The most brutal soldiers sometimes man the line of encounter between us and the Palestinians. Instead of sending the most elite units - if the occupation is doomed to continue - Israel chooses to send the Border Police, the corps with the history of the greatest violence against civilian populations. Instead of being kept well away from any contact with civilians, the Border Police continue to man some of the largest and most sensitive checkpoints in the West Bank and to patrol in the heart of the Palestinian cities and around them.
The IDF is aware that the harm they do far outweighs their usefulness - and indeed, in a few cases Border Police units were removed from sensitive areas such as Hebron and Gaza. However, they are still present in most of the territories, and are as violent, crude and cruel as ever. True, we must not generalize, and certainly there are soldiers in the Border Police whose behavior is impeccable, but an extremely ill wind has always blown from that corps.
The indictments filed last week against four members of the Border Police for killing a teenager, Amran Abu Hamadiya, in Hebron, who was physically abused and then thrown out of a moving jeep, and acts such as the abduction of other Palestinians as part of the appalling "punitive campaign" carried out by Border Policemen, have long since ceased to be "anomalies."
This tendency has been apparent for as long as the Border Police has been stationed in the territories. Equally typical are the attempts to whitewash the affair: "The Border Police have nothing to do with the incident, and the Palestinians are trying to foist a libel on the corps," officers in the Border Police stated immediately after the story was reported. "There was no Border Police patrol there at the time," the sources added.
Thus, the successes of the Border Police undercover unit are accompanied by a lengthy series of acts of abuse, looting and killing by members of the corps. There are several examples from the recent past.
In October, VCRs and computers that were looted from the Muqata - Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah - were found in the homes of three Border Policemen. Last August, in the Beit El military court, five Border Policemen savagely beat a Palestinian detainee whose hands were tied, for having the effrontery to speak with members of his family. In March, a Jerusalem magistrate freed a Palestinian who was brought into court with bruises all over his body- it turned out that he had been beaten by Border Policemen.
In February, an eyewitness - a cadet at the pre-army academy at Metzar- reported that Border Policemen had manhandled a Palestinian who was cringing with pain. A few days earlier, Ali Hamad, a 38-year-old laborer from Bethlehem, complained that three Border Policemen had broken his arm.
In January, four Border Policemen robbed the passengers in a Palestinian car at the Tul Karm checkpoint. In Hebron alone, no fewer than 30 investigations against Border Policemen have been opened in the past few years.
And there are also more distant memories. There was the boy peddler Ashraf al-Shawahan, who was abused by seven Border Policeman in 1998, until he passed out; the Border Policeman Tzachi Shemaya who was sent to prison for abuse that was captured on video, and his three buddies who were convicted of dragging two Palestinian youngsters behind a jeep.
On one occasion, the president of the Supreme Court cited the brutal film "A Clockwork Orange" to describe the misdeeds of Border Policemen. A report by B'Tselem, the human rights organization, documented 13 cases of appalling abuse perpetrated by members of the corps between May and August of 1997. Most of these cases probably remain unreported by the media.
The commander of the Border Police, David Tzur, made a distinctive contribution to the morality of the security forces not long ago, when he became the first ranking commanding officer to boast publicly about the number of people his soldiers have killed. Speaking at a press conference, he related that in 2000, his Special Forces killed 79 Palestinians, and also provided a statistical breakdown - 43 killed by the Special Forces, 20 by undercover units in the West Bank and 16 by undercover units in the Gaza Strip. Did he reprimand the Gaza Strip units for their meager achievement? Tzur did not bother to note how many of those killed were civilians.
Like any esprit de corps, the spirit of the Border Police flows from the top down, and responsibility rests with the commanding officers. In the Border Police, though, there is another factor, too. It's an open secret that the majority of the corps' troops come from the lower strata of society.
Many of them suffer from feelings of discrimination and deprivation that are very easily turned against those who are even weaker and more humiliated than themselves - the Palestinians. Because they, too, are victims, maybe we should not be so hard on them. But we should be hard on those who choose cynically to let them loose on the most sensitive line on the front.
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