+972 Magazine » Analysis http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sun, 30 Aug 2015 17:37:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 In the Israeli media, a soldier trying to arrest a minor is the victim http://972mag.com/in-the-israeli-media-a-soldier-trying-to-arrest-a-minor-is-the-victim/111227/ http://972mag.com/in-the-israeli-media-a-soldier-trying-to-arrest-a-minor-is-the-victim/111227/#comments Sun, 30 Aug 2015 17:31:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111227 After viral video emerged of a soldier attempting to arrest a Palestinian boy, the Israeli press presents the official army version rather than the accounts of the villagers who saw it all happen.

By Leehee Rothschild

At the weekly demonstration at the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh last Friday a masked soldier tried to arrest 12-year-old Mohammad Tamimi. Mohammad’s arm had been broken and in a cast since the beginning of that week, when soldiers entered the village in a separate incident.

His sister, Ahed, his mother, Nariman, and another Palestinian woman eventually prevented the event. His sister and his mother, though, were beaten by soldiers and sent to the hospital.

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Quoted extensively in the Israeli press, the army’s version claimed that the soldiers were not aware that Mohammad was a minor. It is something that would have been very difficult to miss, given that he is a pretty small boy.  And I wonder how close a soldier would have to be to notice that the boy was in fact a child, and if he still wasn’t able to notice it when he had him in a headlock between his arms. I also doubt that realizing that the boy was a minor would have prevented the soldier from arresting him. The army has arrested Palestinian children before.

The report in the Israeli daily Haaretz starts with the army’s version and only afterwards describes, briefly, the events as seen by the village residents. That version is told by the activist Yonatan Pollack, but the reporter then returns to the army spokesperson.

The reporter does not mention that those involved were members of the same family, or that Mohammad was already injured, or that Ahed and Nariman were hospitalized after being hit by the soldiers. If the Haaretz writer had made just the slightest journalist efforts, she could have easily discovered these details.

An Israeli soldier holding Mohammed Tamimi, 12, in a headlock during a demonstration in Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. (Karam Saleem)

An Israeli soldier holding Mohammed Tamimi, 12, in a headlock during a demonstration in Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. (Karam Saleem)

The reporter from the popular news site, Ynet, inserts Israeli army statements alongside a number of paragraphs quoted from an article in the British Daily Mail on the events. They report that the Daily Mail’s coverage is biased against Israel, despite the fact that they heavily rely on it. The article’s headline, “A girl bites a solder: a violent demonstration in Judea and Samaria,” paints a picture in which the village residents are those who cause the violence while the soldiers are the victims of it. They describe the demonstration as violent and present as fact the army’s claim that Mohammad was throwing rocks just before the soldiers attempted to arrest him, despite the fact that this is actually disputed, and denied by the villagers.

They describe Ahed as winning fame for screaming at the soldier and attempt to portray her as violent and dangerous. Indeed, a girl standing and screaming in the face of an armed soldier is a recognized threat.

Ynet’s inability to see the Palestinians villagers through human eyes is also apparent in that they confuse Ahed’s name with “Bilal,” another participant at the Nabi Saleh demonstration. He filmed the viral video, but is an adult man, not a young girl.

The circumstances of the demonstration and clashes were mentioned nowhere in this reporting, nor was there any critique of the consistent violence toward the villagers.

The Haaretz report portrays just another Friday in the West Bank through the frame of the Israeli army spokesman. Ynet communicates to the Israeli public that “we are the victims and everyone else is anti-Semitic.” The important question they deal with is how the world will look see us, rather than the reasons as to why a soldier was trying to violently arrest a 12-year-old boy.

Leehee Rothschild is a political-feminist activist and an MA student in gender studies at Ben Gurion University. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Why no one is talking about the two Israelis missing in Gaza http://972mag.com/why-no-one-is-talking-about-the-two-israelis-missing-in-gaza/111197/ http://972mag.com/why-no-one-is-talking-about-the-two-israelis-missing-in-gaza/111197/#comments Sun, 30 Aug 2015 12:17:29 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111197 Eleven months after the disappearance of two Israeli citizens into Gaza, it seems as if the public has simply forgotten all about them.

By Anat Yurovsky

Avraham 'Avera' Mengistu (Facebook)

Avraham ‘Avera’ Mengistu (Facebook)

In early July, the Israeli press reported that two Israeli citizens, Avera Mengistu and a Bedouin whose name has not been released for publication, are being held in Gaza, likely under Hamas captivity.

The press followed the story for a number of days, along with a bit of criticism against Prime Minister Netanyahu. And then—silence. The Israeli public has quickly moved on to other things, and I’d like to understand why. I believe that a number of reasons have distracted us from the case of the two missing persons, all stemming from one central feeling critical to the Israeli experience today—complete political despair.

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What exactly was the story? IDF soldiers saw Avera Mengistu climb across the border into Gaza in September, 2014. Over the next 10 months, it was kept under a gag order and his family was forbidden from speaking to the press–a family of immigrants requested. For 10 months his parents did not know his condition, where he was, if Hamas was holding him, or whether, at all, he was dead or alive. They also did not know, most importantly, what processes were in motion, or not in motion, in order to bring him back.

And to what extent were they kept updated? A number of days after Avera arrived to Gaza, his parents received the backpack he had left on the Israeli side of the border. The backpack was torn and full of soot, and his parents feared that he had been at the site of an explosion and that he had been hurt.

Only when they were visited ten months later by the prime minister’s coordinator for prisoners-of-war and missing persons, Lior Lotan, did they learn that the bag had been blown up by the IDF, without the presence of Avera. This information was clearly known by the authorities when they had delivered the bag to the family. Yet those responsible for assisting the family simply left it up to them to wonder if their son had been injured. The first time, in fact, that Avera’s parents were invited to an official meeting was the evening before the gag order was lifted, 10 months after the event.

But why does such injustice not merit our attention as a public?

A few guesses. First of all, we simply cannot express solidarity on every issue all the time. We live in a country when at any given time there are at least four emergencies dealing with social, political or economic problems that demand our attention. In the last month we dealt with a stabbing at the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, a murder in the Palestinian village of Duma, and all of the many implications of these two events. We are occupied by the gas deal, the nuclear deal with Iran, among others. All of these happened after the story of two missing Israelis in Gaza.

Conscious people understand that they need to choose the issues on which they need to focus, and while they chose to contest the gas deal, they were unable to also deal with the story of the two missing persons. The less activist-minded feel that the social problems are simply too overwhelming, and that they can just ignore everything. The calls against “incitement” and “oversight” and “robbery” become white noise, since they are heard everywhere and at all times.

A demonstration for the return of Avera Mengisto. (Activestills)

A demonstration for the return of Avera Mengistu. (Activestills)

Additionally, we are dealing with a situation that is multi-dimensional. When we hear of an Israeli kidnapped by a terrorist we know to be disturbed and to hope that he returns. It directly relates to our fear. We are able to identify, to feel unprotected, and primarily to understand the case in black and white terms.

But that is not what we’re dealing with. We were told that Avera crossed the border by himself, which is hard to believe. Then we learned about another citizen, on whom we have almost no information. The moment that the issue is less clear it’s hard for us to take a stand. I’ve heard rumors that the two men crossed the border in order to buy drugs and, thus, it’s not really necessary for us to make an effort to get them home, and that they are, in any case, not in the hands of Hamas, etc.

Moreover, there is a certain aspect of racism at play. The Israeli consensus does not react to news of a kidnapped Bedouin like it does to a kidnapped Jewish Israeli. I believe that many Israelis would want the Bedouin to be returned home safely, out of the hope that the state would take care of the security of all of its citizens equally.  But still, there’s a difference between this desire and the actual getting up and making it happen. When we speak of the missing Bedouin, whose name and story are unknown to most, no one will go out to fight for him.

This is also a question of resources. If one of the men were the son of a veteran Ashkenazi family, the past 11 months would not have looked how they did. Why? Because a veteran Ashkenazi family is perceived differently than an immigrant family from Ethiopia or a Bedouin family. How many journalists, state employees, and security officials would feel connected to such a family, and know him personally, whether it be from the army, studies, or last week’s wedding?

A family from Israel knows how to play the game. They have the right personal telephone numbers to call when their letters to the prime minister go unanswered. They would know to make noise if they choose, and that 10 months without an answer on their missing son is too long to wait. They wouldn’t be afraid to undertake additional steps to get things in motion. We saw how much fear was in the expressions of Avera’s parents when Lotan indicated to them that, by asking questions, they were crossing the line. Would the same have happened with a family whose parents were born and raised in Israel?

The family of the second missing man live in a town in the Negev which suffers from high unemployment and low levels of infrastructure. It is surrounded by two Bedouin villages which for the past years have been threatened with evacuation, and have, time after time, worked to delay the demolitions of their homes. Those villages have never been connected to water or electricity. They are near a farm where an Israeli family has moved into recently, and who were quickly hooked up to the necessary facilitates. This background is important so that we can understand in what context this Bedouin family lives, and what they can expect from the state.

But in my opinion, more than any other reason, we are not speaking about Mengistu and the missing Bedouin because we are, essentially, hopeless. We have no hope in the political system, in our leaders, or in their desire to lead with justice. We feel that there is really no one to fight against injustice. This sensation, one that is too easy to feel these days in Israel, to abandon the fight before we even begin. To tell ourselves that the two men crossed into Gaza because they wanted to, not to think what is happening to them now, to accept the silence around this loaded story.

The writer is an activist and a student of Middle Eastern studies and literature based in Jerusalem. This article was first published in Russian on Relevant Info, and in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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‘What’s the number of your room, child?’ http://972mag.com/whats-the-number-of-your-room-child/111140/ http://972mag.com/whats-the-number-of-your-room-child/111140/#comments Sat, 29 Aug 2015 15:59:00 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111140 Attacking and imprisoning Palestinian children has shaped Palestinian generations for decades. The more rights-deprived the childhood, the more hungry for freedom adulthood will be.

By Sawsan Khalife’

In this video, an Israeli soldier is seen chasing a Palestinian child with a broken arm during the weekly demonstration held in Nabi Saleh in the West Bank. The soldier holds him by the neck and pushes his face into the stones while the boy’s mother and sister, along with other Palestinian demonstrators, try to pull him away.

It is always painful to see such images, but not surprising. According to Defense for Children International, each year approximately 500 to 700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone throwing.

While watching the child running from the soldier and crying for help, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he knew what would happen to him if he were arrested. I wondered whether there is a room for children in the West Bank similar to “Room Number 4,” which Palestinian children in East Jerusalem know all too well.

It would be surprising to find a child, or even an adult, in East Jerusalem who is not familiar with “Room Number 4.” This is the name of the interrogation room in Jerusalem’s police station in the Russian compound neighborhood, where Palestinian residents, including children, are interrogated.

While hundreds of children are arrested annually, it is the conditions they undergo during their arrest and interrogation that represents possibly the most severe violation, under both Israeli and international law.

The name of the room comes from the Israeli interrogators who ask the children about to be interrogated, “Do you know why we call this room ‘Room Number 4′? Because when we are done with you Arabs you will crawl out of this room on all fours, like babies.”

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Nearly two years ago local activists launched a campaign called “Room number 4”, aiming to raise awareness of child abuse at the hands of Israeli police forces in East Jerusalem. The website they established serves as a platform for many testimonies of Palestinian children, and provides reports from the Madaa Center in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

Using interviews with children between the ages of seven and 17 and their testimonies, as well as statistics, the Madaa Center initiative shows the impact of the arrests and detentions.

According to the report, 63 percent of detained children are denied food, water and access to the restroom during interrogation.

“I was thirsty and hungry. When I asked to go to the toilet they told me to pee in my jeans,” said one eight-year-old child.

Eighty-three percent of the children are subject to verbal abuse, the organization reports, adding that children have said interrogators insulted them or their mothers and sisters, or cursed the Prophet Mohammed.

Night arrests are common, with 39 percent of the children arrested between 4 and 5 a.m., despite the fact that Israeli law specifically forbids the arrest and interrogation of minors at nighttime.

One mother of a 14-year-old boy recalls, “Around 4:30 in the morning we woke up to the sound of knocking and kicking on the door of our house. When we opened it, the special forces unit came in and asked for my son. They grabbed him and tried to take him outside. As they left the house I saw them handcuffing his hands and feet.”

Fifty-five percent of the children are shackled or cuffed on both their hands and legs. Fourteen percent have their heads covered.

“They left me in the room for five hours with my hands tied behind my back and legs tied to each other. When I refused to confess they slapped me and tightened my hand ties more and more,” said a 15-year-old child.

Forty-eight percent of the children are transferred to house arrest, some of them for an unlimited period of time, and most are not permitted to attend school.

“I would rather be in jail than in house arrest so I won’t look out the window and see my friends playing while I cannot,” said a 14-year-old after 10 months of house arrest.

Seventy-seven percent of the children are physically abused, including being punched at the time of arrest or during the interrogations. Twenty-seven percent of them require long term medical care.

Eighty-three percent of the children do not understand the documents they sign in Hebrew.

“The policeman told me to sign, then they used my fingerprint to sign. I don’t know how to read Hebrew,” said a 13-year-old child.

Forty-two percent of the children drop out of school after their arrest.

“My child was a good student,” said one mother. “I was dreaming that he would become a doctor or an engineer… But now he is in prison and I don’t know what his future will be.”

Not one child interviewed by Madaa was allowed to receive a visit from family members or to make a phone call while in detention. In addition, 90 percent underwent an initial interrogation without the presence of their parents.

Thirteen percent of the children were subjected to full body searches.

“They wanted me to undress and search me. I refused. They pressed an electric taser against my body several times till I gave up and took off my clothes,” said a 16 year old.

During the interrogations, thirteen percent of children reported being asked by the investigators to become collaborators in order to pass information to the police. They are offered benefits and favors in return, including the promise that all charges be dropped.

“A man stopped me in the street, gave me 200 shekels and asked me to tell him the names of the kids who throw stones,” said an 11 year-old.

What is the number of your room, child?

Even though Room Number 4 is reserved for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the child in the video must have in mind another room that drove him to run for his life. And I wonder if it has been named as creatively as the room famous for making people “crawl on all fours.”

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I was surprised that the soldier in the video felt the need to cover his face. He shouldn’t fear being exposed, as he won’t be charged with anything. He surely has the support of the majority of Israelis who justify the occupation, many of whom are legally obligated to play an active role in it.

An armed soldier running after an injured child who is crying for help — isn’t the IDF the “most moral army in the world”?

Well, not quite. The IDF imposes a shameful occupation that misleads some to take part in it, and makes them less human. No one expects the Israeli government to have any interest in the rights of Palestinians, but if it had truly the interest of its young Israelis in mind it would simply stop turning these young soldiers into inhumane individuals, and end the occupation.

Sawsan Khalife’ is an independent journalist.

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Why a pro-settler group wants to talk about ISIS http://972mag.com/why-a-pro-settler-group-discusses-isis-destructions-of-antiquities/111089/ http://972mag.com/why-a-pro-settler-group-discusses-isis-destructions-of-antiquities/111089/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 13:57:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111089 An Israeli group working in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan is presenting ISIS destruction of antiquities as a cautionary tale for its own struggle with Palestinians.

By Yonathan Mizrachi

Archaeological dig at City of David (rachelsharon/CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Archaeological dig at City of David (rachelsharon/CC BY NC ND 2.0)

A group that manages the City of David’s archaeological site in the heart of the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem, the “Elad Foundation in the City of David,” is holding its annual archeology conference, entitled “ISIS: Is it possible to stop the destruction?” It will deal in part with the destruction of antiquities in Iraq and Syria.

That the so-called ISIS group is destroying ancient ruins is indisputable. The organization documents it with videos and is proud of what it sees as symbolic conquests. Just this week the destruction of a major temple in the biblical city of Tadmor (Palmyra) in Syria was reported. But the conference title implies that aside from concern for antiquities and heritage, someone is also considering measures to prevent the destruction.

Elad is not interested in the destruction of antiquities in Iraq, but rather, here, in Silwan, on the Temple Mount, and in East Jerusalem. They say “ISIS” but the intention is perceived here in Jerusalem as “Islamic extremists.” Israeli organizations has not prevented the destruction of antiquities in Iraq and Syria, and, so far, neither has the international community. However, if we focus on the Israeli discourse on the destruction of antiquities, then, according to Elad there is much to be done.  The group has seen itself for a long time now to be on the forefront of fighting Muslims’ destruction of ancient ruins.

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After construction undertaken by the Islamic Waqf led to the destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif in the 1990s, it was Elad which invested funds and acted to sift the debris dumped into the Kidron Valley. To this day, it is one of the key projects that Elad finances and operates in East Jerusalem. But this activity, presented as an attempt to rescue the antiquities of the Temple Mount, has no archeological value and its importance is primarily educational and political, both in terms of having archaeologists engaged in sifting through the dirt, and with its links to settlers in East Jerusalem.

The message is clear: Muslims aims to destroy antiquities and Israel intervenes to prevent such atrocities.

Elad’s main struggle is to control Silwan. It operates the City of David archaeological site as a means of strengthening its grip on the village and presenting itself as an archaeological body interested in the ancient heritage of Jerusalem. In the eyes of the settlers who live in Silwan, only Elad is able to protect the antiquities. The Palestinians, they claim, are uninterested in them, or likely to harm the archaeological site once Israelis leave.

ISIS’ destruction of antiquities is raising fundamental questions about the relationship between archaeology and the western presence in the Middle East, such as, how the West makes use of archeology and who is responsible for antiquities and heritage sites. Archaeology began with colonialism in the Middle East in the early 19th century. In the past, the West saw a need to explore the sites and transfer the archaeological remains to its own palaces and museums. Later on, these ancient sites became part of the sovereign states wherein they were located. But even then, most of the research was done by western universities and the majority of visitors came from the West. The antiquities trade is also based on western customers who buy stolen antiquities from dealer coming from Arab countries.

From the 18th to the early 20th century, excavations were done without a coherent method, with an objective of finding valuable artifacts. These excavations damaged ancient sites as well as our ability to understand their evolution and history. Until the arrival of colonialism in the Middle East, a significant portion of the sites remained intact for thousands of years.

While archaeological research has long disregarded many of the methods used in past centuries, in Jerusalem, the Elad-funded Israel Antiquities Authority still considers them as legitimate tools in Silwan and in the Old City. For example, in the Givati Parking Lot excavations, the IAA removed Muslim layers, and excavated using tunnels and in underground spaces–methods that destroy antiquities and have been discontinued a century ago.

What the West did and sometimes is still doing in the name of the law or under rules it has devised and which are ostensibly in place to preserve heritage sites, ISIS does in front of cameras in the form of documented destruction. ISIS is destroying antiquities perceived to be part of a legacy of heresy and association with the West.

ISIS and right-wing organizations in Israel and the West are using archaeology for the same purpose–to distinguish themselves from others and to portray a division between ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ In conservative circles in the West that see Islam as a threat, the shock from the destruction of antiquities is related to the perception of the gap between the two cultures.

It is easy to forget that the Palestinians are not ISIS, that Elad is not a protector of antiquities as it presents itself to be, and that Jerusalem is a city whose heritage is shared. No matter how many ancient sites are being destroyed in the war in Syria or Iraq, it is here in Jerusalem where joint preservation of the relics of the past will ensure the future of those places and our ability to respect and accept one other.

Yonathan Mizrachi is an archaeologist and director of Emek Shaveh, an organization which deals with the role of archeology in the political conflict and in Israeli society

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The IDF presents: Looting West Bank homes under the guise of a search http://972mag.com/the-idf-presents-looting-west-bank-homes-under-the-guise-of-a-search/111047/ http://972mag.com/the-idf-presents-looting-west-bank-homes-under-the-guise-of-a-search/111047/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 13:34:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111047 In the West Bank, IDF soldiers have in numerous instances burst into a Palestinian house, wreaked havoc, and disappeared with the money and the gold.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

IDF Soldier During a House Raid near Hebron. Photo:Meged Gozani/Activestills.org

IDF Soldier During a House Raid near Hebron. Photo: Meged Gozani/Activestills.org

The place: the West Bank village of Kalil. The time: 1:30 a.m., the beginning of June 2015.

Athmad Aziz Shakhada Mansour, a social activist and a member of the village council, wakes up from a noise she has become accustomed to: violent knocking on the front door of the house. She instructs her husband to secure the money and gold the family holds for the wedding of their son M., who is supposed to marry in two days’ time.

The noises continue. Mansour goes to open the door. A large group of hooded soldiers burst into the house. Somehow, the strange custom of IDF soldiers to hide their faces, as if they were not in charge of law enforcement but rather breaking it—as if they were thieves in the night—has become a fixture over the past few years, while the public remains silent.

The soldiers, as usual, gather the residents of the house into one room and forbid them from leaving. When they enter the bedroom, they find Mansour’s husband trying to pack up the money and gold. The husband tells them loudly that he wants to protect the gold. Some of the soldiers answer in fluent Arabic, Mansour later remembers, that soldiers are not thieves.

The soldiers conduct a search of the house. They are probably looking for arms. They detain Mansour’s husband and her son, S., while shouting, “Tell us where the weapons are! You have weapons, surrender them and we’ll release the detainees! You have a wedding in two days, you wouldn’t want the father and one of the brothers to be held custody!”

Finally, the soldiers give up and leave, taking the son, S., with them, but releasing the father. They didn’t find any weapons. A week later S. is released without charge.

Once the family leaves the room where they were held, they find the usual trail of destruction — a hallmark of a visit by the IDF. The chicken feed spilled on the floor, all of the dishware thrown from the cupboards, and the contents of the drawers thrown on the ground.

Among the missing objects is 30,000 NIS ($7,950) in cash, as well as 22 gold coins, purchased for M.’s wedding.

The soldiers, as we understand it, likely had a legitimate reason to break into the house at night. They may well have had a legitimate reason to detain S., as well, but we have no idea what that reason is. The disappearance of the money and gold after the search, however, indicates a case of looting. Again, IDF soldiers are allowed to confiscate property that may be suspected of being used in the committing of a crime. They must, however, supply the owners with a written confirmation of the confiscation. In the absence of such a document, the assumption should be that we are dealing with looting. Mansour heard from her daughter-in-law, S.’s wife, that 8,000 NIS ($2,120) were also stolen from his house (on the lower floor of the building) during the same search. However, we do not have a direct testimony regarding that claim.

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Looting is a war crime. Although Israeli military law does not call it that by name, it nevertheless carries a punishment of 10 years in prison. This isn’t the first case of looting on part of the IDF that we know of. We documented one case in February 2013, in which soldiers vandalized a home and looted money from it. In September 2013, we documented a case in which soldiers burst into a house (the wrong one, as it turned out) and vanished with a woman’s life savings.

The very violent Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank in 2014 included several cases of looting. One of them, a year ago, looks like a direct copy of Mansour’s story. Soldiers burst into a house to look for weapons, didn’t find them, and made off with gold. In another case, in which the soldiers acted as if they had come for the sole purpose of confiscating money (they left no receipt) one of the soldiers broke a child’s piggy bank and stole its contents. In yet another case, the soldiers came to a house, took the money – which turned out to be tax money paid by the townspeople – and told the owner he would receive a receipt from the police. The owner didn’t know what he was talking about. In another instance of looting, soldiers took an envelope full of money that had been hidden by the homeowner on her body, while also stealing hundreds of shekels from her purse. This is just a partial list of cases of looting, which also took place during Operation Protective Edge (for which the IDF’s Military Advocate General ordered several indictments), and the looting of the Mavi Marmara detainees in 2010 (Hebrew). Earlier examples can be seen here.

Therefore when the soldiers of the most moral army in the world claim that they are not thieves, we cannot take them at their word.

Looting cannot be excused, and what we cannot excuse, we suppress. When we suppress, we become silent partners in a war crime.

So here it is, in full view. Do with it as you will. You can no longer say, however, that you did not know.

Our attorney, Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, sent a complaint in late June to the Operational Affairs Attorney, Lt. Col. Adoram Riegler, demanding an urgent investigation both of the soldiers and of their commanders (who have command responsibility, which MP-CID often ignores.) We will keep you posted on developments, although history cautions us not to expect too much from the military justice system.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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Israel’s new police chief: Architect of segregated West Bank roads http://972mag.com/israels-new-police-chief-architect-of-segregated-west-bank-roads/111017/ http://972mag.com/israels-new-police-chief-architect-of-segregated-west-bank-roads/111017/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 11:47:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111017 Three things to know about Gal Hirsch, Israel’s incoming police chief who has supported segregated roads and the shooting of a Palestinian youth.

Gal Hirsch (Police spokesperson)

Gal Hirsch (Israel Police Spokesperson)

1. During the Second Intifada, following a number of sniping and fire bomb attacks by Palestinians on Israeli cars, incoming police chief Gal Hirsch banned Palestinians from traveling on Route 443, turning it into a road for Israelis only. This despite the fact that the road was built on private and public Palestinian land, and with the understanding that Israel would see the road as a way to serve local Palestinian residents. This also created a situation in which Palestinians aiming to shoot Israeli cars could do so easily, since the road was made exclusively for Israelis.

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In 2009 the High Court rejected the racist policy of separation on Road 443. However, the army found ways to circumvent the decision. Today, although Palestinians are now allowed to travel on the road, traffic arrangements work to direct them to use poorer, alternative roads.

2. After being forced to leave the IDF in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, Hirsch became an independent contractor and started a company called “Defensive Shield,” after the name of the 2002 operation on Gaza in which he served as a top general. The company’s site reveals that it specializes in “supplying combat, police and military equipment,” in addition to providing security consultancy, among other fields.

3. Hirsch was recently among those who backed Brigade Commander Israel Shomer, who shot and killed a Palestinian stone-thrower, firing three bullets at his back and head. Hirsch described the boy as a “terrorist,” and justified shooting, despite a video that clearly shows that Shomer chose to get out of his military vehicle, chase the Palestinian boy who was trying to escape, and shoot him in the back even though there was no apparent threat to his life.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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License to Kill: Stone-throwing while Palestinian could get you killed http://972mag.com/license-to-kill-stone-throwing-while-palestinian-will-get-you-killed/110972/ http://972mag.com/license-to-kill-stone-throwing-while-palestinian-will-get-you-killed/110972/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 14:53:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=110972 An IDF brigade commander earns praise from the political establishment for killing a Palestinian stone-thrower, while soldiers are commended for using ‘restraint’ in the face of Jewish stone-throwers. The fourth installment in a series examining the case files of soldiers who killed unarmed Palestinian civilians. [Read parts onetwothree, and four]

By John Brown* and Noam Rotem
Translated from Hebrew by Ofer Neiman

Palestinians throw stones at an Israeli military jeep during a Nakba Day protest in the village of Al-Walaja. (photo: Activestills.org)

Palestinians throw stones at an Israeli military jeep during a Nakba Day protest in the village of Al-Walaja, May 15, 2014. (photo: Activestills.org)

On Friday, July 3, Colonel Yisrael Shomer, commander of the Binyamin Brigade, shot two bullets into the back of 17-year-old Muhammad Ali-Kosba, and another in his head. Shomer claimed the boy was throwing stones at his vehicle.

The political establishment was full of praise for the colonel’s conduct due to the “life threatening” situation, stating that he acted “as was expected of him” in such circumstances. Praise also came from General Roni Numa, head of the Central Command, whose track-record of treating Palestinians life with disregard has been covered in the past [Hebrew]. How can a youth who is shot in the back pose a threat at that moment? And how could he keep posing a threat to the commander after two bullets had already entered his body? This has yet to be explained.

In previous installments of the License to Kill series, we examined cases in which Palestinians were killed while not posing any threat to IDF soldiers. As part of our research for this series, we have examined tens of cases in which IDF soldiers fired live ammunition at young Palestinians who were allegedly throwing stones at them. In every single one of the cases, not a single soldier was found guilty. The shooters were never required to pay for their actions, even though in some cases their own commanders admitted they had lied, solicited perjury, or violated orders and fired for no reason.

Restraint in the face of a lynch mob

This is one side of the equation. The other side is the impressive restraint which IDF officers and soldiers manage to show when these very stones are being thrown at them by Israeli Jews. The direction and velocity are the same, but the national identity, so it seems, can turn these stones into cotton candy.

Settlers throw stones at Palestinians as IDF soldiers stand by in the West Bank village of Asira al Qibliya. April 30, 2013 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Settlers throw stones at Palestinians as IDF soldiers stand by in the West Bank village of Asira al Qibliya, April 30, 2013. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

There is no other way to explain how just three years ago, when rocks were hurled at the vehicle of the Ephraim Brigade commander, wounding him and his deputy, he showed impressive restraint and did not fire even one shot. Another officer managed to control himself and not kill anyone even after he was brutally attacked and the windshield of his car was smashed by ultra-Orthodox Jews in the heart of Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood. Givati Brigade officials praised the officer: “This came close to a lynching, but he showed restraint, and did not use his weapon even though he felt threatened when they hurled rocks at his car.”

Similar restraint was shown in tens of other cases, for example when settlers threw stones at a U.S. Consulate convoy, or when Jews in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Gilo allegedly threw stones at a bus whose driver was Arab. In another case, settlers reportedly rioted for no reason (according to a security official), and threw stones at Palestinian cars, severely injuring one of the drivers. Here are dozens of additional cases.

Another example occurred at a demonstration by thousands of ultra-Orthodox men against the new IDF draft policies, when 10 policemen were injured by stone throwing. Restraint sometimes coincides with the protection of the stone throwers, specifically when the latter are Israeli settlers and the targets are Palestinian. There are hundreds of examples of such impressive restraint.

Illustrative photo of ultra-Orthodox Jews throwing stones. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of ultra-Orthodox Jews throwing stones. (Photo by Activestills.org)

In fact, to the best of our knowledge — and following a comprehensive review — it seems that not a single Israeli Jew has ever been shot by the IDF while throwing stones.

Dozens of cases — no one found guilty

In December of 2015, a soldier shot 16-year-old Imam Jamil Ahmad Dweikat in the back during an ambush, allegedly after the latter intended to throw stones. Key word: intended. In March 2014, soldiers shot Saji Sayel Muhammad Jarab’ah in the head during an ambush, because he too intended to throw stones. In November 2014, a sniper from the Givati Brigade shot 15-year-old Wajih Wajdi a-Ramahi in the back, killing him from a distance of 200 meters, allegedly because the latter had thrown stones in the soldier’s direction. In June 2014, soldiers shot and killed Ahmad Arafat Hussni Samad’ah, allegedly after he threw stones. They also shot 14-year-old Muhammad Dudin in the chest.

But that’s not all: In August 2014, an IDF force shot 10-year-old Khalil Anati in the back as he was fleeing into an alley in Al-Fawar refugee camp, and the soldiers who killed him later claimed that he was with youths who threw stones. In July 2013, an officer from the Kfir Brigade shot 18-year-old Mu’taz Idris ‘Abd al-Fatah Sharawnah to death after the latter threw stones at his bulletproof jeep. The officer claimed he shot Sharawnah in the leg, but an autopsy showed that he had lied, and in fact he had shot him in the back.

No one has been found guilty in numerous other cases.

Substantial contradictions

In September 23, 2011, Issam Badran from Qusra was shot in the head during a demonstration. The company commander at the scene said he had obtained the deputy regiment commander’s permission, and that he had ordered the shooting after sensing that his life was in danger. The deputy regimental commander claimed that the company commander was lying, that all they had to do was get into their vehicles and drive away, and that there was no need for live fire. In fact, Badran did not throw stones at all, and the shots were aimed at someone else. This did not matter to the armed officer; the case was closed and no one was found guilty.

An Israeli soldier aims a rifle loaded with rubber-coated steel bullets during clashes in Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, November 29, 2013. This day's clashes followed several days of confrontations after the killing of three Palestinian militants by Israeli forces in Yatta. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

An Israeli soldier aims a rifle loaded with rubber-coated steel bullets during clashes in Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, November 29, 2013. This day’s clashes followed several days of confrontations after the killing of three Palestinian militants by Israeli forces in Yatta. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

On December 3 2006, an IDF captain fired a live bullet into the back of 15-year-old Jamil Jabji’s head in Nablus. Stones had been thrown at a military jeep while it was driving on the road. The jeep stopped, the officer stepped out, and despite not facing life-threatening danger inside the bulletproof vehicle, the officer aimed his weapon and fired a live bullet. He was wearing a ceramic flak jacket, a vest and a helmet. No warning shots were fired; no procedure for arresting a suspect was followed. One live bullet, and the officer went back to the jeep, leaving the Jabji’s lifeless body in the fallow field. Again, the case was closed and no one has been found guilty.

Last summer, an officer in one of the brigades charged with enforcing military rule in the West Bank was recorded saying:

The goal was indeed to do a sort of…bringing forces – serious forces, not just forces – enter the village and walk around…place sniper teams, scout teams, all kinds of such forces…Simply with the intention of the entire regiment going in, with the goal of exciting the people who love this riot, so that they start making a riot, and throwing stones…And that was the goal indeed, just let them start making a riot…and take down whoever is making a riot.

The soldiers regard a stone as a real license to use live ammunition. The means justify the end.

A life-threatening situation?

The cases presented here make up a very partial list out of all those we have reviewed. In every case, the soldiers stated they had felt their life was in danger, which was the reason they gave for shooting to kill. The IDF, despite substantial contradictions in the soldiers’ testimonies, chooses to absolve itself time after time, concluding that nothing happened — that the deceased are fully responsible for their own death.

Not a single IDF soldier has been killed as a result of stone throwing. The “life-threatening situation” is actually a threat to Palestinians, tens of whom, if not hundreds, have been killed by IDF fire in such circumstances over the years.

WATCH: Soldier turns a blind eye to settler stone-throwing

In reality, the truth is the exact opposite of what the soldiers claim; they sense the threat which they themselves pose to Palestinians. The IDF praises lethal responses when these are purportedly in line with the army’s open-fire procedures, expecting soldiers to act in this manner. By contrast, when the people standing in front of the soldiers are Jews, the IDF praises the soldiers’ restraint.

Do stones constitute a life-threatening situation or not? Is shooting to kill the only acceptable form of conduct in cases of Palestinian stone throwing? Why are shots not even fired in the air when Jews throw stones? Why do soldiers stand idly by when stones are hurled at Arabs? Are Jewish stones softer?

One should note that Jews have the right to demonstrate and the right to democratic participation, hence they have the privilege of alternative ways of protesting. Those same rights are denied to Palestinians across the occupied territories, where any form of demonstration, assembly, and protest is deemed illegal.

Jewish lives have a price

The answer is obvious. IDF soldiers know that they will get in trouble if they shoot Jews and praised if they shoot Palestinian youths, even when the latter are unarmed. The way they view life-threatening situations is affected accordingly.

As in the cases of incitement on social networks, when only Arabs are imprisoned, or those in which houses belonging to Palestinian terrorists — but not those of Jewish terrorists — are demolished, here too we are witnessing racist enforcement. This must stop, certainly when the penalty is death.

*John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and blogger. Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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The Jewish prisoners who went on hunger strike in Iraq http://972mag.com/the-jewish-political-prisoners-who-undertook-hunger-strikes/110856/ http://972mag.com/the-jewish-political-prisoners-who-undertook-hunger-strikes/110856/#comments Sat, 22 Aug 2015 18:10:07 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=110856 Like Palestinians today, Jewish hunger strikers used the method to demand fair trial and better jail conditions in 1950s Iraq.

Orit Bashkin

Simulation of abu-Ghraib cell block in Iraq.

Simulation of abu-Ghraib cell block in Iraq.

Some have compared the act of hunger striking to terrorism, claiming that there is no difference between a suicide bomber who targets civilians on a bus and a political prisoner who puts himself on the verge of death.

These types of comparisons are baseless, of course. And it is also important to remember that hunger strikes have played an important role in the struggle of political prisoners, from suffragists in America to Mahatma Gandhi in India, as a means of resisting unfair detentions and court decisions the prisoners have deemed illegal.

Many Jews were imprisoned for political reasons, because of anti-Semitism, or because of their connections to radical or Zionist organizations (including this writer’s own great grandfather, who was imprisoned in Russia because he was a Zionist and escaped to mandatory Palestine in 1927). And even in the prisons of mandatory Palestine, communists and revisionists used hunger strikes as part of their political battles.

In Iraq, the subject of my research, Jewish prisoners used hunger strikes in the 1950s.

Since the mid-1940s, two illegal underground organizations had been growing in influence in Iraq among Jewish youth and students: the Zionist and the Communist. The Zionist movement was smaller, in contrast to the Communists, who exerted influence throughout all of Iraq and included all faiths.

The Iraqi government brutally repressed both movements. Many Jews who were, in fact, neither Zionist nor communist, were arrested by the state in 1948 on the false accusations that they were members of those organizations.

One of the most infamous prisons in Iraq was Nuqrat al-Salman, a fortress in the desert where Jewish and non-Jewish political prisoners were kept. In 1951, Nukqat al-Salman held 50 Jewish prisoners out of the 162 political prisoners; 8 Jews had been stripped of their nationality. Paradoxically, moreover, the jails in Iraq became a hotbed for political activity, given that they contained such a concentrated number of Communists.

In July 1951, the prisoners began a hunger strike, which quickly became a nation-wide event. The political prisoners argued that the court which judged them did not have the authority to do so—part of them were, in fact, judged by emergency laws imposed in 1948—and demanded that the prison be closed.

The Iraqi opposition, from both the left and the right, reported on the hunger strikes and the tortures through their newspapers. Protests broke out in Baghdad and in Basra to display support for the hunger strikers. Until today, the 1950s hunger strike protests are remembered as one of the critical aspects of what became a wave of protests against the regime.

Another case relates to a 16-year-old girl, Regina Lukai (now Herzliya Lukai) from Irbil in northern Iraq, who had been arrested because she simply had a letter in Hebrew. She recalls being imprisoned in Irbil with male prisoners who protected her from the police guards.  She was then transferred to Baghdad, interrogated and, though she was not provided an attorney, was sentenced to a two year imprisonment on charges of cooperation with Zionism.

She served six months in Baghdad, and then was again transferred to a prison in Irbil, where she joined communist female prisoners and needed to pretend to be a communist in order to be in their graces. Together, the women began a hunger strike, and Regina was on her 21st day when she was force fed along with her fellow inmates. On the way to the force feeding, the women screamed that they were political prisoners. The strike itself was covered in the press.

Regina, who was ultimately released and celebrated in her city of birth, was the subject of a film shown on Israeli television in 1989 called “Tsamot.” The hunger strike frames the narrative and appears in the beginning and the end of the story.

I assume that at this point many readers might be annoyed, and rightly so. After all, there is nothing alike in the Zionist and Communist undergrounds and the Islamic Jihad of which Mohammad Allan is allegedly a member. The undergrounds in Iraq were secular and modern. The communists encompassed all religions and protested sectarianism. These organizations have nothing in common with Islamic Jihad in their world view or their tactics.

However, all hunger strikers – Iraqi and Palestinian, Muslims, Christians, and Jews – raised similar claims: that prisoners are entitled to the right of a fair trial, that an attorney present their case, that their imprisonment conditions be fair, and that torture would not be a part of their “interrogations.”

From a meeting with a former Jewish communist who was imprisoned in Iraq because of his political activity, who until today suffers from medical complications as a result, I remember him telling me, “You know, the political prisoners today [speaking of those here and in the US], suffer more.”

Much humanity is required of a man who was tortured to identify today with prisoners whose perspectives and acts are very different than his own. But it seems like this humanity, in relation to prisoners in our society in general, and to political prisoners in particular, is sorely absent in Israel today.

And finally a short historical note on the right-wingers in Israel. Some seem to envy the “accomplishments” of Margaret Thatcher, to whose funeral our prime minister rushed a while ago. The “brave” Margaret Thatcher, who allowed Irish hunger strikers to die during the hunger strikes of the IRA in 1981 is a leader they wished Israel had. The actions of the Irish Michael Collins or Eamon de Valera (a famous hunger striker in his own right) were admired by members of the Stern Gang like Yitzhak Shamir, Aba Ahimeir, and others in the Israeli right. During that period, their fight against British imperialism was considered a noble cause.

Professor Orit Bashkin is a historian dealing with modern Middle Eastern history who teaches at the University of Chicago. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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What if the state is counting on our brain damage? http://972mag.com/what-if-the-state-is-counting-on-our-brain-damage/110838/ http://972mag.com/what-if-the-state-is-counting-on-our-brain-damage/110838/#comments Sat, 22 Aug 2015 11:02:13 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=110838 This week, the state announced that hunger striker Mohammad Allan would be released only if he has suffered irreversible brain damage. But what if this is only part of a greater state system that criminalizes and punishes those who oppose it?

By Idan Gillo

File photo of Prime Minister Netanyahu holding a security briefing with IDF generals, July 18, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)

File photo of Prime Minister Netanyahu holding a security briefing with IDF generals, July 18, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)

It sounds like bad satire, or at least a provocative play: a man is arrested under “administration detention,” thrown into prison without any reasonable legal processing, without trial, without a hearing of the evidence against him, and without a proper debate. He started a hunger strike, his situation deteriorated, and at some point the state declared that if it was proven that he had suffered irreversible brain damage, he would be freed. His cognitive capacities, and not the determination of his guilt or innocence, is what stands between him and his freedom. Woefully, this is reality in the state of Israel in the summer of 2015: the state defines irreversible brain damage as a condition for release of Mohammad Allan.

The issue raises a number of fundamental questions. First, what kind of regime publicly declares irreversible brain damage as a condition for release of a man assumed to be innocent? The state shows its sadism, without batting an eyelash, in declaring irreversible brain damage as a legitimate adverse effect of administrative detention.

On the question of “what kind of government is this?” I would like to go beyond the debate within the field of “security,” and the security forces’ influence on the legal system, to the point that they are almost indiscernible.

The case of Mohammad Allan shows that release on the condition of irreversible brain damage, rather than his innocence, crosses a red line. Of course, the reader will be quick to calm himself on the fact that this standard does not apply to his family, his friends or his acquaintances.

But, really? We then arrive at a second question: On what basis does the state decide to arrest or not arrest a citizen or resident?

There’s good reason to believe that the case of Mohammad Allan is not extraordinary, but, rather, paradigmatic. It is reasonable to assume that the states’ limits of tolerance for its citizens are revealed here.  What if it only tolerates those who have already – excuse the coarseness – already suffered some form of brain damage?  Would it be an exaggeration to say that only those who have passed through the state’s problematic education system don’t pose a threat? That only those who have been influenced by its media, by its promotions and thus to the ways it controls the consciousness of the public, are considered neutral? Would it be a leap to say that only those who are not interested in politics are considered to also be, just, neutral?

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What if we are all Mohammad Allan in some sense? That we are all held in the state’s clutch until it sees us as unthreatening because it has neutralized us, or at least made us passive or apathetic. What if we are all “free” just because the damage has already been done and already inscribed into our consciousness?

It seems that the implications of the Allan case is more than just what has been done to the man himself. It symbolizes the different ways that the state controls our cognitive situations, which success rate is exemplified here as brain damage. How many people doubt the decisions made by the Shin Bet? The ways of the press or the parliamentary system? How many have outgrown the sanctity of the state, as was taught in school? How many have stopped completely identifying with the state and the army (“us”)?

More than that, the case of Mohammad Allan exposes a worrying standard for pointing out those who are an enemy of the state: not through action or intent, but, rather, free thought. The modern state marks citizens as threats according to their degree of straying from the norms which it creates: work in order to fulfill man’s basic needs of shelter, food, clothing and health – under the condition that they not doubt or criticize that system.

In the case of Allan there is an admission of this.  Actually, the way that the state allowed itself to so vocally declare the conditons for release should set off a warning.

But if the court, the press, and the public opinion is able to accept such a draconian condition, it seems that the brain damage is already done. In any case, we should pray and hope that it’s not irreversible.

Idan Gillo is a doctoral student in German literature at Stanford University. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

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The right-wing group trying to keep downtown Jerusalem Arab-free http://972mag.com/the-right-wing-group-trying-to-keep-downtown-jerusalem-arab-free/110658/ http://972mag.com/the-right-wing-group-trying-to-keep-downtown-jerusalem-arab-free/110658/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 08:34:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=110658 They roam the streets looking for either mixed Jewish-Palestinian couples or lone Arabs, protest at mixed weddings, and hand out racist leaflets. Their leaders are militant and well-organized, exploiting disaffected youth to do the dirty work. An inside look at the far-right group, Lehava, and the Jerusalem activists who are trying to put an end to its violence.

By Ossnat Sharon

Israeli right-wing activist Benzi Gopstein, leader of the Lehava organization, takes part in a protest near the tram station in East Jerusalem, a day after a Palestinian man killed a baby in a vehicular attack at the same location, October 23, 2014. The sign reads: ‘Jews, Revenge’

Israeli right-wing activist Benzi Gopstein, leader of the Lehava organization, takes part in a protest near the tram station in East Jerusalem, a day after a Palestinian man killed a baby in a vehicular attack at the same location, October 23, 2014. The sign reads: ‘Jews, Revenge’

Outside of Jerusalem, we often hear of Lehava demonstrating at a mixed Jewish-Palestinian wedding, or perhaps the LGBT pride parade. But ultimately, a protest of this sort by a handful of extremists isn’t very harmful. The truly destructive dimension of Lehava’s activities is its integration into Jerusalem’s landscape.

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Lehava activists come to Jerusalem’s Zion Square on Thursday nights (and sometimes on Saturday nights) in trademark shirts and with flags, and hand out flyers and stickers to passersby. They are highly visible. Last summer they numbered no more than 10 teens, both boys and girls; this summer they have at least doubled in numbers, and almost all of them are boys. This fits in with the changing nature of their activities, which have become more organized and militant.

Sometimes the activists march down the street, shouting: “Arab, watch out, my sister is worth more!” “The daughters of Israel belong to the people of Israel!” and “Kahane was right!” These marches garner some media attention, and it is easy to track and report them to the police, which is likely the reason we have seen less of them in the past few weeks. But they continue to loiter around downtown Jerusalem in smaller groups that are more difficult to track, often without their identifiable shirts, looking for Arabs.

Lehava activists scout downtown Jerusalem looking for mixed couples, and often simply for Arabs, in order to threaten them. They obviously have a WhatsApp group, and are at their comrades’ beck and call whenever a fight appears imminent. This is an effective way to cleanse the city center of Arabs: these guys are scary.

Ideological youth

Before I get to Lehava’s complex relationship with the law and the police, it is important to understand who its activists are: nearly all of them are teenagers who are usually accompanied by one or two adult supervisors. Their ages range from about 13 to 21. While some come from a normative background,  others are youth at risk and many of them spend a great deal of time on the streets. Some of them formerly belonged to the ultra-Orthodox community, some live on the outer edges of Jerusalem, where there is often friction with the eastern side of the city (including stone throwing).

Read: Hundreds rally against racist group ‘Lehava’ in Jerusalem

Our personal conversations with Lehava activists have revealed that many of them work with Arabs, and many report of women they know personally who have had abusive relationships with Arab men. In their own eyes, they are ideological youth serving the greater good while their friends are out partying. Dedicated social workers spend many nights downtown offering at-risk youth thermoses with tea, or hoping to initiate a conversation over a game of checkers. This is all very well, but these teens live the complex and violent politics of the city, and want more than tea or checkers. They are looking for meaning, and Lehava supplies it in spades.

When the leaders disappear

Lehava has an inner circle of activists who wear its shirts, but there is also an outer circle consisting of friends of the activists, who hang around, say hello, and collaborate with them to some degree. The important difference between the circles is the level of discipline of their members: activists who wear Lehava shirts will avoid violence (at least as long as they are wearing them), and will obey the orders of the adult supervisor. These adults are wary — they know the law, and they want to be as effective as possible.

The heads of Lehava are careful to tread the fine line between legal and illegal, between extremism and what is deemed acceptable. They are very consistent in these acrobatics. When speaking to moderate religious Jews, they make an effort — and often succeed — to present themselves as an anti-assimilation group, that seeks to warn young Jewish women about the dangers of abusive romantic relationships with Arabs. Many Jerusalem residents respond to this positively, allowing the activists to transform an ideological-educational discourse into a violent one against Muslims, Christians and leftists.

It doesn’t take much for words to turn into actions: an integral part of the youths’ activities is to find and surround mixed couples, or join altercations with Arab youths hanging out downtown or Arab workers who they claim threaten them. The adult supervisors are also called to these altercations. Lehava takes part in creating violent provocations, which are later described — both within the group and outside it — as “attempted terrorist attacks.”

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion. (photo: Activestills.org)

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion, August 14, 2014. (photo: Activestills.org)

This is where the “outer circle” comes in. A few weeks ago, we intervened in a case in which a young teenage boy got into an argument with an Arab employee at a local business (perhaps the employee yelled at him or offended him? Perhaps there was some petty theft?). The boy’s friends came to his aid and threatened the employee, and in a matter of minutes Lehava activists had arrived at the scene. At this point, there were dozens of teenagers there preparing for violence. One can see a pattern that begins with a street kid looking for trouble and continues with the involvement of his friends who are more organized and ideological, while at the end of the line are a small group of adults with a violent political agenda, funding and a measure of legal support.

As for the legal front, we have witnessed two tactics Lehava activists employ just as the violence begins: 1. They take off the shirts with the Lehava logo on them; 2. The adult leaders take a step back and disappear from the scene, leaving the teenagers accountable. When the police intervenes, these teens bear responsibility for the people who sent them.

This makes it much harder to tie leaders of the organization directly to violence. The delicate acrobatics between legal and criminal activities, between arguably acceptable values and violence, and between street youth dynamics and racist far-right politics — are both effective and frightening, precisely because of how borderline they are.

And what about the police? There is significant police presence downtown at night, but they will get involved only when directly confronted with physical violence. The police refrain from taking action when it comes to threats, taunts or only the potential of violence. Sometimes a policeman will turn a blind eye, and phoning the police often does little good. Violence will frequently develop quickly and end quickly, which means police officers must be ready and willing to carefully track Lehava activists — and most of all to be familiar with the terrain and its dynamics. Unfortunately, there is no permanent police force patrolling the city center with a feel for what is happening and an ability to act accordingly.

What can be done?

We believe that if the municipality were to decide that Lehava are unwanted on the streets of Jerusalem, police possess the tools to prevent them from acting effectively. A different form of policing could also be useful: Randomly assigned policemen who lack understanding of the situation, are inadequately briefed and whose default is to either ignore events or use excessive violence are unhelpful. A patrolman or two who are intimately familiar with the downtown area, the teens and the dynamics of the city could be far more effective, while also better serving the local community.

+972 blogger Orly Noy speaks at a rally against racist group ‘Lehava’ at Zion Square in central Jerusalem, December 13, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

+972 blogger Orly Noy speaks at a rally against racist group ‘Lehava’ at Zion Square in central Jerusalem, December 13, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

In terms of education, we must recognize that this phenomenon rests on teenagers, some of whom spend much of their time in the street. Beyond the needs that welfare organizations are trying to fulfill, these youths yearn to be involved in something meaningful. They are only just discovering politics and social activism, a natural part of their coming of age. But the only ones who take them seriously are a handful of extremists with a simplistic and violent doctrine, who take advantage of these teens and use them for criminal activities. We need to find an alternative.

In the last year, a group called “Medabrim BaKikar” (Hebrew for “talking in the square”), made up of secular, religious, right-wing and leftist residents of Jerusalem meets on Thursday and Saturday nights near Zion Square. We stand by the Lehava activists and keep an eye on them, curbing their attempts at violence as best we can.

They know us, and know that unlike the police — we are watching them closely, and are interested not only in their violence, but also in what surrounds it and leads to it. We also initiate conversations with them and with others who gather in the square. We speak openly and respectfully about politics, beliefs, and identity, and the square fills with small public discussions.

This is responsible citizenship that refuses to let the activists of Lehava hold exclusive control of public space, and we are able to see the change in atmosphere over time. With the help of a few simple and elegant rules, this new, empathetic form of political discourse works surprisingly well, providing a rare opportunity for city youth of different backgrounds to converse in a respectful atmosphere. We welcome all Jerusalemites to join us.

Ossnat Sharon is an activist with Medabrim BaKikar in Jerusalem. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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