Opinion |

Plowing Into the Defenseless

The IDF officer asked two of his subordinates to help him help with three settlers harassing Palestinians. He asked – big deal.

Amira Hass
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A settler on private Palestinian land in the West Bank village of Sussia.
A settler on private Palestinian land in the West Bank village of Sussia. Credit: Ta'ayush
Amira Hass

An Israel Defense Forces soldier ignored his commander’s request to help him and four other soldiers overpower three settlers. The settlers had violated a military order by entering Palestinian land to disrupt plowing work.

Or, as the IDF spokesman put it, “The company commander, who was in charge during the incident, gestured to one of his soldiers to come and help. But due to the rapid overpowering [of the settlers], the commander noticed only afterward that the soldier hadn’t come. At the conclusion of the incident, the company commander held an inquiry and dealt with it at the command level.”

But Amiel Vardi, an activist in the Ta’ayush Arab-Jewish organization, said he saw the officer gesture to two soldiers who were standing next to their jeep and were watching their comrades try to overpower the settlers. “Nothing happened; the soldiers didn’t come. And then the commander sent one of the soldiers with him over to them, but he returned by himself,” recalled Vardi, who was amazed to see two soldiers showing such contempt for their comrades.

True, this is old news: it happened a month ago. But during a chance conversation, several Ta’ayush activists told Haaretz the incident was more dramatic than described in the Israeli media. Therefore, we’re revisiting it here, along with video footage that can be seen in the online version of this column.

Let’s start by recalling a few facts. For years, settlers in the Sussia area have been harassing residents of this heroic West Bank village and preventing them from accessing some 3,000 dunams (741 acres) of agricultural land (while also pressing for the demolition of all their homes).

Following an exhausting legal battle by the residents – with the assistance of Rabbis for Human Rights and lawyer Quamar Mashraqi Assad, which included a petition to the High Court of Justice – the army graciously agreed to issue military orders barring Israelis from entering a grand total of around 400 dunams.

Ta'ayush organization video of settler on private Palestinian landCredit: Ta'ayush/YouTube
Ta'ayush video footage of Palestinian farmers being harassed by settlersCredit: Ta'ayush
Ta'ayush video footage of tussle between settler and IDF soldiersCredit: Ta'ayush

That’s not very much. But even here, the settler harassers are continuing their efforts. Therefore, Ta’ayush escorts the farmers.

Ta’ayush activist Michal Peleg let me steal her eyewitness testimony. “On a cold Shabbat morning, December 31, 2016, in a small field below the village of Sussia, a family was plowing: three men, a woman, a teenager and a child [the Nawajah family], iron plows attached to two donkeys, difficult furrows in hard, rocky soil. First, they politely asked the trespasser to leave the field. The trespasser, who called himself Daoud, joked with the soldiers and occasionally went wild, threatening and shoving the plowers and their donkeys.

“The soldiers continued begging him to be kind enough to leave. He demanded proof, an order. They sent for, and showed him, a map on which the area was marked as out of bounds for Israelis due to previous harassment. The Jew laughed and left.

“The plowing resumed. The men and the woman pulled hard on the donkeys and urged them to speed up, as they were now afraid.

“Sure enough, the Jew returned, accompanied by two other men, and the three stormed the field, prancing about gleefully. The soldiers tried to bar their way. The three attacked them, shoving and hitting them. The soldiers overpowered the thugs with great effort and held them down on the ground.

“The family stood by silently; the woman was crying. And we, the six Israelis, also watched what was happening from the sidelines, filming and trying to protect people who have no right to raise a hand or even shove to defend themselves, let alone their property. We demanded that the sovereign in this area evict the trespassers and allow the owners of the land to continue plowing it.

“The police came. The trespassers were arrested. But the plowing didn’t resume.

“The field is near a water cistern. The land around the cistern was blocked off with rubbish, and not far from it a slogan was spelled out in stones, in Hebrew: ‘Vengeance,’ plus a Star of David. The Palestinian landowner arrived to remove the rubbish, with our help.

“We called the police to document the ‘vengeance’ slogan. Then we removed the hateful slogan. The Jews of [the settlement of] Susya called the Israeli army to prevent us from removing the ‘vengeance’ slogan from the private Arab land. The army didn’t accede to their request. That was the background to the thugs’ assault.”

Peleg continued: “Every attack on Jews, whether civilians or soldiers, has ‘color’ – that is, personalities, neighbors, interviews, friends, descriptions, live broadcasts, details. ... Had it not been for the arrest of the Jews, nobody would have heard of this incident at all.

“So here’s a little color. The Jew who trespassed on the field was a big, muscular young man. It took two or even three soldiers to hold him. He was also in high spirits, shouting and singing.

“When he was lying on the ground underneath two panting soldiers, he began singing softly, ‘Ay Tateh, ay Mameh, they’re beating, beating me, Mameh.’ Nobody was beating him, of course. His friends laughed. All of us – that is, all of us Israelis – were party to the hidden joke of this ghetto song; we all knew it was the adage about the robbed Cossack.

“Only the Arabs didn’t get it. They saw the reality: Crude, blatant, brazen violence by those who are above the law and aren’t afraid of soldiers, policemen or courts – the same law, the same soldiers, policemen, [military] administration and courts that, at any given moment, can destroy or even take their lives.”

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