Otherwise Occupied

A Pasture, a Pickup and Two Don Quixotes: Who Damaged the Left-wing Activists' Truck?

Screws don’t just disappear and the garage owner had no doubt: It was sabotage

A Palestinian shepherd walks near the Jewish settlement of  Revava, near the West Bank Village of Salfit, Saturday, September 25, 2010
AP

The veteran Jerusalem garage owner was stunned. He had never seen such a thing. Two bolts on the suspension (which connects the wheels to the chassis) were completely loose. One of them had been pulled out almost entirely. The nuts that secured the bolts were gone. The brake disks that are attached to the side, and which determine the angle of the wheels, were no longer in place. Nuts don’t just get lost, and the garage owner had absolutely no doubt: This was sabotage.

To really understand Israel and the Palestinians - subscribe to Haaretz

“They tried to kill you,” he told Guy Butavia, an activist in Ta’ayush, an Israeli-Palestinian anti-occupation group, who is despised by Israelis who are trying to grab more Palestinian land and expel more Palestinians from their villages. And make no mistake: The garage owner is a “kosher” Jew, and is not a supporter of Butavia and his friends.

But it’s possible that Butavia was not the intended victim of those who sabotaged the pickup truck he was driving, but rather his friend, who had used the vehicle a few days before him: Guy Hirschfeld – another left-wing activist hated by Israelis who are trying hard to expel the Palestinians, etc. Prior to that, the vehicle had been held for nine days by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and for three days it was held by the police. You could say: It was Hirschfeld who wanted to kill Butavia. These Don Quixotes, who are trying to prevent the expulsion of Palestinians from their land – who knows how much they quarrel among themselves?

>> The international committee for subsidizing the Israeli occupation | Analysis

Let’s start at the beginning: On the eve of Yom Kippur, September 18, soldiers from the Jordan Valley Brigade confiscated the truck in which three activists, including Hirschfeld, were traveling to the northern Jordan Valley. The three went up to a hill at Tel al-Khema, where Palestinians have been grazing their sheep from time immemorial, until a Hebrew outpost sprouted up in the area, about three years ago.

The story is a familiar one: There are demolition orders against the outpost but meanwhile it’s flourishing; its shepherds are hotheaded teenagers; at least one of the adults there is armed. The result: They harass the Palestinian shepherds so that they’ll be afraid to graze their flocks in the vicinity and will leave.

Hirschfeld and his friends are trying to minimize damage, to prevent any harassment in advance. That particular day they saw the Hebrew herd grazing, and about a kilometer away – the Palestinian herd. As soon as the activists arrived, one of the Hebrew shepherds made a phone call. The responsible adult at the outpost showed up, and 10 minutes after him a heroic IDF jeep zoomed in, driving straight at the Palestinian shepherds. Get out, the officer ordered. This is a firing range. And he began to chase away the Palestinians’ flock.

Hirschfeld and his friends (have we mentioned Don Quixotes?) tried to explain that the Palestinians have been grazing there sheep there for many years. “Firing range,” repeated the officer. The activists persisted: But the settlers also graze their sheep there – how can that be? The reply: “They have a grazing permit” (which is granted by the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division).

Thus the high-tech superpower invents its own tricks of the trade: live bullets that aren’t fired, because there are no training exercises and haven’t been for a long time, if at all, and that hit only Palestinian flocks and Palestinian shepherds. And because we Jews are concerned about the lives of Arabs, we chase them away. For their own good. The bullets that don’t exist don’t hit the Hebrew shepherds who are allowed to be in the closed military area.

Someone gave an order, and the officer obeyed it and confiscated the pickup truck. The Don Quixotes tried to say that there has to be an order, a receipt, something. To no avail. The officer confiscated the activists’ vehicle and that was that.

Days passed, during which attorney Leah Tsemel contacted the West Bank office of the IDF Military Advocate General in order to demand the return of the truck. On September 27 someone in the Judea and Samaria district MAG office was so kind as to respond by fax that said vehicle was being held by the Israel Police, and that Tsemel should contact the Ariel police station. But at the Ariel police they didn’t know what she was talking about.

Tsemel informed the MAG office that she intended to submit a preliminary appeal to the High Court of Justice. That finally got the troops moving. On the evening of September 27, there was a sign of life from the GPS in the truck: The vehicle was in the Jordan Valley. Someone was trying to move it.

In simple Hebrew: Someone had previously lied to Tsemel. She sent a complaint to the preliminary High Court appeals division of the State Prosecutor’s Office, with copies to the army. I’ll submit a petition, she wrote. That worked. On September 30, someone called and told Hirschfeld to come pick up the vehicle at the police station in the settlement of Kedumim.

When he arrived, he discovered a flat tire. Afterward it transpired that the hole could not be fixed. He drove the vehicle around for two days, felt that something was wrong, and assumed it was the pressure in the tires. On Friday, October 5, he brought the truck to Butavia, who crawled under the chassis and discovered the loose bolts and the missing nuts.

The IDF’s Spokesman’s Office said in response that the vehicle was seized according to authorized protocol in Judea and Samaria regarding security orders, and that, “The IDF is not aware of any damage caused to the vehicle during the days when it was being held by the army.”

For its part, the Israel Police said: “During activity by a military force, the vehicle was seized on suspicion of violating an order in a closed military area, and a few days later the vehicle was transferred to the Israel Police. When all the relevant information was received by the police, the suspect was summoned for an investigation, during which he gave his version of events, and the vehicle was returned to the suspect. We would like to note that to date the Israel Police has received no complaint, legal opinion or documentation testifying to any complaints about the condition of the vehicle.”

Hirschfeld says that during the investigation there was no mention of a closed military area, but rather some commander’s order, and they didn’t talk to him about the vehicle at all.