Opinion

Threatening and Racist Language Also Part of the Israeli Soldier's Arsenal

Following fires at a settlement in the West Bank, the Israeli army closed off a Palestinian village. It's just part of the daily routine of the occupation.

An Israeli soldier poses for a photograph in the West Bank village of Deir Nizam, December 8, 2016.
Amira Hass

“If you take my picture, I’ll smash your camera.” The speaker was an Israel Defense Forces soldier, armed with a rifle and wearing a hat and visor that covered the back of his neck. His colleague really didn’t care whether I took photographs. He stared straight into the camera, with his rifle, sidecurls and kippa, and smiled. The third soldier, bareheaded and with his rifle hanging by his side, sat casually on a rock.

The fact they were not wearing helmets indicated that they did not feel in danger in the position they had taken up two hours earlier – below the first house at the entrance to the West Bank village of Deir Nizam.

This is the village where, two weeks earlier, the IDF had imposed a blockade with varying degrees of severity. Soldiers patrolled inside the village, throwing stun grenades and tear gas at the village homes, and at the residents themselves. If a soldier can talk like that to an Israeli woman three times his age, imagine how he would treat Palestinians – both male and female – whom he was sent by order to harass.

And why close off the village? “Following the terrorist arson attack on the settlement of Neveh Tzuf (Halamish) and the throwing of stones from the direction of Deir Nizam,” was the answer of the IDF Spokesman’s Office. Stone throwing? Okay, if there is an occupier, there are stones. It’s elementary. But a “terrorist arson attack”? There are no suspects. Some children and a young man who had been arrested (on suspicion of “disturbing the peace”) were released after a few hours. So why link the closure to a “terrorist arson attack”?

It’s to follow the incitement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett; to satisfy the settlers’ desire for collective revenge; and to foster an automatic Israeli consensus that life in the village should be disrupted and its residents terrorized.

Israeli consensus is anyway fostered by willful blissful ignorance. After all, the IDF Spokesman’s Office doesn’t routinely report on how many stun grenades soldiers have thrown at village homes, day and night, or how many tear gas canisters have been aimed at a school with the students inside.

Let’s give the spokesman’s office the benefit of the doubt. The soldiers and their commanders wouldn’t voluntarily tell the office, for example, that one of them had thrown a stun grenade at 73-year-old Aisha Tamimi near her home. A boy who had never thrown stones would start to do so after seeing soldiers mistreat their friend’s grandmother. It’s elementary.

When I said on Thursday that I was going to Deir Nizam, one of my editors wondered, “Why didn’t we know about the closure?” (The IDF Spokesman’s Office, as per usual, has been downplaying the closure, claiming it was merely the temporary closure of one of the access roads to the village. In truth, however, it involved the closure of two roads, and denying access to cars seeking to enter or leave the village on the only road that wasn’t closed, along with terrifying the village day and night.)

It was another opportunity for me to didactically point out to my colleague that there are hundreds of such occupation-related incidents on a daily basis, and to add that because of staffing levels at the newspaper, its size (or lack thereof) and readership considerations, we don’t report on even one hundredth of them.

But let’s get back to the first house at the entrance to Deir Nizam last Thursday afternoon. The soldier with the kippa called someone – probably a commander in a nearly pillbox or jeep – and announced: “There’s some photographer woman here, and there are some arabushim throwing stones,” using a derogatory Hebrew term for Arabs.

If a soldier feels so uninhibited in reporting about kikes, oops, I mean niggers, no, sorry, arabushim, it’s easy to imagine how he would allow himself to act when he’s sent by order to harass the villagers.

At that moment, as the skies darkened after a sunny day where it was biting cold in the shade, no one was throwing stones. But the children behind the olive trees would have passed for American Indians. And on the road into the village, up the hill, I passed a scattering of stones on the asphalt, which hinted at what had happened there: An IDF jeep had probably drove by and the children had used the stones to demonstrate what they thought of the invaders.

“Don’t threaten me,” I told the soldier who had threatened to smash my camera and moved toward him. “Don’t come near me,” he said as he approached, wagging an admonishing finger at me. I called the IDF Spokesman’s Office to report the foul language of one soldier and the threatened violence of a second one, but didn’t expect anyone there to really bother. “Arabushim are small Arabs,” explained the soldier with the kippa. Then I heard someone on a two-way radio, probably an officer, instructing the three soldiers to leave the vicinity of the house where they had positioned themselves and to proceed toward the main road.

They had begun walking, their backs to the village, when two masked young villagers emerged from among the trees, yelling “sharmuta” [slut], slingshot in hand, trying to hit the soldiers. (And yes, I was concerned that a stone would hit my car, which was within their range, but the kids failed to heed my request that they stop.)

“Take their picture, take their picture!” yelled one of the soldiers, as if I had come upon a skirmish between children. But it was no skirmish between children. The soldiers are there because they have been sent to guard the booty, the settlement of Halamish, which was built on land belonging to Deir Nizam, along with the spring that the settlement took over. Threats and foul language are part of their ammunition. And the children? As a local resident of about 40 said, “Here, a child of 12 is not a child.”