Opinion

We Cannot Ignore the Baby From the West Bank

After throwing a stun grenade at a couple holding an infant, even the police were able to provide in their statement a faint hint of what it's like to act human

Palestinian couple flee Israeli forces in the West Bank village of Burin

The footage opens with four well-armed, well-protected border policemen advancing together, when suddenly a couple enters the bottom of the frame and flees in panic, the woman gripping the man’s arm in terror. He tries to shelter the baby he’s carrying on his chest, and then one of the policemen rolls a grenade under their legs, which blows up, making the couple jump in fright. What’s almost as astounding as this incident in the West Bank village of Burin is the response of the police, who are responsible for the Border Police.

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As they put it, “The video shows a partial and edited picture. During violent riots that broke out at that site, and which apparently got ‘cut in editing,’ dozens of rioters threw stones at the fighters near the house and around it. At one point, a Red Crescent ambulance asked the force commander if it could evacuate a man from the house near which the Palestinians were rioting, and he acceded to this request and allowed his immediate evacuation, despite the violent, active rioting in the area.

Yesh Din

“As this evacuation was taking place, the force saw two suspects trying to flee the site where the dozens of rioters had gathered shortly beforehand, and in response, one of the fighters threw a single stun grenade at them. The Palestinian fled the scene with his back to the fighters, and therefore, they couldn’t see that he was carrying a baby in his arms. Such flight is characteristic of rioters who throw stones at soldiers, endangering their lives; they try to flee the scene in order to avoid arrest at any price. Needless to say, had the fighters seen the baby, they would surely have acted accordingly.”

The beginning of this response tries to put what your eyes see in a certain context. The context is “riots.” In other words, “We aren’t frightening them and using indiscriminate violence against them for no reason; we’re just defending ourselves.” The context is, “What you see here, in defiance of every rational thought that passes through your head, is a defensive act by a generous army or police, which allowed an ambulance to evacuate someone from a house where something happened." (The response doesn’t say what happened, only that there was "violent, active rioting in the area.")

Go further into the response and you’ll find “two suspects trying to flee the scene,” even though the footage clearly shows a man and woman fleeing together. Hebrew is a forgiving language, and according to the laws of grammar, the woman is properly gendered as a man in the plural noun “suspects,” and thus turns into a suspect herself. In the next sentence, she disappears altogether, and we’re left with a “Palestinian [who] fled the scene with his back to the fighters.”

This Palestinian, according to the police response, didn’t merely run; he ran in a characteristic fashion – a fashion characteristic of someone who’s afraid and fleeing the scene, certainly not that of someone who’s trying to save his baby. This is the running characteristic of stone-throwers, which makes the Israel Defense Forces or the Border Police take additional defensive measures, which amount to attacking him as he flees.

And here we come to the Achilles’ heel; that is, the baby, whose presence must be drowned out in other sentences that deny aggression and put on a pretense of defense. It’s impossible to conceal him, and despite the desire to cast all responsibility for his fate on his father, who ran in a fashion characteristic of stone-throwers, he’s there, jumping together with his frightened parents, beneath whose legs the border policemen threw a grenade.

It’s so impossible to deny his presence that only in the last sentence, which mentions him, does the faint hint of an alternative appear, a wisp of possibility of another way to behave – perhaps as human beings. In other words, to “act accordingly,” as the police put it.