Rumor has it that Golani infantry soldiers will remain in the area until May, and in Hebron residents are worried. Very worried. Since the Golani soldiers replaced the Kfir Brigade's Shimshon battalion in December 2011 (which, in turn, had replaced the Givati infantry ), city residents have sensed a manifest worsening of soldiers' behavior.
This diagnosis is shared by international observers based in Hebron, along with Yehuda Shaul, from "Breaking the Silence," who is Israel's leading expert regarding this tortured venue, designated H2 in Oslo process parlance - an urban area in which settlers and the IDF have unbridled authority. Shaul concurs that this Golani unit is more aggressive than predecessor forces in the area.
In what way have things become worse? Witnesses refer to protracted delays at crossing points that straddle the Jewish settled part of the city and the remainder of Hebron (H1 ); the witnesses attest to soldiers who rummage through children's schoolbags and otherwise harass the youngsters, and they talk about settlers beating local residents and the arrest of grass-roots activists.
Using as their basis the testimony of residents and bystanders, observers in the city have drafted a partial list of such incidents that have occurred since December. "We aren't able to examine and record all the incidents," a CPT (Christian Peacemaker Team ) member told Haaretz. However, the incidents are so numerous that they can be classified in a number of categories: detention, intimidation, provocation and arrest of children and teenagers; arbitrary detention of Palestinians or blocking access to roads; beating or threatened beating of detained residents; religion-based provocation and insults; forcible entry into homes and violation of Palestinian property; reprisals against local and international human rights activists.
Presented here is an incomplete record, a sample of complaints registered since late January and early February:
January 30: Soldiers required a person to remain outside (in cold, wet weather ) for an hour, as punishment for the fact that he fixed a satellite television dish on his roof. Soldiers told him that in the future he must obtain special permission to climb up and work on his roof. IDF soldiers encircled a Palestinian home in Tel Rumeida, trampled a garden and aimed floodlights at residents of the dwelling. For about three weeks soldiers trained in the home's vicinity; their early morning drills included shouts, the tossing of sound grenades and raids into the house.
February 2: In late afternoon, two soldiers detained two children, aged 12 and 14. They held the children for 45 minutes on Shuhada Street, close to the entrance of the Muslim cemetery. Subsequently, the soldiers took the children to an army base, via the cemetery. They held the youngsters on the base for about two hours, before letting them go.
During a military patrol, eleven soldiers entered a mosque around the Old City's chicken market; the soldiers did not remove their boots, and remained in the mosque for about 20 minutes.
February 4: Soldiers apprehended four children about nine years old at the gate of the municipality building, and took the children into an alley. They claimed that the children threw stones. Witnesses said that they heard something that might have been the sound of a small stone falling, but they did not see these children throw anything. A witness related that he told the soldiers that the children are too small to be detained, and the soldiers replied that they would arrest the children's fathers. They released the children after about half an hour.
February 6: Six soldiers arrived at the Qurtuba School at Tel Rumeida, at an hour when pupils were leaving the building. They detained two children who appeared to be about 11 years old; they threatened the children, saying they would be arrested for stone-throwing. Some teachers and the principal told the soldiers that the children did not throw any stones. The soldiers said that they would release the children in this case, but were they to throw stones again at Israelis, they [the soldiers] would arrest them and make trouble for the whole school.
February 7: Soldiers at the Qurtuba military checkpoint detained a foreign civilian, a volunteer of International Solidarity Movement, and told him that the use of cameras is forbidden. The man stopped taking pictures, but the soldiers took him nonetheless to a police station. He was released after a few hours, but the soldiers returned and arrested him at 10:30 PM. The same night, they detained another ISM member.
February 8: Golani and Border Police soldiers raided at least 30 Old City homes, in early morning hours. They pounded doors with their rifles and boots, broke locks and searched through household items. They held an eight-person family (including two small children ) in a small room of a house for four hours; the Palestinians were not allowed to use the bathroom. In another incident, they locked alone in a room a mentally disabled girl who suffers from respiratory ailments. Other members of the family were forced to remain outside during the search. Another resident reported that soldiers who raided his home claimed that his children had thrown stones; his children are under the age of four. Soldiers left behind in the homes broken glass, shattered locks and household items strewn on the floor.
Experience and logic suggest that the IDF Spokesman would be unable to relate to such a proliferation of claims and testimony within two days. Had we provided a detailed report about one or two incidents, the cumulative character of the intensified aggressiveness would not have been perceptible and precious time would have been lost. In this case, professional norms of patience conflicted against a comparably professional goal of listening to, and providing a voice to the feelings of anxiety and urgency which currently unite residents of Hebron.
At any rate, the IDF Spokesman responded as follows: "Acting in response to appeals made by residents and international observers concerning the attitude displayed by soldiers in this region, some specific instances of deviation from army orders were identified. The subject was addressed at a disciplinary level. Such instances are exceptional and do not reflect the conduct of IDF forces in the region."