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Showing them who's boss: How Palestinian villages become IDF training grounds

The IDF could easily build a mock village on some godforsaken dune in the Negev for training purposes. But training in a Palestinian village has another (hidden) goal: to show them who’s boss.

By Yesh Din (written by Yossi Gurvitz)

The villagers of Imatin were surprised at the end of May 2013, when a large IDF force – evidence shows it seemed to be the size of a as company – invaded their village in the evening, with troops spreading amongst the houses, conducting what apparently was combat practice in a populated terrain.

The soldiers, armed to the teeth of course, moved from yard to yard throughout the village pretending it were a battlefield. The entire incident was very stressful for the women, the elderly and the children of the village. The next day, the show repeated itself: a convoy of IDF vehicles gathered in the center of the village at sundown, and out of them climbed around 100 heavily armed soldiers, and began roleplaying a battle.

Yesh Din’s files document several similar cases. In 2007, a Palestinian from Tel Rumeida in Hebron complained that his house was chosen as a training site. When the soldiers were told that the training would likely scare the man’s little brother, they responded by saying “it’s none of your business.” And why would it be? It’s only his house.

That same year, the IDF trained in the village of Beit Lid, where soldiers took over houses at night while shooting and shouting. In 2012, in the village of Deir Astia, soldiers allegedly trained in the village, and threw (whether by malice or accident) stun and teargas grenades into a populated house. At the time, the army claimed, in reply to Yesh Din’s complaint, that it hadn’t conducted a training per se, but rather an incident of “waving the flag.” In 2009, Yesh Din were informed that the Military Advocate General (MAG) was reviewing the phenomenon; the organization hasn’t received a response since, and the practice clearly continues.

Among the injustices Yesh Din document on a daily basis, the invasion of Amatin invasion for training purposes is admittedly one of the lesser ones. No one was hurt; the soldiers did not use violence against the villagers nor did they loot the houses, and they even refrained from entering the houses and instead settled for intimidating the residents by wandering among their courtyards. Minor as the incident may be among the others Yesh Din documents – Jewish terrorism against farmers, arson, land theft, pillage, abusing the wrongfully detained, intimidation and more – it is as important as the rest to understanding of the essence of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

That essence: Palestinians do not have basic human rights. They become unwilling participants in the war movie the military commander is producing. At his whim, their courtyards are impounded without notice so that his soldiers can come out and play. When he so wishes, people will have to shut themselves in their homes and shudder at the shouts called out in a foreign language by armed men trained to see them as enemies.

Much of what Israel does in the West Bank is explained away by “security needs.” These needs can be remarkably flexible: it is neccessary to pull Palestinian children of their beds at night, since their stone throwing is life-threatening. No such necessity exists, however, towards Jewish stone throwers; their stones are notoriously pacifistic.

But what happened in Imatin cannot be explained away by “security necessities,” since none exist. The IDF controls the vast majority of the Negev, as well as a good part of the country’s treasury. If it wants to practice somewhere that resembles a Palestinian village. It ought to build a replica of one in part of the huge training grounds it already has. And this is the point – were the plan to land at Junia, the high scale suburb of Beirut, the IDF would not imagine Caesarea or Savion as a location for one night of practice. But Palestinians villages? After all, they’re not really human. As the song goes (Hebrew), “They’re not a man, not a woman; but an item, a shadow.”

In the 18th century, then-British Prime Minister Pitt the Elder would roar in Parliament that ” the poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!” The British peasant of the 18th century had more rights than the Palestinian farmer of the 21st century – assuming, of course, he wasn’t Irish, where the laws which would become our Emergency Edicts were born.

The Imatin training ended without any casualties. That’s not always the case. The training held by the Duvdevan (meaning “Cherry”) unit, whose soldiers dress as undercover  Palestinians, in the village of Ramoun in April 2012 was a catastrophic failure (Hebrew). The villagers suspected that the disguised soldiers skulking about the village were thieves and attacked them. One Palestinian was killed and another, who was later abused by the soldiers, was wounded. Public attention, such as it was, was directed towards the abuse of the prisoner, not to the fact that an IDF training session had ended with a dead Palestinian. Because when all is said and done, what troubles the IDF – when it is caught, that is – is concern for its “values” more than for the unexpected results of its actions, as long as they can be justified as “military necessity.”

What happened in Ramoun could easily have happened in Imatin. Had some of the young men of the village tried to expel the invaders who entered their courtyard at night, and had the latter responded with live fire in a heavily populated area, it would have ended in a multiple-victim incident. Apparently the IDF didn’t consider the possibility that Palestinians might react to their courtyards being invaded at night – they’re not really human, after all.

There’s another reason for training in Palestinian territory, which the army will not admit. It could easily build a mock village on some godforsaken dune in the Negev. But training in a real village has another (hidden) goal: to show the Palestinian who’s boss. Who can disrupt their lives just because they feel like it, and who can make them shut themselves in their homes just by their very presence. Although this reason is not voiced out loud, at the end of the day, it is the deciding reason for the training. And so, even though Yesh Din filed a complaint with the MAG and demanded an investigation of the Imatin incident, given the fact that the MAG has been leisurely reviewing the issue since 2009, things are not looking up. Intimidating the residents of the West Bank is far too important for the IDF to simply give it up.

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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  • COMMENTS

    1. The Trespasser

      >The British peasant of the 18th century had more rights than the Palestinian farmer of the 21st century

      Obviously, member of society which denies basic human rights (right for a freedom of religion, for instance, or right to marry a person of one’s choice) to others, should not enjoy these rights themselves.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gearoid

        You are giving up your rights then? How noble of you to recognize your privilege.

        Alas, I’m not blind enough to believe that, and I know you meant to make a prejudiced comment out of that.

        Reply to Comment
      • Human rights are not granted through reciprocity but are unilaterally honored as a measure of human dignity. Those honoring these rights say something about themselves as well as those clothed in protection by authority.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >Human rights are not granted through reciprocity

          Yes, they are.

          >but are unilaterally honoured as a measure of human dignity.

          Meaningless nonsense.

          For example, if a religion demands that its followers would kill other people during some holiday, would it be violation of basic human rights to ban such religion?

          Reply to Comment
          • Conspiracy to engage in criminal acts is a crime, but faith as such is not. A right is not license to physically harm others. I suspect no religion would uniformly be as you say–which is the point. Some would deviate from the ordered atrocity, and there evolution awaits.

            Interesting that you create a straw man out of religion. The Torah has within it ordered atrocities in today’s defintion. Yet, being ordered by the holy, these cannot be inherently wrong. Religions must confront their internal past to grow. The sacred cannot be an immunity.

            You would probably have better success here if you refrained from declaring “meaningless nonsense” from on high.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Yet more, rather meaningless, nonsense.

            >I suspect no religion would uniformly be as you say–which is the point. Some would deviate from the ordered atrocity, and there evolution awaits.

            Do you know where the word “thug” comes from?
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thuggee

            “The thugs traveled in groups across India for several hundred years. They were devoted to Kali, a Hindu goddess associated with violence, sexuality, and more recently, empowerment.[1]….In the 1830s they were targeted by William Bentinck, along with his chief captain William Henry Sleeman, for eradication. They were seemingly destroyed by this effort.[1][3] According to some estimates the Thugs murdered 1 million people between 1740 and 1840.[4]”

            >Interesting that you create a straw man out of religion.

            Hardly a strawman.

            Did Thugs had the right to kill in the name of Kali? Was it the violation of basic human rights by Brits to eraticate this cult? Huh?

            >Yet, being ordered by the holy, these cannot be inherently wrong.

            Than why is it wrong to oppress and cleanse modern Palestinian Arabs?

            >Religions must confront their internal past to grow.

            To grow or to decay. I strongly suggest you talk about that to some clericals.

            >The sacred cannot be an immunity.

            So now you are basically stating that the “freedom of religion” is not absolute but rather is relevant to the contents of said religion. Am I getting you right?

            >You would probably have better success here if you refrained from declaring “meaningless nonsense” from on high.

            Thank you so much for your concern, but I know exactly why I am writing this or that.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      Also – notice that the soldiers always wear a black face mask to hide their identity in case of photography. As the Hebrew saying goes: “On the head of the thief, burns his cap” (excuse the literal translation). It essentially means that the IDF is no better than a gang of hoodlums.

      I’d like to see these brave soldiers carry on like this in a South Lebanese village. I recall from some 2006 footage I saw that they were far more humble as they cowered in Bint J’beil while fighting the Hezbollah.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Let’s evaluate validity of two claims:

        A. Whoever wears a balaclava is a “hoodlum” and a “thief”

        B. Only retarded person would claim that whoever wears a balaclava is a “hoodlum” and a “thief”

        Reply to Comment
        • sh

          You’re tiring yourself (and us) out for nothing, Tresp. No-one said that whoever wears a balaclava is a hoodlum and a thief. But our forces of order pull those masks on right in front of you when they undertake activities with which they do not wish to be personally identified. Nice photo for you, along with a report to confirm it:
          http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/leftist-israelis-face-masked-policemen-at-east-jerusalem-protest-1.347531
          Extract:
          “Videos of the demonstration show the policemen donning ski masks a short time before they began to deal aggressively with the protesters, members of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. The activists claim the men wore masks to prevent identification in the event of complaints about police brutality.

          Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Rivka Gertel spoke of the phenomenon at a hearing on the expulsion from Sheikh Jarrah of three demonstrators detained on Friday. In a remark not included in the court transcript, Gertel apparently said, when seeing photos of the hooded policemen: “That looks just like Iran.”"

          Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      And nothing is sacred. This happened the day before yesterday:

      “The Israeli occupation army has held exercises inside the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Muslim worshippers were forced out of the mosque on Thursday as the troops moved in.
      Tayseer Abu Sneineh, the Director of Religious Endowments in Hebron, said that worshippers were excluded from the mosque for several hours while the unidentified exercises took place. He added that the mosque officials were prevented by the soldiers from making the midday call to prayer.”
      http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/6468-israel-holds-army-exercises-inside-ibrahimi-mosque

      Reply to Comment
    4. ‘the army claimed, in reply to Yesh Din’s complaint, that it hadn’t conducted a training per se, but rather an incident of “waving the flag.” ‘ : This is a direct admission that the goal was pacification through psychological intimidation. “Security” is inflated to intimidation as such, making it seem that if such actions cease “terrorists” will emerge. I suspect the logic was used in colonial Africa and in some, maybe many, areas of Africa today.

      Reply to Comment
    5. rsgengland

      The easiest way to stop these things from happening, is for the Palestinians to have new elections to replace their corrupt, ‘past its’ sell by date’ administration, and enter into real negotiations with Israel for peace.
      Top of the agenda; Refugees, both Arab and Jewish.

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        No. The easiest way for THIS SPECIFIC THING to stop from happening is for the Army to build a proper mock village (like the Jordanians did to help the US prepare for Iraq).

        Reply to Comment
        • Specific things are exactly were the focus should be.

          I would like to once again convey my admiration for Yosh Din’s and Yossi’s posts on this site.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Admiration.

            Yep.

            No matter what magnitude the nonsense written, it would always find its admirers.

            I’d suggest that you try to find out why Ahmed Jabari’s peace proposal, allegedly sent to Baskin few hours before the Pillar of Cloud had started, not only never surfaced, but magically transformed into peace proposal sent by Baskin to Hamas.

            Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          As a matter of fact, there is at least two mock villages which are used for training by IDF.

          Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            Great. So stop using civilians as involuntary training props.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            As a matter of fact, chances are that described events never took place – exactly as Ahmad Jabari never had sent any peace proposal to Baskin.

            Reply to Comment
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