Tag Archives: IDF

“This is what occupation looks like” says ex-Israeli soldiers

Breaking The Silence is a group of ex-Israeli soldiers who have taken it upon themselves to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories”.

Today they put out this important message:

In the past few days thousands of people have seen the image on the right: a Palestinian child in the cross hairs of an Israeli soldier’s gun after the soldier took the photo and uploaded it to his personal Instagram account. It was shared hundreds of times, with many people expressing their discomfort with this absurd show of force where a person can aim a gun at a child just to post a ‘cool’ picture and get many shares.

The image on the left was taken by another Israeli soldier in Hebron in 2003. He later gave us the rights to the photo along with a testimony that were presented in the first Breaking the Silence photo exhibition. The solider in question took the photo using his own personal film camera to keep as a ‘souvenir’.

Both pictures are testaments to the abuse of power rooted in the military control of another people.

Ten years have passed. Technology and media have changed. The distribution of images has changed. But the exaggerated sense of power and the blatant disregard for human life and dignity have remained: this is what occupation looks like.

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The silence in Kafr Qaddum

The silence was the most telling part of the whole meeting. The silence was intermittently punctured by the muttering of an occasional word. These words though, when they came, held the weight of a thousand. In this silence I could feel the presence of Waseam Barahem next to me throughout the meeting. Even when others were speaking I was conscious of his silence next to me.

Just over three weeks ago, seventeen year old Waseam was struck in the head by a tear gas canister, nearly died and momentarily lost his ability to speak. Today he is only able to say a few words. His father, Abu Walid remembers the day painfully, “I saw it all, I saw the soldier aim directly at my child”. Accounts vary, but most report the soldiers being fifty to one hundred meters away. All accounts that I have heard agree that the soldiers were firing directly into the crowd. This is something I have seen too many times before and is something that the IDF’s own regulations prohibit.

Waseam was struck directly on his head and suffered large amounts of internal bleeding. He was taken first to Nablus but then to a hospital in Jordan for a life saving operation.

His father described to me the moments after the shooting, “At first I didn’t think it was serious, just some blood on his head. Then the man who works with the ambulance told me it was bad. I wanted to go through the olive trees [to avoid the Israeli flying checkpoint] because I was worried they would try to arrest Waseam [on the way to the hospital]. The man who works with the ambulance though told me we had to go straight through the checkpoint because we didn’t have time to go through the trees. The soldiers also knew it was serious because when we come they open the checkpoint for us. They telephoned ahead to the hospital because they knew every minute counted”.

By any account Waseam is lucky to be alive.

Less than six months ago Mustafa Tamimi died after being struck by a tear gas canister. It is a very real danger that both internationals and Palestinians face when they attend protests.

Regardless of the dangers, the villagers of Kafr Qaddum continue to protest every Friday. I asked Waseam if he was worried about this coming Friday’s demonstration and the possibility of soldiers coming into the village. His answer was short but clear, “next Friday, I will go to the demonstration”. I looked at Waseam trying to read him, to distinguish the macho pride of a seventeen year old boy from what he was really feeling. Did he really not feel any fear after having such a close brush with death?

I turned to his father and asked if he was happy with his son being on the streets during the demonstration. His answer was framed in the context of the impossibility of criticising anyone who is ‘opposing the occupation’. He half shrugged and said “I always knew he would protest”.

I tried once more to frame a question in a way that would allow them to perhaps partly express their feelings. I asked Waseam if he was worried about his friends who go to the front of the demonstration. His silence stretched out for what felt like minutes before he finally replied, “I do worry about my friends”. His gaze fell to the floor and once again we were absorbed into his silence.

The sound of scraping chairs marked the end of our meeting. I left wishing Waseam a full recovery and I asked him to promise to “stay safe”. It felt ridiculous saying these words considering the context. Living in Kafr Qaddum, even if you avoid the weekly demonstration, is anything but “staying safe”.

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A not so peaceful protest

This article was posted on the Liberal Conspiracy blog.

I was stood in the middle of an escalating protest against the Israeli occupation in the village of Kafr Qaddum. The air was thick with tear gas, panic was spreading as people were running in all directions to escape. In this commotion another round of tear gas was fired directly at the crowd. I saw someone meters from me collapse. A man caught him as he was falling and lifted him onto his shoulders. As he tried to escape other men came to help carry him. After a few meters they laid him down on the ground and it became clear he had been shot in the neck by a tear gas canister. This was the second person of the day to suffer this fate.

The former legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, Col. Sharon Afek of the Israeli Defence Force stated in April 2009 that, “direct firing [of tear-gas canisters] at persons is prohibited” and that, “very soon, an explicit and broad directive will be issued that will prohibit the firing of a tear-gas canister directly at a person.” When in July 2011 the Israeli human rights group B’tselem enquired to why they were still recording multiple incidents of tear gas canister being directly at crowds, Major Uri Sagi, of the office of the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria within the IDF stated that, “we have again clarified to the forces…the rules relating to firing of tear-gas canisters at persons, including the prohibition on directly firing a tear-gas canister at a person.”

In December 2011 the death of Mustafa Tamimi was caught on camera. He was killed by a tear gas canister fired by an IDF soldier from the back of a jeep just a few meters away. This incident caused international outcry. It was raised by Don Foster MP in a letter to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and gained wide spread media coverage.

Despite this extensive history I today witnessed another two Palestinian men being hit by IDF fired gas canisters. Despite IDF regulations stating that tear gas must be fired at a 60 degree angle I witnessed them repeatedly firing directly at the crowd. Not only does this violate the IDFs own regulations regarding the use of tear gas, it also violates International Humanitarian Law by failing to distinguish between civilian and combatant.

This however was only one part of the story of what happened at the protest at Kafr Qaddum today. The IDF tactics varied between spraying chemically produced water with a awful smell (aka ‘skunk water’, firing tear gas (at the crowd) and even using dogs to capture protestors towards the front. I was told that this boy had his arm broken by the dog before being arrested. This was the first time I had seen dogs being used at protests – a potentially worrying development.

The protest is organised under the principle of non-violence. Regularly however stones are thrown at the IDF by boys from the village despite men trying to stop them. It was reported that last week that a soldier was hit in the face by one of these stones. This reality that the IDF faces however provides no justification for their continued breach of both IHL and their own regulations. We are collecting too many examples now of the IDF misusing tear gas. It is time for the IDF to start enforcing its own standards and to live up to its obligations under International Humanitarian Law

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The missing pieces of Jayyus’ jigsaw

Children are running wild around my feet, unable to decide which is more exciting, the strange foreigner holding a digital camera, or the prospect of finally seeing Ashraf Khaled.

The atmosphere almost reaches fever pitch as rumours spread like wild fire of Ashraf’s imminent return. A car alarm goes off and people break out into a short lived hysteria. The occasional firework flies into the air, the explosion resonates through the narrow village streets and leaves the children delirious with anticipation. For the last week the village of Jayyus in the West Bank has been expecting Ashraf to return. On each anticipated release day, his family would drive to Jenin only to find out at the last minute that they would have to wait for another day or two.

For many of the young boys flittering around my feet they have no memory of Ashraf – many were still in their mothers arms when he was detained eight years previous.  Perhaps this only adds to the excitement – the prospect of the unknown.

The wait is stretched out with small snippets of information being fed to the growing crowd. Someone is sure that he has left the neighbouring village, another comments that he will be here any second. I have no idea what to expect but even I am starting to feel excited.

All of a sudden the suspense spills into carnival jubilance; a procession of cars start to pour into the village. Each car has Palestinian flags and jubilant young men hanging out of the windows, sunroofs and out of places you wouldn’t believe that it was possible to hang. One man leans out of the window holding a box of fireworks firing them into the air. Soon we are encircled with loud explosions as houses all around the village let off fireworks from their flat roofs. Car horns are on permanently, men are shouting trying to be heard over the car horns and feeble stereos try their best to compete. The children, for the first time since I came out onto the street, stand still and watch the spectacle in amazement. The street fills with firework smoke, music, explosions, laughter, and giddy men embracing.

As I stand in the middle of this all, breathing the fresh evening air, I watch a community come together in a public embrace to welcome home a missing piece of their jigsaw. I have long given up asking the reason why anyone is arrested (invariably it is either for ‘security’ or ‘stone throwing’) but on this occasion I venture down this delicate line of questioning. The answer comes back with a cynical sneer. I am told that his brother was killed and he was arrested as a precautionary measure in case his brother’s death ‘radicalised’ him.

In most modern democratic countries this story would be an impossibility or at least it would be considered to be unusual. Sadly, in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory we know that at least 308 people are currently being held in administrative detention[1]. This is a clear violation of International Human Rights standards. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) clearly states that no person should be subject to , “arbitrary arrest or detention”.

Some men are arrested for genuine security concerns, some are arrested for stone throwing, many however are held without charge or trial.

As the parade of clapped out 1980 Subaru Leones file past for the third or fourth time, I start to look beyond the explosions and the loud music and catch the occasional eye wandering into the near distance. On this night one piece of this village’s jigsaw has been returned but many more remain scattered across Israel languishing in prisons. In the last few weeks at least three of the village’s young men have been detained including the Mayor’s son. Each one leaves a hole in the fabric of this close knit community.

It remains to be seen whether Ashraf will fit back into place here or whether his body and mind has been permanently bent out of shape. Tonight the community will welcome him back with a celebration that will go onto the early hours. Tomorrow the sun will rise and cast its light into the homes of all those who have relatives in one of Israel’s prisons. For as long as the occupation continues and Israel pursues its policy of arbitrary detention the jigsaw of villages like Jayyus will remain incomplete.

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