Harassment as a Military Duty

Every day soldiers confiscate the identity cards of West Bank Palestinians even though this is prohibited by the law - even by military orders, except under very specific conditions.

It looks like a concentrated mass violation of army instructions. Every day soldiers confiscate the identity cards of West Bank Palestinians even though this is prohibited by the law - even by military orders, except under very specific conditions.

In the best cases, people are delayed for five, six, or seven hours - far more than any reasonable security check - and then they get their cards back at the end of the day. In the worst cases the ID cards get lost in the shuffle between soldiers' shifts. Often, the soldiers tell people "come tomorrow" to some place where they will get their ID card back - the district coordination office, another checkpoint. The West Bankers show up the next day and are greeted by apathetic shrugs.

In the narrow columns rationed out in the media for reports about the occupation, the confiscation of ID cards cannot compete with the killing of children, the obstruction of olive harvests, the demolition of homes. But the confiscation of documents, like the hours of delays at the checkpoints using "security checks" as an excuse, are some of the most common harassment measures that define the Israeli to Palestinians - arbitrary, malicious, negligent, arrogant, brutal.

And it's not only ID cards that the soldiers confiscate - every few days there are more cases of cars being seized. In August, the army completed a legal process that allows soldiers to confiscate cars that get past checkpoints using the prohibited routes through groves, valleys and orchards.

Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski of the Central Command signed the order that should be considered a mere laundering of a practice whose existence officials denied. But it can also be seen as an attempt to constrain liberties taken by soldiers who just want to prove who's the boss. Soldiers at checkpoints "besieging" Nablus - Hawara and Beit Iba - violated the orders at least twice this past week, confiscating taxis at the checkpoint and not on roads forbidden to Palestinians.

At various checkpoints there are lines beyond which only pedestrians are allowed, up to the place where they are checked. In effect, when many drivers are competing for every passenger, they cross the line, by a meter, a meter and a half, perhaps. Soldiers at Hawara last Wednesday considered that was enough to delay five drivers more than six hours, and then to order the confiscation of their taxis for a week.

When the women from MachsomWatch made many phone calls to IDF officers they heard chanted like a refrain - "indeed, that is a disproportional punishment." But that didn't help anyone. At Beit Iba last Sunday, phone calls from MachsomWatch women to the army prevented a similar punishment being imposed on some drivers.

As for Hawara, the IDF Spokesman's Office gave Haaretz the official version, that the confiscation was "according to the amended law." In other words, the Kaplinski orders instruct soldiers to punish people with families by denying them their livelihood for a week because the taxis crossed a line by a meter and a half.

There's a clear division of labor at work here. Senior commanders document their instructions as if they are considerate of the people and the law, devising rules disguised as enlightened. This is what they show the Judge Advocate General's office, if someone gets annoying about it, or to some international tribunal, when the day comes. For example, a military source promised Haaretz the rules prohibiting confiscation of ID cards will be "refreshed."

The soldiers on the ground, however, are too young to be hypocritical and self-righteous. They know that hundreds of appeals by the Center for the Protection of the Individual om the matter of confiscated documents don't threaten them. They understand, without any orders, that instilling fear of harassment and complications like lost time, livelihood and money, in tens of thousands of Palestinians every day, is a weapon as effective as the rifle they carry.

They know that the daily "little" harassments are an integral part of their duty. That duty is to enforce the control of one nation over another.