The Israeli Drone and the Palestinian Tent Encampment

On the relationship between Jewish genius, the confiscation of a swing set and slide and the future careers of Israeli Civil Administration inspectors.

A small object, about 50 centimeters long, flew above the Khan Al-Ahmar Bedouin tent encampment on Thursday, February 27, 2014. It was low, so as to be seen by the inhabitants and their guests, who had arrived that day. That object – or its “nephew,” in Arabic slang – had flown over the encampment, east of Jerusalem, several days earlier. It was a drone. Now the residents had something new to worry about: a callous invasion of their privacy, since their outhouses have no roofs.

Since Israel controls the airspace, it is reasonable to assume that the drone is Israeli (and not, say, Iranian). Of what terrible terrorist activities are the people in the tent encampment suspected that would warrant flying a drone above them? Coincidentally or not, shortly after the drone flew over their shacks, pens and tents, inspectors from Israel’s Civil Administration – and not soldiers or agents from the Shin Bet security service, showed up. They confiscated two trucks that had arrived that morning. One held cement, the other playground equipment: a three-seat swing set and a slide with a tunnel and two ladders. Donated by the Italian government, they were a logical addition to the eco-friendly school, built in 2009 out of tires and mud. The students barely had a chance to cheer for the gift, which a delegation from the Italian Consulate in Jerusalem came to present, before it was taken away from them. And the terrible terrorist activities that were presumably stopped by the drone? The installation of a playground and the rejoicing of children.

Can we assume, based on the timing, that the drone was launched by the Civil Administration, to monitor the encampment, and not, for example, by the security coordinator of the nearby opulent and expanding settlement of Kfar Adumim? Incidentally, Kfar Adumim continues to urge the High Court of Justice to issue instructions to implement the Civil Administration’s demolition and expulsion orders against Khan Al-Ahmar. In case anyone has forgotten, the Jahalin Bedouin have been in the area since Israel expelled them from the Negev in the 1950s. Kfar Adumim has petitioned the High Court on the issue three times. Two of the petitions were dismissed, the third is in process. (Attorney Shlomo Lacker, representing the Bedouin, asked that the petition be dismissed outright on the grounds of lack of good faith and lack of integrity. He cited a professional opinion furnished by the nongovernmental organization Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights that has not been disproved, stating that about 300 buildings in Kfar Adumim were constructed illegally and without permits).

A surveillance drone hovers leisurely above Jerusalem’s Old City. Helicopters in the service of the Civil Administration are an integral part of the footwork of demolition-happy inspectors. They hover above Palestinian communities in Area C (an area of the West Bank that, according to the Osle Accords, is under exclusive Israeli control), keeping track of every rainwater cistern the Palestinians have had the chutzpah to dig. So there is no reason why the drones, the epitome of Jewish genius, should not keep an eye on the area in which this same genius prohibits Palestinians from even connecting to the power grid. There is no reason, too, not to introduce into the West Bank the surveillance drones that, according to Palestinian and foreign sources, have already become part of the celestial bodies over the Gaza Strip. Even the magnetic-strip card that enables closer supervision of Palestinian movements was introduced first in the Gaza Strip and only about eight years later in the West Bank.

Haaretz asked whether the Civil Administration used drones and if so, starting when? A spokesman for the office of Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories replied: “We do not comment or provide specifics regarding the technological capabilities at the disposal of the Civil Administration.”

There is a direct relationship between Israel’s advanced technology and the denial of basic planning and housing rights. The more developed the technology, the more it succeeds in preventing the Palestinians from maintaining a shred of normalcy in their lives. And the more it does that, the better it sells abroad, including to clients who perhaps donate money to the Palestinians for playgrounds and who take pride in the solar power systems in disaster-struck areas such as Area C. (Incidentally, last week the hard-working inspectors confiscated a cement mixer that had been brought in to build a playground in the village of Al-Tawani that was funded by the European Union. Sources on the ground report that the issue appears to have been resolved and construction will go on. But the Pavlovian response of the inspectors, who go into action the moment they see a Palestinian playground being built, is fascinating. That same day, the inspectors also delivered demolition orders for a pumping system in the village of Kawawis, also in the southern Hebron hills.)

But after all, technology is a secondary issue here. The main thing is the power and pleasure given to the ones who use it — petty officials with so much power. These bureaucrats receive their high rank and salaries and the promise of comfortable future careers to treat the Palestinians like criminals and use against them all means at their disposal with no accountability for their destructive and prurient voyeurism. All this takes place with no transparency, no supervision, no process of local-council elections that requires a politician even to pretend that he heeds complaints. Since this deliberate disruption of life is not quantified in money, it will never be mentioned in the state comptroller’s reports. The employees of the Civil Administration are representatives of the authorities of “law and order,” similar to civil servants within Israel — public servants. But the public they serve and to which they are accountable sends them to destroy the lives of the population upon whom they impose “law and order,” so that the public that nominated them can continue to live in their opulent villas, and build new ones, on land cleansed of Arabs.

An IDF soldier carrying a drone of the kind recently deployed in reconnaissance missions over gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea.
Daniel Bar-On