Eight months after bloody olive harvest battle, still no justice in sight
Soldiers allegedly watched as Palestinians and Israelis were clubbed in olive field, but probe hangs in the air.
On Friday, October 21, 2011, A., 61, joined Combatants for Peace and international activists to accompany olive harvesters in the West Bank village of Jalud. For ten years, Israelis had prevented villagers from reaching their groves. This time, the villagers hoped their escorts would afford them and their harvest a measure of protection. The wilted leaves were pitiful, says A., yet, "There were already ladders scattered about, and a tractor traveling a little ahead of us was bringing the necessary equipment for the harvest."
A. recalls that no more than five minutes or so into the harvest, "Four or five masked men showed up with a civilian coordinator of settlement security." He assumes it was a civilian coordinator because the man, armed with a rifle, wasn't masked and was wearing civilian clothing. One of the others was masked in black cloth; the others hid their faces with white cloths. They arrived from the direction of the Esh Kodesh outpost, one of the satellites that have sprung up near the Jewish settlement of Shiloh. A. immediately started filming.
He says the masked men yelled at the harvesters: "Get out of here, you're on our land," and "You've been gone for ten years, you didn't work the land then, now it's ours, we're working it." The armed civilian and one of the masked men turned around near A., who was still filming. Suddenly he heard an explosion and realized that the masked men had thrown a stun grenade toward the harvesters, who started to scatter. He also heard gunfire. Rocks started flying on both sides, and A. saw the masked men "mercilessly clubbing" the people who were slow to flee.
One of the people beaten, M., an Israeli woman in her 30s, tried to leave the scene when the stun grenade went off, but suddenly, she says, "I felt an incredible blow to my head. I didn't know where it came from and I started running away from there." After a few moments, she realized she'd been badly hit and was bleeding heavily. Within a couple of minutes her shirt was soaked in blood.
A. continued filming from a lower ridge, outside the range of the flying stones. The olive grove emptied of harvesters. In a summary of the incident written for friends, he said: "Suddenly, three or four masked men were coming my way. I was convinced that when they realized I was older and an Israeli, nothing would happen. When they approached me, they thought at first that I was an Arab, and said, 'Jib al hawiyeh,' Arabic for 'Give me your ID card.' I tried to say, 'Hey guys, take it easy, I'm Israeli, there's no need for violence.' The next thing that happened is that the guy whose face was covered in black grabbed my camera and started yanking on it to take it away from me. I started to argue with him, and I said to him, 'Aren't you ashamed? Why are you being violent?! I'm old enough to be your father.' I had just finished talking when I felt a heavy blow to my head from a club. I felt blood gushing. I fell to the ground and they continued beating me with clubs all over my body."
They stole both of A.'s cameras, recordings of incriminating materials, and a pair of glasses. The hospital diagnosed him with two broken ribs. In his written reconstruction of the incident, he said: "I yelled, 'Help, stop it!' as hard as I could but no one heard me."
No one heard? Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Border Police were there. A. yelled at them: "Come help us, we have wounded here," but all the soldiers were capable of doing was firing off more and more tear gas grenades toward the harvesters and the wounded. Through the clouds of tear gas, A. noticed another bleeding activist: It was M. Someone had tied a kaffiyeh around her head to stop the bleeding. Through the fog of gas, she saw a bleeding Palestinian being dragged away by friends. Everyone was having difficulty breathing. The gas made it hard to evacuate the wounded. Both M. and A. said they couldn't believe this was happening to them.
M. wrote: "I am shaken anew every time I think of how, when they were clubbing us, it was as if they didn't see us as human beings at all." Immediately after the incident, a complaint was submitted to the Sha'ar Binyamin police station. At the beginning of November, the complainants were summoned to give their testimony, but since then they have heard nothing from the authorities.
It should be noted that some three weeks after the attack, attorney Eli Zohar (who knows one of the women attacked ) contacted Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and the chief military prosector, described the events in detail, expressed dismay with the soldiers' behavior and the police's failure (up to that point ) to initiate contact with the people attacked, and requested that they press the investigation along. At the end of November 2011, Zohar was informed in writing that his request had been forwarded to Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who is in charge of "special cases." At the beginning of December, Zohar was assured by the military prosecutor's office that the event had been brought to the chief military prosector's attention for study.
On November 29, 2011, and again on December 25, 2011, the NGO Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights contacted the Sha'ar Binyamin police station to see where the investigation stood. At the beginning of January this year, the NGO was told that the case was under investigation. Yesh Din repeated its query on January 29, 2012, and March 5, 2012. On March 7, 2012, the Sha'ar Binyamin police station told the NGO the same thing: The case was under investigation. Further queries were sent on April 5, May 9, June 17 and July 24. None of these has been answered. On August 5, 2012, the NGO tried to learn something new by going through the crime victims' system, and learned that the case is still under investigation by the Sha'ar Binyamin police station in the Judea and Samaria District. Since submitting the complaint, the complainants have not been summoned back by the police. The Israel Police spokesman told Haaretz last week: "The investigation is ongoing. Because of the large number of people involved in the incident, both those being investigated and the complainants, the investigation is taking time. We are not at liberty to discuss any details of the investigation."
Yesh Din also asked about the complaint that the soldiers in the area during the attack failed to act. In January, the NGO was told that the case had been transferred from the military prosecution's criminal investigations division to the unit for investigations of operational matters for follow-up. On July 10, the NGO was informed that the case was still with the operational investigations unit. The IDF spokesman told Haaretz this week that the case was with the military prosecutions office.