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Deploy the West Bank Brigade to the Protests. Let Israelis Meet Their Army

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israeli soldiers fire tear gas canisters towards Palestinian demonstrators during a protest against President Donald Trump's Mideast initiative, in the Jordan Valley, West Bank, February 25, 2020.
Israeli soldiers fire tear gas canisters towards Palestinian demonstrators during a protest against President Donald Trump's Mideast initiative, in the Jordan Valley, West Bank, February 25, 2020.Credit: Majdi Mohammed / AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The soft souls of Israel Defense Forces soldiers are about to be corrupted: They’ve been sent to disperse a demonstration and to stand alongside police officers at roadblocks. At a roadblock in Jerusalem, a paratrooper has already been insulted by a demonstrator; where will this shame lead?

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In response, Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi, who is meticulous about preserving the purity of his soldiers, . “This is awful,” said protest activist Giora Inbar, a brigadier general in the reserves. “Once they sent paratroopers to Jerusalem ; yesterday they positioned armed paratroopers to push back demonstrators who had gone to Jerusalem to defend democracy.”

According to Inbar, between the “liberation” of Jerusalem in 1967 and the dispersal of the “democracy demonstration” on Balfour Street in 2020, the paratroopers were a local branch of the Salvation Army. They fed the elderly, helped the poor and trained by parachuting at the beach. With all due respect to Mr. Inbar, this is a rose-colored misrepresentation. The paratroopers who were brought to Jerusalem this week were doing exactly what they’ve been doing most of the past 53 years, only less brutally, of course.

An Israeli army paratrooper and a police officer man a checkpoint to enforce coronavirus regulations in Jerusalem, September 29, 2020.
An Israeli army paratrooper and a police officer man a checkpoint to enforce coronavirus regulations in Jerusalem, September 29, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

From Ammunition Hill to Paris Square, this is what they’ve been doing. Forcefully dispersing protests and and suffocating a people. A significant part of what the paratroopers and all the other field corps have been doing in the past several decades is policing and control, just like now in Jerusalem. That may not sound or look nice, and it is certainly far from being heroic – compare that teary paratrooper from the Western Wall to the paratrooper at a checkpoint – but it’s the same red beret, that should have been hidden in shame long ago. That’s the routine of the police and , the Israel Defense Forces. Every night it raids homes and drags people out of their beds, especially for their political activity, another disgraceful and illegal action. Once every few years they conduct criminal operations in Gaza or Lebanon that are hard to call wars, since there is no army opposing them. Even when they are guarding settlers in patently illegal outposts and settlements, they are actively participating in the State of Israel’s biggest political game, taking a clear and unequivocal political stand.

The IDF, as subcontractor for the occupation, is one of the most politicized armies in the world. There are few like it. Therefore, we ask the defense minister, the chief of general staff, and Brig.-Gen. Inbar – spare us your self-righteousness and hypocritical eye-rolling. The activities at Balfour Street are the most natural and necessary continuation of the paratroopers’ activity at and . No one is as skilled as they are at checkpoints, and no one is more experienced in dispersing demonstrations with force. Ask any Palestinian. It’s true that they are, for now, using kid gloves in west Jerusalem, in contrast to the way they were trained to operate in the territories. Perhaps that’s why the Paratroopers Brigade, Kochavi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz want to keep them away from the city, lest their skills get rusty. After all, on Balfour Street we’re talking about fellow Jews, Israeli citizens, human beings.

But the IDF has even better trained forces than the paratroopers, whose glory is somewhat muted. Troops of , the infantry battalions deployed in the West bank, are experts in handling checkpoints and demonstrations. Perhaps it would be better to move them to Balfour Street, to replace those of the red beret.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah visit soldiers of the Kfir Brigade in Gush Etzion, West Bank, March 26, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah visit soldiers of the Kfir Brigade in Gush Etzion, West Bank, March 26, 2016.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

The wouldn’t do a bad job, either. Simply set the border policemen free, and they will abuse the demonstrators, steal from them and even . Those who did this in a rubbish depot in East Jerusalem can easily do the same in the western part of the city, after a short adjustment period. The self-righteous fear that the people’s army will become politicized and will turn into guardians of the regime. No need to worry; .

Perhaps there is some positive aspect to all this: The people will finally get to know its army and how it works. Send the Kfir Brigade to Balfour Street and Israelis will be shocked. That’s another reason why Kochavi and Gantz want to keep the army off of the streets; so we won’t see what it really does and how its soldiers routinely treat human beings.

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