Tag Archives: west bank

Eden Abergil, The Product Of A Blindfolded Society

Eden Abergil, a typical product of Israel society

Eden Abergil during "the most beautiful time" of her life

Is there anything shocking about the Facebook photos showing the Israeli female soldier Eden Abergil posing in mocking positions next to bound and blindfolded Palestinian men? While her conduct was abominable, I did not find it especially distinct from the documented behavior of Israeli soldiers and Border Police in the Occupied Territories.

Below is a photo I took in Hebron in June before soldiers demanded that I stop shooting (I will release video from Hebron as soon as I get the chance). Scenes like these can be witnessed on any given day in the West Bank. Not only do they show the dehumanization that the Palestinian Morlocks are subjected to on an hourly basis, they depict the world where Abergil spent what she called “the most beautiful time of [her] life.” It is easy to see how young Israelis (or anyone) would be sapped of their humanity in such an environment.

In July, I waited inside the cafeteria of Israel’s Guantanamo-like Ofer Prison after watching Ibrahim Amira, a leader of the Ni’ilin popular committee, be sentenced by a kangaroo court to six months in prison for the trumped-up charge of “incitement” (he was accused of paying kids to throw rocks at the Israeli soldiers who invade their village at least every week, as if they needed encouragement). While I stood at the counter to order a coffee, I watched four female jailers gather around a laptop to check their Facebook pages. I wondered what their status updates looked like. If they wrote anything relating to their work, would their Facebook pages look different than Abergil’s? Of course not. Just take a trip to Eyal Niv’s blog and look at some of the photos other young Israelis are posting.

I took this photo in Hebron in June before soldiers ordered me to stop shooting. A Palestinian man was being held next to the Hebron mosque.

I took this photo in Hebron in June before soldiers ordered me to stop shooting. A Palestinian man was being near the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron.

You don’t have to go to the West Bank or into an Israeli prison to recognize that Abergil is a typical product of Israel’s comprehensively militarized society. Just watch the documentary, “To See When I’m Smiling.” In the film, which tells the soul-crushing stories of four young women conscripted into the Israeli Army, one of the characters recounts posing for a photo beside a dead Palestinian man who had an erection. She was smiling from ear to ear in the photo. However, at the end of the film, when she is compelled to look at the picture for the first time in two years, she does not recognize the monster who bears her image. Her contorted facial expression seems to ask, “Who was I?”

“To See When I’m Smiling” was produced by Breaking The Silence, a human rights group formed by ex-Israeli soldiers who collect testimonies from their peers. Incidentally, Breaking The Silence has published a 132-page booklet of testimonies by female soldiers (PDF here) who participated in acts at least as hideous as those depicted on Abergil’s Facebook page.

Here is Testimony 63, by a female sergeant from the Nahal Unit who served in Mevo Dotan:

I recall once, this was after we moved to Mevo Dotan, to the base there, some Palestinian was sitting on a chair and I passed by several times. Once I thought: Okay, why is he sitting here for an hour? I feel like spitting at him, at this Arab. And they tell me: Go one, spit at him. I don’t recall whether anyone did this before I did, but I remember spitting at him and feeling really, like at first I felt, wow, good for me, I just spat at some terrorist, that’s how I’d call them. And then I recall that afterwards I felt some thing here was not right.

Why?

Not too human. I mean, it sounds cool and all, but no, it’s not right.

You thought about later, or during the act?

Later. At the time you felt real cool.

Even when everyone was watching, you felt real cool.

Yes, and then sometimes you get to thinking, especially say on Holocaust Memorial Day, suddenly you’re thinking, hey, these thing were done to us, it’s a human being after all. Eventually as things turned out he was no terrorist anyway, it was a kid who’d hung around too long near the base, so he was caught or something.

A child?

An adolescent.

Slaps?

Yes.

Blindfolded and all?

Yes. I think that at some point no one even stood watch over him.

The female sergeant recalled the Holocaust when she reflected on her actions. If you are raised in a Jewish home, it is difficult not to see the ravages of the occupation in the light of the Holocaust, regardless of whether you know that the Israeli army’s violence bears little comparison to the exterminationism of the Nazis. Just as when I watched “To See When I’m Smiling,” Abergil’s photos made me think of Costa Gavras’ haunting Holocaust film, “Music Box.” If you have seen it, you will understand my reference. If not, rent it.

I also thought of the first stanza of “Vision,” a poem by the Palestinian writer Muhammad al-Qaisi. The poem reminded me not only of the Abergil’s public unmasking, but also of the many Israelis who told me about their experiences in the army as though they were describing some morally debased person they had never met:

I see the faces change their complexion

peel off their outer skin

I see the faces divested

of makeup and masks

and I see an empty stage

the spectators denying their own images

in the third act.

The Settlement Freeze That Never Was, And Never Will Be

Linda Forsell's photos of ongoing construction in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa expose the illusion of a settlement freeze

Linda Forsell's June 21 photos of ongoing construction in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa expose the illusion of Netanyahu's settlement freeze

With the Israeli settlement moratorium scheduled to expire on September 26, the right-wing parties in Israel’s coalition government are exerting maximum pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block the policy’s renewal. “Let’s get rid of the freeze and get back to building,” declared Israeli Minister of Public Affairs and the Diaspora Yuli Edelstein on Israel National Radio yesterday. “It’s our land anyway!” (Edelstein lives in the settlement of Neve Daniel).

Back in the US, the former Israel lobbyist and ex-Clinton Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk took to the Washington Post’s op-ed page to praise Netanyahu and Barack Obama for ensuring that “there were zero building starts in the West Bank settlements.”

During the week of June 21, I traveled through the West Bank with Swedish photojournalist Linda Forsell to document new settlement construction and the settlers’ theft of water from Palestinian towns. Forsell took a series of photos at Har Homa, a massive Israeli settlement towering over the Palestinian town of Beit Sarhour. Her photos show ongoing construction of hundreds of new settlement units — documents of the settlement freeze sham.

har homa2Netanyahu authorized the building of new settlement units just days after he announced the freeze in November 2009. He attempted to disguise new settlement construction by drawing a false distinction between the West Bank and “parts of Jerusalem” like Har Homa that actually lie outside 1967 lines. As Israeli government flack Mark Regev remarked in December 2009, “We’ve made a clear distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is our capital and will stay as such.” With a few exceptions, Obama allowed this scheme to go forward.

According to the Washington Post, Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu this week will have more to do with reassuring Jewish Democrats than with halting the wholesale colonization of the West Bank. As the Post’s Anne Kornblut reported, “The White House meeting will not dwell on some of the most difficult time-sensitive issues, including the expiration of a moratorium on Israeli settlement construction in September.” This may mean an end to the settlement freeze, but it was only an illusion after all.

The Battle of Nabi Saleh: Soldiers vs. Kids

When Israeli soldiers entered the embattled Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh on July 2, they were immediately confronted by over a dozen small children. While the IDF is accustomed to firing teargas canisters, percussion grenades, rubber bullets and even live .22 caliber ammunition at adolescent boys, members of the Nahal unit and Kfir infantry brigade tasked with suppressing the weekly Nabi Saleh demonstration were frustrated by the children who surrounded and taunted them. At one point, the division commander became so upset he barked into his radio, “I need backup!”

The spectacle of seven-year-old children confronting heavily armed and visibly confused soldiers offers one of the clearest perspectives of the lopsided power dynamic that animates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also highlights the reality of life for children in the Occupied Territories. They play soccer and dodgeball between phalanxes of soldiers firing lethal projectiles at their neighbors just a few meters away — everyday life is an act of resistance.

Why are children participating in popular protests? Consider the case of Ni’ilin, a Palestinian village engaged in popular struggle against the construction of the separation wall across its privately owned land. The Israeli army is holding three members of its small popular committee — the political leadership of the village — in harsh conditions in Ofer prison. They were arrested without charges during a night raid, subjected to psychological torture by the Shabak (Israel’s General Security Service), and are being held indefinitely.

“Everyone is scared to protest now,” Saeed Amireh, a Niilin resident in his early twenties, told me. “I can participate in the demonstrations because I am single. But for those of us who have wives and children, going to jail is the worst. How can we work for our families or know what is happening with our wife if we are taken away?” Amireh had just returned from a four month stint in Ofer prison which he described as “horrible.” He is still not sure what crime he was accused of committing. “It’s bullshit,” he said. “I’m not the one doing any violence.”

During Friday’s protest in Nabi Saleh, orders could be heard blaring from soldiers’ radios to photograph some of the older (read: over 10 years old) boys participating in the protest. The photos are used to identify targets for night raids, when soldiers enter the village under cover of darkness, burst into homes and grab the young children and adolescent boys comprising the village’s shabab from their beds.

According to Lymor Goldstein, a lawyer who represents many of the Ni’ilin residents detained for joining protests, the arrested youth are immediately subjected to psychological torture by the Shabak: they are held in total darkness, fed at odd hours, threatened, and interrogated as soon as they become sufficiently scared and disoriented. “They don’t really need to beat them,” Goldstein told me during a demonstration in Niilin. “The psychological torture is so intense that almost no one can resist it.” (Goldstein confided to me that he was having trouble recalling specific names because of a rubber bullet that pierced his skull during a protest in the village of Bil’in in 2006, causing long term damage to his vision and memory. Video of the Israeli Border Police shooting Goldstein is here.)

Because grown men are particularly vulnerable to imprisonment and adolescent boys are targeted with just about any kind of violence the Israeli army wants to level against them, young children have led the Nabi Saleh demonstrations on at least three occasions. While the soldiers acted with general restraint towards the kids (Nahal is peppered with left-leaning citizen-soldiers who have been convinced they can foster “change from within” by joining a combat unit) children as young as seven have been called in for recent interrogations by the Shabak. While the Shabak called the incident a “mistake,” it is not isolated. Nora Barrows-Friedman reported last March on a 10 year old who was badly beaten during a night raid of his home by Israeli troops, then detained in a nearby settlement for 10 hours. In Nabi Saleh, a young boy was critically injured by Israeli forces in March.

On July 2, the soldiers in Nabi Saleh wound up taking their frustrations out on two Israeli activists, Yonathan Shapira and Matan Cohen, violently subduing and arresting them. Though Shapira and Cohen were baselessly accused by the IDF Spokesman’s Office of “attacking” a soldier, they were released hours after their detention.

What are Israeli soldiers doing in Nabi Saleh in the first place? The village has been besieged by its neighbors from the religious nationalist Israeli settlement of Halamish since Halamish was constructed in 1977 on land privately owned by Nabi Saleh’s residents. Recently, the settlers seized control of a fresh water spring that has belonged to Nabi Saleh since the village was built in the 19th century. In December 2009, the settlers uprooted hundreds of the village’s olive trees in an attempt to re-annex land awarded back to Nabi Saleh in an Israeli court case. Since then, farmers from Nabi Saleh have been subjected to routine attacks by settlers and prevented from working their land. The Israeli army has come down firmly on the side of Halamish, suppressing the demonstrations with disproportionate force while doing little, if anything, to prevent settler violence. But if the spirit of Nabi Saleh’s young demonstrators are any indication, the army has a long way to go before it breaks the villagers’ will.

Another IDF Lie Exposed: Army Attacked Activists, Not The Other Way Around

The IDF claimed Yonathan Shapira and Matan Cohen "attacked" a soldier. It is a blatant lie discredited by video evidence.

The IDF claimed Yonathan Shapira and Matan Cohen "attacked" a soldier. It is a blatant lie discredited by video evidence.

On July 2, at the weekly demonstration in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, Israeli army troops violently arrested Israeli activists Yonatan Shapira and Matan Cohen. I witnessed the incident that led to the arrests and filmed them as they took place. As a group of soldiers pursued children up a small hill, then began firing teargas shells and percussion grenades at them, presumably in response to a few stones the children had thrown, Cohen and Shapira mocked the soldiers. “Shooting at children! You are so brave!” Cohen exclaimed.

Who are you gonna believe? The IDF or your two lying eyes?

Within a few seconds the commander of the IDF division (an oleh named Danny) charged Cohen and Shapira, then headlocked Cohen and dragged him into a jeep. When Shapira protested, he was thrown to the ground, violently subdued and dragged into a jeep. At no point did Cohen or Shapira attack any soldier.

The IDF Spokesman’s Unit issued a statement on Twitter claiming Cohen and Shapira — “two arrested rioters” — had “attacked an IDF soldier.” However, my footage of the incident completely discredits the IDF’s claim. As I said in the wake of the flotilla massacre, nothing the IDF Spokesman’s Office says can be trusted. Ever. The IDF’s intention is to smear human rights activists as violent terrorists while portraying itself as the blameless victim. Anyone who spends a day in Nabi Saleh or any Palestinian village engaged in popular protest against the occupation will see that the complete reverse is true.

It is worth noting that Shapira and Cohen are two of the most prominent figures among Israel’s small left-wing activist community. Shapira is a former IDF Blackhawk helicopter division leader who earned international renown in 2002 when he refused to carry out patently illegal orders to bombard densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip, then organized a letter signed by numerous active duty pilots protesting the occupation.

For his part, Cohen was shot in the left eye with a rubber bullet by an Israeli border policeman while protesting the separation wall near Ramallah. He was 17 years old at the time. While he was a student at Hampshire College, he led the first successful campus divestment in the US of companies involved in the Israeli occupation. Is it any surprise that the IDF has attempted without any evidence of its own to smear Shapira and Cohen as violent “rioters?”

I will post more footage from Nabi Saleh later this weekend, hopefully some footage from a remarkable demonstration in Ni’ilin, and a brief history of the struggle in both villages.