Tag Archives: Wadi Maswadeh

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.

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When a child becomes a stone: the severity of ‘security’

Poster showing 'Aharanovitch is brave when facing children’. theatrical protest, June 27th 2013. Photo: Guy Butavia.

Poster showing ‘Aharanovitch is brave when facing children’. theatrical protest, June 27th 2013. Photo: Guy Butavia.

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’.

Wadi Maswadeh being led to detention. No photographer credited.

Wadi Maswadeh being led to detention. No photographer credited.

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.

Hebron map. Source: Peace Now website.

Hebron map. Source: Peace Now website.

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.