In the Hebrew whitewashing dictionary, the three-letter root pe-ayin-lamed has an important place. The socialist-sounding word poalim (workers) was long ago pushed aside in favor of the synonym ovdim, or more frequently, in favor of phrases from the privatization age such as workforce and manpower.
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But this root – in its benign meaning “to operate” – is required when we report on army raids in the populated Palestinian pockets of the West Bank and in the margins of Gaza. Terms like “military raids,” “attacks,” “offenses” or “invasions” don’t make it through the Israeli media’s self-censorship.
“Three Israel Defense Forces battalions are operating this morning in the al-Fawwar refugee camp,” it was reported last Tuesday. The battalions withdrew after 17 hours. During the attack, 18-year-old Mohammed Abu Hashash, was killed, 32 were wounded by live fire, and another 15 either suffered from tear gas inhalation or wounds from rubber-tipped bullets. Soldiers shot up rooftop water tanks, and children were traumatized.
The spokespeople called it a battalion-wide operation, or a mivtza in Hebrew. That’s another very versatile term. Mivtza can also mean “sale” or a going-out-of-business sale, but also for a military operation, as in 1982’s Operation Peace for the Galilee and 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. It reminds us that the language of military-political hasbara – a word often translated as public diplomacy – is chosen carefully to shape our consciousness so that it will be as far as possible from reality.
The goals of Tuesday’s operation, according to the IDF spokesman and as Haaretz has reported, were to arrest suspects, confiscate weapons and hand out summonses for investigations. The same was written more or less on the Channel 7 and Channel 20 websites, with the addition of “disrupting the terrorist infrastructure.”
The Walla news site was more specific, stating that the incursion was a military operation in a new form, and that the soldiers belonged to Nahal’s 50th Battalion, the elite Egoz unit and the 605th Military Engineering Brigade. “The list of the forces’ goals included 60 targets, among them terrorists, weapons searches and others,” the site reported.
So what came out of almost 20 hours of the army’s attacks on the camp? According to Walla, the real achievement was didactic: “The fighters arrested three activists, located arms and held many warning talks in order to create pressure that will make the terrorists think twice before carrying out attacks.”
Haaretz’s Gili Cohen reported on the arrest of three Palestinians who were wanted for interrogation, and on the finding of two handguns, stun grenades and military equipment including flak jackets, helmets and canteens. Channel 20 added “bullets” to the list.
Lacking a military background, I admit my difficulty in reading what I read. Did three battalions really spend 17 hours working against an “infrastructure” comprised of three suspects (the IDF spokesman later said five were arrested), two handguns, a commando knife, canteens and flak jackets?
I don’t play down the danger of two handguns or the importance of a canteen to bolster a member of the infrastructure. But was the booty so meager because the menacing infrastructure was too sophisticated and too well concealed for three battalions of heroes?
A B’Tselem investigator and al-Fawwar native, Musa Abu Hashash, learned that one of the handguns was found in the garbage by a resident who’s a garbage collector in Hebron. The gun was broken, they told him. The man and his son were arrested.
I asked the army spokesman if the father and son were a goal from the start. He didn’t reply. The spokesman also said Palestinians shot at our attacking forces. Was the fire from the two handguns? And if they were from other weapons, how were they not seized? Isn’t it a major failure that three battalions failed to seize them?
I don’t expect replies from the army spokesman, but I still asked if the stun grenades they seized were “active” (pe’ilim) or empty ones collected after previous army offenses. Remember that Abdullah Abu Rahma of Bil’in was accused of possessing illegal arms because he organized an exhibition of empty stun grenades and tear gas canisters that soldiers had used to suppress demonstrations in the village.
I also asked if the terrible military equipment that was found (flak jackets, helmets and canteens) was army equipment that soldiers had forgotten during previous attacks, or if it was the equipment of a militia in the middle of preparations. So I asked.
Hundreds of soldiers, perhaps 1,000, were in a camp of crowded alleyways with one main street. Around 10,000 people live there. Half of them are women of all ages, and a third are children under 14. Another 20 percent are elderly. So what exactly was their operation there among 3,300 babies and children, around 2,000 men and women ages 40 to 100, and another 2,500 women 15 to 40?
That leaves 2,000 boys, youths and young men. A minority of them went out into the alleys to exercise their right to resist the invader. They are the age of the attackers. They have no flak jackets, helmets or knee guards. They lack military training. They have no guns. They are David, with stones and cement blocks in their hands, and they are fearless of us, the ones who darken their present and future.