Saturday, July 9, 2016

"It can happen to anyone!"

 "We are deeply concerned at the news that the Israeli government published plans to further expand settlement construction on the West Bank. This seems to be another step in the process of systematic takeover of Palestinian land which undermines the foundations of the two-state solution" said the State Department spokesperson in Washington. Prime Minister Netanyahu got the news during the high-profile trip to Africa and was quick to respond during a press conference held in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. "What the hell? We don’t agree with the Americans. Construction in the settlements is not at all what hinders the achievement peace. The only obstacle is Palestinian incitement, only that!".

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who was standing next to Netanyahu at the press conference, added: "I, too, am criticized in the West - and I criticize the criticizers. They accuse us of having no democracy? Those who say so don’t understand Rwanda. I do what is best for our people." The fact is that Kagame holds power in Rwanda for sixteen years already, and only recently his people went to the polls and decided by a 98% majority to grant their beloved President yet another seven years. To quote from the report of Boaz Bismut of Israel Hayom, (nicknamed Bibinews), who accompanied the Prime Minister's entourage in Africa: "Kagame, one of the most impressive leaders in Africa, has a world view very similar to that of Netanyahu. Both of these leaders understand each other and trust each other, they know they can depend on each other."

As part of the government's conspicuous pampering of the settlers, five million Shekels were allocated for the establishment of bicycle paths in the settlement of Kiryat Arba. On the radio news bulletin, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel - who was deeply involved with this decision, though it had nothing to do with agriculture – was asked: "Are there so many cyclists in Kiryat Arba? Would it not it be better to invest the money in creating more bicycle paths in Tel Aviv?" - "How can you even ask such a question, when a family in Kiryat Arba is still in mourning for a 13-year-old girl murdered just a few days ago?" Replied the minister. "The settlers have suffered a severe trauma, they feel threatened, their morale must be raised."

Indeed, the 13 year old Hallel Ariel was killed last week by a Palestinian who infiltrated into the settlement. The Israeli press repeatedly published photos of her young face, and Yediot Aharonot gave a banner headline to her mother's "Goodbye, My Princess!" at the gravesite. It is unlikely that in the course of her short life she ever heard the words "occupation" or "land grab". How would she have heard of such unpleasant things at the bossom of her loving family, in a home surrounded by vineyards at the edge of the settlement?

Hallel Ariel was killed by Muhammad Taraireh from the nearby Palestinian town of Bani Naim, who was himself killed a few minutes later by the Kiryat Arba security squad. He was 17, and he wanted to avenge the death of his cousin Yusef Taraireh, who was killed by the army on March 14, as well as of a neighbor woman killed last week. Probably he also had other reasons for wanting to die. Less than a week before he killed and was killed, Taraireh wrote on Facebook: "Grave, where are you? Are you waiting for me? Angel of Death, don’t you miss me?".

Military forces laid a tight siege to Bani Na'im and revoked the work permits of 2400 townspeople. Soldiers photographed and measured the Taraireh family home in advance of its demolition. Carrying out the demolition depends on getting the court‘s approval - but in the vast majority of cases the judges do approve such demolition orders, even if there is no proof of any involvement of family members. The government and the security services assert that demolishing the homes of families is needed in order to create deterrence. Israeli judges do not tend to argue with what the security services assert is needed for security.

Currently, the Supreme Court already approved the implementing of two previous demolition orders at Qalandiya refugee camp, for the homes of two young Palestinians who had carried out an attack in the Old City of Jerusalem and were then killed on the spot. Carrying out a demolition order in Qalandiya is far from a trivial affair. No less than a thousand soldiers and police were mobilized in order to achieve this aim. They entered the camp, met with the expected resistance of local youths and immediately opened up with tear gas and "rubber bullets" (i.e., rubber-coated metal bullets). Even Red Crescent ambulances trying to reach and evacuate the wounded were met with a barrage of tear gas. Eventually the mission was accomplished: closely guarded by the soldiers, the bulldozers did their job and the homes of the Assaf and Abu Habsa families were razed to the ground. Was deterrence achieved?

 The parents of the Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and burned to death by three Israelis, petitioned the Supreme Court to order the government to demolish the homes of the families of those murderers as well. So far, the government rejected such calls out of hand. According to the Defense Ministry and the security services, there are only a few isolated cases of Israeli Jews who want to harm Palestinians - and therefore, when it comes to Jews they do not need to create a deterrent, and therefore there is no reason to demolish family homes. What will the Supreme Court justices decide?

Meanwhile, at the Jaffa Military Court the trial is continuing of the famous (or infamous) Sergeant Elor Azaria, who while on service at the city of Hebron shot and killed a Palestinian who was lying wounded on the ground. Earlier this week, extensive media attention was given to the emotional (in some views, well rehearsed) courtroom outburst by Charlie Azaria, the defendant's father: "They are framing my boy! Don’t you see it? They want to put him in jail - for what? Where have we come to? What do the prosecutors know about Hebron? Had any of them ever been in Hebron? Did one of them sent an 18-year old boy to serve in Hebron? Day and night, I hear the soldiers. They talk to me. They are haunted by fear. They don’t sleep at night. They can’t walk a single meter without the fear of being stabbed. Our people are being blown up, being murdered. Is it for that that I sent my son to be a combat soldier? So that they will send him to jail? Where is the Prime Minister?"

In Yediot Ahronot, Nahum Barnea wrote:"The Israelis who demonstrate in support of Azaria do not care what the law says. They are convinced that there is no difference between shooting a terrorist who is charging , knife in hand, and shooting a terrorist who is lying helpless on the asphalt. Terrorists should be killed under all circumstances. The Israelis who commiserate with his parents on the social networks do not care about the norms in the army. They regard a 20-year old soldier as a child, who should not be held culpable - certainly not when it comes to killing a terrorist. ",7340,L-4825622,00.html

Of course, Azaria’s lawyers can’t openly present such arguments to the judges. The defense line is based on the attempt to prove that Azaria felt sincerely threatened, fearing that the person lying on the ground might be carrying an explosive device and that that was why he deliberately shot him in the head. Officers took the witness stand, one after the other, refuting such assertions and stating explicitly that Azaria had no grounds to feel threatened, and that it was up to his commanding officer who was on the spot to deal with any threatening explosive device. Thereupon, Azaria’s fans filled the social media with wild abuse and some death threats against the testifying officers.

This week, the B'Tselem Human Rights organization presented new evidence regarding the circumstances under which the 27-year-old Sarah Hajuj was shot to death at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the morning of July 1. The police version is that she was shot when holding a knife and threatening to stab a female police officer who was about to conduct a search. Witnesses assert that she had been already subjected to massive quantities of pepper spray directly in the face which completely overwhelmed her, and that she no longer constituted any kind of threat when a policeman killed her by four consecutive gun shots.

This time, B'Tselem did not come up with a video to show the exact circumstances of the killing. No official body in Israel would consider launching yet another sensational and controversial trial, based solely on the testimony of Palestinian witnesses. The adherents of Sergeant Azaria assert that "He only got in trouble because B'Tselem took that video of him" – and they are likely right.

Also this week, the army’s "Conscience Committee" heard the arguments of Conscientious Objector Tair Kaminer, who is already for six months going in and out of the military prison, and in again. Unlike Azaria, who is not being handcuffed when taken to the military tribunal, Tair Kaminer was brought from the military prison to the Conscience Committee room with handcuffs on.

When given the opportunity to speak, she told the senior officers constituting the Conscience Committee that it would be against her conscience to take part in what she regards as the cycle of bloodshed and violence. She is not

prepared to accept the committee’s narrow definition that "conscience" consists solely of pacifism and of absolute refusal to serve in any army whatsoever, under any circumstances. "Prior to the date of the call-up, set for me by the army, I did a year of community service, working with children in Sderot on the Gaza border and experiencing the harsh reality of the Israeli children who grow up in that area. The situation is also harsh for Palestinian children who grow up in Gaza or the Occupied Territories. They all learn to hate the other side. When I look at all these children together, at the future generations of both sides and the reality in which they grow up, I see an endless continuity of trauma and pain. Already for years, there is no effort to achieve a political solution, no attempt whatsoever to bring peace to Gaza and Sderot. By opting for a violent military way, we are perpetuating on both sides a hatred which would just worsen with every new generation. Therefore, I cannot take an active part in maintaining a status quo which in my view must be completely changed. That would be completely contrary to the dictates of my conscience. "

Thirty-nine well-known jurists, including five former deans of Law Faculties at Israeli universities, wrote to the head of the IDF Legal Branch, calling upon the army to recognize Tair Kaminer’s right to Freedom of Conscience. The Military Conscience Committee is in no hurry to make a decision. Tair’s parents call every day - and every day they receive the reply that the Commission continues to deliberate on her case.

And this, too, took place this week: Israeli circus artists - and three Palestinian circus performers from Nablus - converged on the Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall in Tel Aviv to express solidarity with the Palestinian clown and circus artist Mohammed Abu Saha, who is already seven months imprisoned without trial. "No to Administrative Detention!" "They arrest clowns, too!" said the placards waved towards the crowds strolling to the nearby Artisan Fair. In the middle of the street, a clown was sitting in a cage. Next to him, an activist spoke through a loudspeaker: "The so-called Israeli Administrative Detention is nothing but imprisonment without trial. Without trial, without any charge, without a lawyer, without anyone telling you of what you are accused and how long you can expect to stay behind bars. Imprisonment without trial, and it can happen to anyone! It can happen to any one of us, at any time! " At this point, two other activists approached, who played the role of soldiers. They gagged the speaker while he shouted: Help! Help!, tied his hands and pushed him into the cage next to the clown.

This little performance greatly moved one of the passers-by, who tried to burst in and release the detainees inside the cage. But the police, who were present in order to maintain order, rushed up, grabbed the man and dragged him away. While being dragged off, the man screamed: "He is right! It really can happen to anyone!"