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Why does Netanyahu think he can stop rock throwing?

If live ammunition hasn’t stopped stone throwing in the West Bank, what makes the prime minister think it will work in Jerusalem? The one thing we can be sure the change in policy will do is kill more Palestinians. 

Palestinian youth take cover behind a door as they shoot fireworks toward Israeli Border Police during clashes at a checkpoint between the Shuafat refugee camp and the rest of Jerusalem, November 6, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth take cover behind a door as they shoot fireworks and throw stones toward Israeli Border Police during clashes at a checkpoint between the Shuafat refugee camp and the rest of Jerusalem, November 6, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants security forces to start shooting Palestinian stone throwers.

During the First Intifada, which included a lot of rock throwing, then defense minister Yitzhak Rabin also tried to stop the phenomenon. The future Nobel laureate’s answer was an order to “break their bones.”

There were a few problems with that tactic. Firstly, it didn’t work. Secondly, it didn’t look very good, especially when broadcast in living color by an American television network. But the bottom line was that you simply can’t stop an occupied people from resisting, and often times, rocks — and far worse violent implements — are involved.

And yet, every once in a while occupying forces feel pressure to try and “stop” the stone throwing. Sometimes that pressure is a result of an outcry from affected constituents. Sometimes it is political pressure — an attempt to look like more of a strongman, or even deflect from more troubling issues.

It’s not entirely clear why the renewed push against stone throwing in Israel is happening now. There was a death as a result of a stone recently, but there is no radical uptick in violence compared to past rounds of now-perennial “escalations” in Jerusalem, most often connected in one way or another to — perceived and real — Israeli violations of the Aqsa Mosque.

Perhaps in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the famous CBS video of Israeli soldiers trying to break stone-throwers’ arms, Israeli police in Jerusalem have increased their obstruction of Palestinian journalists in the city, including using violence against them.

Here is another question. The weapons Israeli police have been using in Jerusalem for years, that is before live fire was approved, were already maiming and even killing protesters and passersby. So why add live fire to the mix?

Of the two possible explanations, increasing deterrence and increasing the public perception of heavy-handedness, the latter is far more likely. The new rules of engagement being adopted by police in Jerusalem are very similar to those already used by the IDF in the West Bank, and it’s safe to say that live ammunition hasn’t put an end to stone throwing there.

An Israeli sniper aims a silenced Ruger 10/22 rifle from a tower in the separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian youth, March 11, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

An Israeli sniper aims a silenced Ruger 10/22 rifle from a tower in the separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian youth, March 11, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

So if it’s not about deterrence, then it’s all about a hardline right-wing government needing to appear like it is doing something. After all, if the right-wing government doesn’t come down harder on the Palestinians, then why choose them over the other guys. Labor leader Isaac Herzog, after all, is doing his utmost lately to compete with the Right’s hawkish rhetoric.

Sustaining the unsustainable

It is often said, including by me, that Netanyahu’s vision for securing a Jewish Israel consists primarily of maintaining the status quo — occupation. Others say, rightfully so, that the status quo isn’t sustainable. So how do you sustain the unsustainable? With brute force, of course.

And that is where we are. Nobody on either side of the Green Line is offering up anything even resembling a vision for a better future. There is no peace process. There are no significant grassroots movements. Nada. Just the constant tragic hum of low-level violence that everyone worries might accidentally spark something bigger and more tragic.

So some people wait for Abu Mazen’s “September Surprise” at the UN for the umpteenth year in a row. Others wait for the international community to spring into action. Some people become more radicalized and nationalistic. Most people, for lack of any other option, just go about their lives.

The only thing we know for sure is that introducing live ammunition in Jerusalem will lead to more dead Palestinians.

In other news, Israel’s Foreign Ministry is considering outsourcing its public diplomacy in the U.S. to a private firm that proposes diverting international attention to “Israel’s tolerance of LGBT rights.” Why didn’t anybody think of that before?

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    1. Ben

      The Israelis are the new Romans. A gazillion dollar army packed with advance weaponry, its soldiers armed to the teeth, finds itself threatening people with nothing more than a rock. History comes full circle with a twist. As Ron Ben-Tovim observed in Haaretz today.

      ‘How would it be possible for Jews around the world and in Israel to view themselves as a weak, persecuted minority, when it sends the region’s most powerful army and police after stone-throwers? Isn’t it we Jews, in all those tales of bravery and divine intervention, who are the resourceful downtrodden that manage to bring an empire to its knees? Isn’t that the story of Passover and the Exodus, or the story of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising? Isn’t that the story of the Jewish militias against Roman occupation?

      Speaking of the Romans, and of rocks, the mind wanders to an anecdote provided by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his “The Jewish War,” his chronicle of the Great Jewish Rebellion against the Roman Empire. During the feast of Passover, at the Temple Mount, Roman soldiers – an icon in Jewish thought for a violent, ignorant and arrogant force – taunt Jewish worshippers. One such soldier, to borrow a contemporary phrase, “mooned” the crowd, adding a few choice words, which led to a spontaneous protest:

      “At this the whole multitude had indignation, and made a clamor to …punish the soldier; while the rasher part of the youth, and such as were naturally the most tumultuous, fell to fighting, and caught up stones, and threw them at the soldiers.”‘

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    2. Jason Kidd

      Perish the thought that Ben have an original idea
      He just copies and pastes the latest from Haaretz

      Reply to Comment