Text size

Three armed bullies in black ski masks get out of the jeep quickly. One breaks into shouts at the taxi driver who is letting off a female passenger, waving a rifle in the driver's face and ordering him out of the car. The bully then orders the frightened driver to hand over the keys to his taxi and get going. The helpless driver hands over his keys. In a feeble voice he asks if and when he can get his taxi back. "Maybe at the end of the day, maybe Wednesday. We'll see," says the thug, sticking the keys into his pocket, getting back in the jeep and driving away.

Highway bandits in Chechnya? Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Balata? No. The three bullies were Israeli soldiers. They confiscated the car from its owner, as they routinely do, because he let out a passenger on the other side of a blurry yellow line painted onto the Tul Karm road. The road is blocked by an unmanned iron bar. Passengers are supposed to cross on foot, from taxis on one side to taxis on the other - it's not at all clear why - and the drivers know that if they cross the yellow line the soldiers will appear out of nowhere and confiscate the cars or slice the tires. Indeed, one of the soldiers threatened to slice the tires of our car, which was parked past the remnants of the yellow line.

This "battle heritage" is passed down through the Israel Defense Forces without obstruction and all the Palestinians drivers know it. Any time they venture onto one of the few roads left to them in the West Bank, they are taking a risk. Maybe they'll be shot "by mistake," maybe their car will be confiscated for some vague reason. That's why the few roads of the West Bank where Palestinians are allowed to drive are nearly always empty. The driver whose car was confiscated, Samr Abdullah, did not know how to get home.

A brigadier who serves in the territories said in a private conversation on the weekend that the confiscation of cars and ID cards is prohibited by the army. Really? After all, if the army wanted to put an end to it, it could easily do so. The IDF Spokesman's Office also says there is no policy of confiscating cars and if it turns out that the events we witnessed last Sunday happened, "the soldiers will be severely punished."

Is the IDF Spokesman's Office being naive or disingenuous or was this really the first time it heard about soldiers confiscating the keys to a Palestinian car or slashing its tires? It's not clear what's worse. Any soldier nowadays can take any Palestinian car for any reason and for as long as he wants. When every soldier is a king, any group of soldiers can turn into a gang.

Confiscating cars is only one example of how an IDF regime of bullying has emerged and is being strengthened in the territories. There is a great deal of hypocrisy in the talk about how anarchy will reign in the territories after the IDF leaves. The disintegration of the rule of law and order begins inside the army. Every day one can see soldiers confiscating ID cards from residents, making them line up for hours in the sun and rain for no reason whatsoever, and just for the fun of it smashing memorial monuments to Palestinian casualties - like last week in Beir Furik.

In the last three years, an atmosphere of anything goes has taken root in the IDF in the territories. Any soldier can do whatever he feels like to any Palestinian - the incident won't be investigated, the soldier won't be punished.

The disintegration of the rule of law does not stop with the soldiers. Brothers Naim and Ayad Murar, who organized nonviolent demonstrations against the separation fence in Budrus, were arrested a month ago with the intention of throwing them into long months of administrative detention without trial. At the last minute, Ayad was freed by a judge who ruled that nonviolent demonstrations are no cause for administrative detention. But his brother Naim was sent to four months of administrative detention for his "terror-supporting activity." Only due to the intervention of attorneys Tamar Peleg and Yal Barda, and the courageous position taken by Lieutenant Colonel Shlomi Kochav, was Naim freed on the weekend after a month in detention, thus preventing a further disgrace. Serious questions are raised by the arrogance of security officials who wanted to lock people up for attempting to organize nonviolent demonstrations against a fence being built on their property.

There is a direct and disgusting line between the car confiscators and those who jail demonstrators without trial. Both are manifestations of gangland rule. Despite the separation fence, that kind of behavior will inevitably cross the Green Line.