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When maintaining law and order means assaulting sheep

As part of the campaign of quiet terrorism against Palestinians, IDF soldiers assault sheep with stun grenades.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

File photo of Israeli soldiers confronting Palestinian-owned sheep. (Photo: Activestills.org)

One day in September, Walid Said Muhammad ‘Id, a resident of Burin – a village unfortunately surrounded by settlements and outposts, whose inhabitants as a result are frequently attacked by settlers – went with his son to herd their flock of sheep. Their pasture is close to one of the nearby outposts, Har Bracha B.

About an hour after the two reached the pasture, they observed three soldiers coming down toward them from the outpost. Yes, the outpost – illegal as it maybe – is protected by the State of Israel. This is just a regular part of life that we generally ignore; but it should be mentioned from time to time. Imagine a band of outlaws takes over other people’s land and instead of removing the outlaws the authorities hurry to protect them, even though they openly state that the outlaws’ presence there is illegal.

The soldiers ordered ‘Id to remove his sheep from the pasture, and he in turn informed them that he was renting this plot, and that it is located in Area B and not Area C, and he refused to evacuate. The soldiers repeated their demand and ‘Id repeated his refusal. The soldiers then spoke at length on their cellular phones. Finally, they turned back to the outpost.

And then the other soldiers arrived. The two groups of soldiers passed each other, and the soldiers in the second group, without uttering a word, pulled out stun grenades. These are a small explosive device which creates a flash and a loud noise, intended to cause panic and disperse demonstrations. The soldiers threw about ten stun grenades into the flock, and the sheep, terrified, dispersed in all directions. Then the soldiers turned on their heels and left.

‘Id has committed no offense. Had he committed any, even the smidgen of an offense, the soldiers would have detained him. They are not, after all, accountable to anyone.

The soldiers had no argument to field against him, not even some dubious security excuse. So they went straight to terrorism: they used violence against his flock and dispersed it. Oh, you think you may take pasture here? You have the “chutzpah” to maintain your rights in the face of an armed Jewish male? We’ll show you.

If there is a hell, and in his low moments the undersigned thinks perhaps there should be, it ought to contain a special circle for those who abuse the helpless: to those who abuse a baby, a child, a bound human, a frightened animal, anyone who is incapable of understanding what is happening to him, or why it is happening, to protest or to defend itself. Here is the 2013 model IDF: the strongest army in the Middle East – when it comes to terrorizing sheep, at any rate. What’s next? Firing tear gas at cows? Dispersing goats with the “Skunk,” the IDF’s patented stinking liquid-squirting vehicle? Shooting rubber bullets at herding dogs? A nightly raid on chicken coops, stuffed full of terrified flightless birds? Holding beloved pets in administrative detention?

The goal of the soldiers, of course, was to terrorize ‘Id; to enable the quiet terrorism of the settlers, whose point is to take another acre, steal another goat, by scaring the Palestinians away and making them despair of their lands. But, unlike the scenario to which they’ve grown accustomed, the soldiers were facing a man who stood up forcibly for his rights. So, instead of dealing with him, they attacked his animals, those innocent of any crime, the helpless of the helpless. They could, we should remind you, done a lot more: they could have detained him and assaulted him though he was guiltless, knowing that the chances they would pay any sort of price for their actions are nil. I guess they couldn’t muster the courage.

This isn’t just terrorism, just despicable cowardice, just cheap sadism: it’s also very bad soldiering. An army whose troops get used to dealing with challenges in this way ought not to be surprised when, facing a real enemy, it marches toward it on a single road and flees from it on seven. Commanders who turn a blind eye to such incidents, and a public which does not want to know, not only raise a new generation of coarse thugs who will return to civilian life as coarse thugs: they also turn an army into an occupying garrison, a broken tool. Many Israelis pride themselves on not having any moral sense, in recognizing only what is utilitarian, that morals “are for the weak.”

So this is an argument for the “strong ones.” Particularly when they need to prove their strength to sheep.

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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    1. Ben Zakkai

      Stupendous. Home run. Once in a great while, political commentary reaches the heights of moral poetry.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Once the High Court ruled that Jews must be protected by the IDF even if in an illegal outpost, the State began to define applied law in terms of that protection, to the extent of not removing such outposts, for that would be contrary to the livelihood protection of its residents. Protection is most secure by removing aliens, that is, prior residents, and this is incrementally achieved by denying property rights. Security becomes expansion becomes displacement. All done humanely, for damaging property is weaker than damaging a person. So the IDF sees itself as most loyal, ethical, and indulgent. All because the High Court holds the protection of the enjoyment of its citizens, even if they are acting illegally as defined by the State, trumps the law itself. So long as 1) these citizens are Jewish and 2) those directly suffering from this illegal enjoyment are not. This likely elides into personal action within Israel proper. The law runs not just on enforcement but significantly by the personal codes it instills. “Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law.” (Brandeis, dissenting, Olmstead v US, 1928)

      I have yet to hear of an illegal outpost manned by Arab Israeli citizens.

      Reply to Comment
      • I would like to add something else, although I know it doesn’t matter. There is a conception of law called personal law, present to some extent in Medieval Europe, where one’s law of origin traveled with you. If accused of something while traveling, one could insist customs and obligations at home should determine the disposition, or some mix of present locale and home customs. An elite claim, or made by a vassal of the elite. Refusing this claim of the accused could engender the displeasure of those to whom the claimant has homage relations; these, if higher socioeconomic standing, might make payback later. It must have been pretty vague in application, but the principle was employed in self protection.

        The Israeli High Court’s insistence that citizens in illegal settlements nonetheless be protected imports the shield of law onto settlers. But law obliges as well as protects, just as homage did. One is protected because subject to the law oneself. The importation of law onto settlers is open ended, awaiting judicial resolution.

        Now Justice Daniel Goldberg in the Even Bar case of 2013 (Regional Labor Court in Jerusalem has ruled, according to the report provided on another 972 post, that the Kav LaOved ruling by the High Court in 2007 “applies the principle of equality to all those who are employed by Israelis and that Israeli labor law applies to all Palestinian workers employed in the ‘Israeli enclaves’ in the Territories.” That is, importing IDF protection as citizens of Israel onto settlers imports law unrelated to that protection but obligatory to citizens within Israel. The principle of equality acts on the Israeli employer, rather than on the Palestinian worker directly as an inherent equal. It is not so much a resident Palestinian right as an obligation on the Israeli employer if he decides to hire, so does not necessarily reach non-discriminatory hiring. IF you hire a Palestinian s/he must be treated as an Israeli under the very law protecting the Israeli employer, imported from Israel. This importation is piecemeal, by judicial decision, and this labor case could be reversed.

        Property and other premeditated violence against persons is prohibited by Israeli law. The very protection the IDF provides, affirmed by the High Court, imports this prohibition onto settlers. Accepting the protection, they accept the importation of law. So what happens if the State refuses to investigate let alone prosecute a violation of this prohibition against violence? It is a failure of the State and violates the principle of equality which used to, at any rate, ground much Israeli jurisprudence. For if an Israeli settler must refrain from premeditated violence, physical or property, against another Israeli citizen, he must so too, on the principle of equality applied to the citizen, just as in the labor law case, refrain from such against a Palestinian. Just as in labor law, as he must treat citizens, so too Palestinians.

        But the State here refuses to prosecute, so the State is violating the principle of equality as much as the violent citizen settler. The State can therefore be sued.

        Nothing in this logic requires inherent Palestinian rights or Israeli State recognition of free floating human rights. A citizen cannot abuse in law, either labor or criminal, with respect to a foreign resident or visitor inside Israel. Nor can an Israeli citizen do so to a Palestinian in the “Israeli enclave” of the West Bank.

        This is the price the settler faces for the High Court’s importation of law to protect him. The law comes as a whole shield. The IDF is only part of that shield, and the shield covers human relations in law overall.

        So the State can be sued for failing to import the full shield of Israeli law when an Israeli citizen acts. Nothing at all is implied about Palestinian-Palestinian relations, nor inherent Palestinian rights, anymore than an American beaten in Tel Aviv would have to claim his human rights were violated; the entire focus is on the Israeli citizen otherwise protected by his State.

        Reply to Comment