnic at bani naim

Picnic at Bani Naim, 10 August 2018

So why is this picnic provocative? Because the co-resistance to Occupation by Israeli Jews, non-citizen Palestinians and internationals defies the accepted logic of separation between “Jews” and “Palestinians” that underlies the conflict. This relaxed togetherness and well-practiced partnership resist all the opposing practices of dispossession, estrangement, demonization and denial that fuel enmity and convince Israeli Jews that “there is no partner for peace” and they must always “live by the sword.” The picnic provokes further because it shows that peace is not made by living behind secure borders and in isolation from each other, but by confronting injustice together.

That evening I participated in another provocation, a demonstration in Tel Aviv by Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel against the new Nationality Law that enshrines already-existing inequality by asserting the rights of the Jews in Israel above all others. The law is itself a provocation against democracy, but much of the Israeli press chose to focus on the “provocation” of the display of Palestinian flags by some of the demonstrators (against the wishes of the organizers). A provocation to show that there is a Palestinian as well as a Jewish nationality in this land between the river and the sea. A provocation to gather and march together in the sultry humidity of a summer night, to protest the racism of ethno-religious superiority in a territory in which two peoples dwell. I preferred the hum of conversations under the tree to the long speeches at the demonstration, but in their own way each was a provocation to resist oppression and struggle for just peace.

anti nationality law demo

“Jews and Arabs together”. Anti-Nationality Law demonstration. Tel Aviv, 10 August 2018

Women, a child, arms and a man in Nabi Saleh.

Palestinians scuffle with an Israeli soldier as they try to prevent him from detaining a boy during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. Reuters

Palestinians scuffle with an Israeli soldier as they try to prevent him from detaining a boy during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. Reuters

When camera images “go viral” it speaks to their resonance with their publics, and their power to command the attention of viewers. They also declaim loudly about the situations they depict, echoing resoundingly the events framed by the lenses through which we see them at a distance. Such are the images of the attempted arrest by an Israeli soldier of 12-year-old Mohammad Tamimi near the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh on Friday August 28th 2015. Attempted, because women from Mohammed’s family struggled with the soldier to prevent the arrest.

The images did not go viral because it is unusual for Israeli soldiers to arrest Palestinian children. According to a UN report on human rights in the Palestinian occupied territories, “on average, around 700 children are detained and prosecuted per year, most commonly on charges of throwing stones,” which could have been Mohammad’s fate. Nor is it especially unusual to see still and moving images of these arrests. In one example about which I wrote in July 2013, 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. Wadi’s arrest was documented on video by Palestinian field researchers for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

It was also not unusual that there were images of a demonstration at Nabi Saleh. The village is now famous for its weekly demonstrations in which its residents protest the confiscation of their land and the appropriation of the spring (owned by the Tamimi family) by the nearby Israeli settlement, Halamish, in 2009. As the villagers march towards the spring, the protests generally become violent, as Israeli forces block them. Palestinians throw stones and Israeli forces break up the march with skunk water, teargas and live fire, as a result of which two of Mohammed’s relatives, Mustafa (in 2011) and Rushdi (2012), were killed. Events are recorded regularly, appearing on the Nabi Saleh Solidarity blog, local Bilal Tamimi’s YouTube channel and Israeli artist David Reeb’s YouTube channel. Both David and Balil were arrested without ground on Friday August 21st, then released by the court.

The difference between David’s and Bilal’s videos filmed last Friday indicate why some of the images went viral. In David’s video we see the “routine”: beginning with marching and chanting, the road blocked by Israeli troops who fire teargas, then other rounds, Palestinian youths using slingshots for stones and to return the still smoking teargas canisters. There is a shot of a lone soldier running at full pelt after a youth in a blue shirt, then as one of the youths is bound and detained by four other soldiers, we hear some shouts and women shrieking out of sight of the camera. Nothing exceptional here to go viral.

Bilal’s short video begins as the running solder changes direction to capture Mohammad in a choke hold and force him to the ground, fends off a young woman activist (he calls her “leftist trash”) who pulls at Mohammed’s right arm (the left one is broken and in plaster), and calls for back up. A little over a minute later, Mohammad’s sister Ahed arrives, tugging determinedly at his arm as she yells in English to leave her little brother alone, shortly followed by his mother Nariman and another Palestinian woman, and a small crowd of locals, activists, and cameras. The three women grab hold of the soldier, smacking him on the head, pulling of his net balaclava. The soldier fends them off with his hands and keeps hold of Mohammed until, some 2 minutes after he grabbed the boy, the soldier’s commander arrives, pushes one woman in the face, and then has the soldier let Mohammad go. As he is helped away by another soldier, his parting gift for the people left around the boy is a stun grenade. According to the +972 blog, both Ahed and Nariman were hurt in the tussle, needing hospital treatment, which went unreported in the Israeli press, at first, until a subsequent report by Amira Hass.

Perhaps, though, the video images of the event, including this shorter video clip that appears on the Ramallah City Facebook page and has had more than 2.2 million views, would not be so arresting without the still images. The shaky, hand-held filming and the confusion of voices in the videos certainly have a raw documentary power, but they do not quite hold the viewers to the intensity of the event. There are several stills which can be seen in this report by Ha’aretz that reflects the army’s version of events and this dismissive one by the right-wing Daily Mail. I will focus on just one image.

Palestinians try to prevent Israeli soldier from detaining a boy during a protest in the West Bank village Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. Reuters

Palestinians try to prevent Israeli soldier from detaining a boy during a protest in the West Bank village Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. Reuters

There are four faces in the frame. The soldier’s is central, Mohammad’s below him, his sister Ahed to the left and his mother the other woman closely bracketing the soldier. It is a scene of struggle, an image of power relations. There is a Zionist literary and cinematic trope of being “the few against the many.” The soldier is besieged and outnumbered, his hand bitten, his neck and shoulder pulled in different directions. The soldier also seems vulnerable, having emerged for the chase without a helmet or body armor. Yet, the trope doesn’t work in this context. He is the one with the rifle. The soldier’s father told Israeli army radio that while his son had been attacked, he was subject to a provocation, perhaps planned in advance, and was proud of the restraint he’d shown. No question for him, then, of who was really in control. Mohammad’s father Bassam tells a different story: fearing the consequences if the Palestinian youths ran to the soldier who might then start shooting, setting off a bloody chain of events, he shouted for the commander to come over.

The photograph evokes most clearly all a scene of women and a girl defending their child and relative, pinned in fear and pain under the armed man. The adult women are marked by their traditional dress that leaves only their faces and hands exposed. Ahed appears unthreatening in her pink T shirt with its Tweety Pie cartoon, her bite that of a child without the strength to combat a grown man. The pulling in different direction symbolizes the pulls between different laws, reminiscent of Sophocles’ play Antigone. The soldier claims possession of the boy according to the law of the father, of the state, and the occupation. If the boy threw a stone, he has become a weapon, and the state brooks no infringement of its monopoly on the use of force. The boy is subjected to force, to violence. The women claim the boy, Mohammad, son and brother, according to the law of familial bonds. Their hands, arms (and Ahed’s teeth) weigh against the force of the armed man. And according to the same law of human bonds, Mohammad’s mother judges the soldier to be a child too, a victim of policies that he ought to question. On this occasion the struggle between the law of the father state and the law of the family ended well relatively for the sons. To say the incident ended peacefully would be untrue, but at least it ended without any mothers keening for the dead sons.

March against racism towards peace

Heads of state take part in the march. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Heads of state take part in the march. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Against the background of the unity march in Paris, which brought two million people together in support of liberty, freedom of expression, and in opposition to terrorism, some people found an additional element of hope in the proximity of Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas among the marching dignitaries.

Children of Peace, an organization that helps “Israeli & Palestinian children build friendships through the arts, education, healthcare & sport in the hope this will lead to a peaceful future,” Tweeted a message of hope, reading the photo as a picture of potential peace. It would of course be lovely to be able to read into the solidarity expressed at the march a renewed solidarity between the leadership of Israel and Palestine in the struggle for peace.

But Twitter isn’t such a forgiving space, hardly a site for dialogue and reconciliation. Almost as soon as it was noticed how close Abbas and Netanyahu were to each other, other Tweeters were quick to condemn both of them as murderers.Capture

Very soon afterwards, one of Netanyahu’s office’s Tweets with a photo of the scene that cropped out Abbas prompted comments from various bloggers who read it as a snub throwing cold water on any hope for renewed negotiations. Alternately, another shot caught what appeared to be the coldest of visual exchanges between the two.Capture

Indeed, Netanyahu’s motivations for attending the march have nothing to do with hopes for peace. First, there are the reports that in spite of the wishes of the French government, he decided to travel so as not to lose face in his upcoming electoral competition with other Israeli politicians who announced that they would travel to Paris. So, the French invited Abbas.

More significant are a flurry of comments about the cynicism and opportunism of Netanyahu’s solidarity not with the radical, universalist values of the French republic – liberty, equality and fraternity – but with the victimhood of the French Jewish community. Netanyahu went to Paris not in human solidarity against racism and bigotry, but as an advocate of particularist Jewish nationalism, of Zionism in the form of emigration to Israel as the solution to anti-Semitism. Even before Netanyahu has spoken at Paris’ central synagogue, French Jewish leaders called on him not to treat the occasion as a platform for a call to emigration. Chemi Shalev in Ha’aretz echoed French Prime Minister Valls’ sentiment that France would not be France without its Jewish citizens, adding that a ‘Judenrein’ France would be a victory not only for the terrorists but also for the Nazis and Vichy regime. In the same newspaper Anshel Pfeiffer pointed out how the insecurity of French Jews played into the hands of the Israeli right-wing. And Allison Kaplan Sommer, blogging on the same Israeli site, accused Israeli politicians of “insensitive self-serving opportunism that infantilizes and undermines Diaspora Jewry” by calling for emigration in face of the anti-Semitic attack, the murder of Yoav Hattab, Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, Francois-Michel Saada by Amédy Coulibaly. Their comments – even if not their tone – were not far from Ali Abunimah’s blog on Electronic Intifada in which he wrote that “the idea that Jews are always alien and that hatred against them is eternal and immutable … is a fundamentally anti-Semitic one,” pointing to a “tacit alliance between anti-Semitism and Zionism,” by citing Columbia professor Joseph Massad. The writers in Ha’aretz I’m sure wouldn’t go as far as that last point (and neither would I), but in this context there is a deplorable confluence between Netanyahu’s almost direct call on French Jews (others were more direct) to abandon their homeland and move to their “historic homeland – the Land of Israel” and the anti-Semitic violence that undermines their sense of security. Just as it is vital at this time to ensure that the efforts of the terrorists, to drive a racist wedge between French Muslims and non-Muslims, be defied, so is it vital to reassert that French Jews are French citizens in every regard and for all time.

CaptureIf there is a picture of peace to be seen here, then, it is not that of Netanyahu and Abbas linking arms by a few degrees of separation. It is, rather, in the outpouring of solidarity that allows each person to bear their identity without antagonism to the identity of the other. What is true for the streets of Paris today is true for the streets of Israel and Palestine. There will be peace only when racism is confronted, when Palestinian Israelis are not blocked in their struggle for civil equality because they are “the enemy,” when the assertion of Jewish-only rights to the land is repudiated, when the demonization of Israelis by Palestinians (and others) as Jewish oppressors is dispelled, and when all have the opportunity to claim their rights, first and foremost, as citizens of the world.

Cease-force now: practising peace by documenting violence

The big news this weekend about peace between Israel and Palestine is US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s announcement that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have reached an agreement that ‘establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations’. Big news, then, that there might be another breath of life left in the Oslo process, and that if the direct talks actually start, at some point Israel will release some long term Palestinian security prisoners. At present there is much speculation and comment about the character of this agreement, about whether the talks about talks will even get as far as a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and as to whether the discussions will do more harm than good. Earlier in Kerry’s intensive diplomatic process, I suggested that it promotes only pseudo-peace, turning peace into a dirty word.

Rather than focusing on the ‘big news’, I prefer to pay some attention to events over the week that attracted much less attention. During the recent build up to Kerry’s announcement, there were two small achievements in efforts to build a just peace through non-violent action. Video footage of the detention of five-year old Palestinian boy Wadi’ Maswadeh in Hebron, recorded by fieldworker Manal al-Ja’bari for B’tselem, kicked up enough of a storm on conventional as well as social media for the Israeli army to admit that:

“We made a mistake during the event, both in detaining the boy and detaining his father,” GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon told commanders during an operational assessment conducted in the command.

The Israeli army’s acknowledgement of its error, reported in Ha’aretz a week over so after the incident, differs significantly from its initial response to the video:

We regret that B’Tselem has chosen – on a regular basis – to distribute videos of this kind to the media before clarifying the issue with the army first.

The military’s admission of error in this incident also comes after B’Tselem Director Jessica Montell sent a letter to the Legal Adviser to Judea and Samaria, stating:

The footage clearly shows that this was not a mistake made by an individual soldier, but rather conduct that, to our alarm, was considered reasonable by all the military personnel involved, including senior officers.

Border Police statement on Channel 10 news.

Border Police statement on Channel 10 news.

A second small achievement last week was also the fruit of video documentation by activists of the excessive use of force by Israeli occupation forces, which was then circulated more broadly. On July 15th there were protests across Israel and Palestine against the Prawer plan, approved by the Israeli Knesset on June 24th 2013. The plan will result in the destruction of 35 ‘unrecognized’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of about 40,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Negev, in the south of Israel. Most of those demonstrations were met with violence by the authorities, including one held at Damascus Gate. In a video recorded by a Ta’ayush activist, military border police run amok in East Jerusalem, knock over food stalls set up during the Ramadan fast, bust into people waiting in a bus queue, and push into a group of medical workers on stand-by. The video was picked up by Israel’s Channel 10 news, which pressed the Border Police for a response. Not quite an admission of fault, their statement notes that the behaviour of some of the soldiers does not match the values expected of the Border Police, promising a further enquiry.

In both cases, the achievement is quite minor. Despite acknowledgement that detaining children below the age of criminal responsibility is illegal, the army continues to do so in Hebron, as this video shows.  As for changing the intense restrictions on Palestinians in Hebron that stifle civic life – that is not even on the agenda of the occupation authorities. Moreover, as Gideon Levy reports, Wadi’ Maswadeh has already been traumatised by his experience. It is doubtful that the Border Police’s internal inquiry will change how they respond to demonstrations in East Jerusalem. Perhaps coincidentally, B’tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli was shot at close range and injured by a rubber-coated bullet fired by the Border Police while documenting a weekly demonstration at Nebi Saleh, in the West Bank, on Friday July 19th. Nor has there been any backtracking by the Israeli government on the Prawer plan. Instead, on July 16th, the day of the Jewish 9th of Av fast that commemorates the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, another unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, Al-Arakib, was demolished for the 53rd time.

In both cases, activist documentation of the use of force by occupation authorities has not only exposed that violence locally and internationally, but has prompted those authorities to admit that something is amiss. The activists, who practice non-violence and uphold human rights, have taken a small step in decreasing state violence. In doing so, they bring peace closer by a small increment, because they open up a non-violent path out of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. They increase the chances for a future peace by practicing and promoting peaceful ways not only of resisting the occupation, but also for the occupation forces to counter that opposition. Non-violent action is an embodiment of the peace that negotiators try to achieve. It is also an education for the occupation forces, a set of small lessons about acknowledging the humanity of the Palestinians and other protestors, about treating five year old boys as children not weapons, and about allowing people on an East Jerusalem street to eat and travel at the end of a fast day.

One would hope that such lessons could be learned and implemented while negotiations about peace negotiations are being held in Jerusalem, Amman, Ramallah and Washington. Just as we expect there to be a ‘cease-fire’ as diplomatic efforts to end the conflict go on, we should expect and demand that all use of force to carry on the occupation – demolitions, expulsions, arrests, travel restrictions – also be suspended. There is no such ‘cease-force’, and hence the small, non-violent steps to peace taken by activists to reduce repression by occupation forces are more concrete steps to peace than those reported in the main headlines.