When Ami Popper murdered seven Palestinian workers and injured 11 more on May 20, 1990, GOC Southern Command Matan Vilnai wanted to prevent an escalation. He summoned a young revolutionary, Fatah activist Sami Abu Samhadana, from the Rafah refugee camp and consulted with him on how to head off further bloodshed.
His attorney, Tamar Peleg, told me at the time that Abu Samhadana happened to be at home, between one administrative detention and the next and before the issue of a deportation order against the vanguard of the popular uprising. He told Peleg that he advised Vilnai to do the obvious: Keep your soldiers and their weapons in barracks, far from the mourners. Vilnai, it is said, took his advice.
Abu Samhadana receded into anonymity. Peleg, considerably past retirement age, is still representing administrative detainees. Vilnai donned civvies and remained in the army, while the murderer grew the beard of newly observant Jews, married, fathered children, killed his wife and one of their children in an accident, remarried and has had innumerable furloughs from prison.
Only the logical advice remains as it was. How many human lives and how much bitterness and wrath would have been spared in the past 44 years had the authorities followed it. Which leads to the question: If he does not deploy his armed men in the heart of a civilian neighborhood, how will the ruler feel like a ruler? How will the sovereign - if his forces do not patrol spitefully near a school during recess - depict himself as the Order that must not be disturbed?
That is what happened on May 15, Nakba Day, in Isawiyah, a village that isn't exactly a neighborhood and a neighborhood that was a village until all its available land for agriculture and construction faded away for the benefit of the sovereign and Order: a national park for Jews to the south, a terrifying superhighway to the east, a Border Police camp to the east as well, a military camp on a hilltop in the middle and spacious neighborhoods for Jews to the west. A foreigner would not realize that this strangled village, overlooked by our fortress of higher education, is part of our eternal capital - whose unification we will fake this week with an official, annual celebration. A foreigner would think this village is a set for a film on Stephen Biko.
The force deployed at the western entrance to the village is in fact understandable. This is the gate to the lush, broad and manicured streets of French Hill. The sovereign, creator of slums and the guardian that preserves them, knows that the simmering wrath must not be allowed to spill over and disturb the White Man's rest.
But this last Nakba Day, about half a kilometer from that western entrance, deep in the heart of the village, a large Border Police force marked out territory with a vehicle that sprayed blue water, with tear-gas grenades, faces masked in black, black uniforms, rifles and blows. In the alleys and on the narrow main street full of potholes the guys prepared. They wanted to thwart the advance of the forces of order with burning garbage containers and barricades of stones. They knew the filming balloon hovering over Al Aqsa and the East Jerusalem neighborhoods ignores - like the municipality headed by Mayor Nir Barkat - the unmaintained roads and the neglect, and transmits to the sovereign only their portraits. They knew that the Border Police and the special police forces come disguised as masked rebels.
And what would have happened had the sovereign's representatives, their weapons erect and ready for discharge, not appeared in the heart of the village? There would have been no one at whom to throw stones and the fire in the garbage containers would have died down undisturbed.
In the heart of that slum, on that Nakba Day, A.A., a boy of 15 and a half, went to buy cigarettes for his father (Haaretz, May 27 ). The police, who say he threw stones and that his face was masked, explain in the following way why the boy arrived at the hospital unconscious and remained there for 11 days: "During the course of the pursuit of the stonethrowers one paint bullet was fired and as a result the youngster was hit, fell to the ground and was injured. He was picked up by the forces and taken for medical treatment at the police clinic. The medic determined that he should be transferred to a hospital for continued medical treatment." Let us suppose it was not a focused blow from a rifle butt, as the boy claims. Let us suppose it really was a single paint bullet that found its way to his head. Here is what the one and only paint bullet fired by the Border Police and the police accomplished, as enumerated in the medical report: a scalp hematoma, a linear skull fracture, subcutaneous swelling and hematomas on his face and chest, multiple scratches on his back, multiple signs of blows on his limbs and a tear in his liver.
The police response to Haaretz evaded the medical findings and the following facts presented to them: The police dragged the unconscious boy on the road after he was beaten on his head. He was loaded onto a Jeep, was unloaded from it at a gas station and there, so that he would regain consciousness, he was sprayed with water and air from the tire pump. He was beaten repeatedly, he spit blood and he fainted again. He still had deep handcuff marks on his wrists 10 days after the cuffs were removed.
The police wrote that at their initiative they had "sent all the materials in this incident" to the Police Investigation Unit.
Investigation? Objective? You've made the inhabitants of the village laugh. A few people, who presumably were eyewitnesses to the paint ball and its deeds, have told me they weren't there. Their eyes lied and apologized for lying. Their fear says they know the sovereign is always not guilty. Their fear says they do not distinguish between the terrorizing sovereign and Israeli Jewish society. This is a society that is living in peace with the transformation of the village into a neighborhood choking on its masterminded poverty. It will also live in peace with the sovereign's agents who beat up Palestinians and covet their land.