Opinion |

Soldiers Deployed in Beita Sleep Well

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinian protestors carry a wounded comrade during clashes with Israeli security forces in the village of Beita, earlier this month
Palestinian protestors carry a wounded comrade during clashes with Israeli security forces in the village of Beita, earlier this monthCredit: Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The Israel Defense Forces educates and trains its soldiers well. Its commanders are kept up-to-date, they keep their comrades-in-arms informed and they conduct briefings before and after every mission.

Wounding and killing Palestinian demonstrators are not mistakes. If they were localized mistakes the lessons would have been learned and this would have stopped long ago. Firing at unarmed Palestinian civilians is part of the noncombat legacy, which generations of Israeli soldiers, who are convinced of their heroism, have been taught. The license to kill and wound unarmed people is granted in the context of the soldiers’ training and while they are fulfilling their role as the army of defense for the settlement enterprise.

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IDF soldiers are very familiar with their weapons and ammunition. They are taught when to hold fire and when to shoot. When and how to aim high, or aim low. When to use lethal ammunition, and when and how to make nonlethal ammunition dangerous. That’s why various conclusions can be drawn from the army’s conduct in the past two months, while suppressing Palestinian demonstrations against the invasion of the Evyatar settlers into Mount Sabih, to land belonging to the villages of Beita, Qabalan and Yatma.

• The soldiers who killed four Beita residents on four separate days of demonstrations and wounded dozens of others with live fire, intended to cause serious injury, if not to kill. Their skill and their weapons attest to that.

• They wouldn’t shoot to wound or to kill without permission in advance and/or after the fact from their superior officers.

• The soldiers and their commanders sleep well at night also after they kill and wound Palestinians demonstrating against a violent invasion of their land. Their partners and parents sleep well too.

• These soldiers are adding insult to injury. They themselves invade cultivated farmland in order to protect the invading settlers. Imagine what would happen to an armed Palestinian policemen who entered a vineyard in the settlement of Psagot, which was planted on land stolen from the residents of El Bireh.

Settlers march from Tapuach Junction to the Evyatar outpost, this month, against a backdrop of smoke from the burning of tires by residents of nearby Palestinian villagesCredit: Hadas Parush

• The IDF spokesman’s announcements regarding three of the four recent fatal incidents in Beita indicate that the demonstrators who were shot and killed did not present any danger to the lives of the soldiers who were firing and/or to the armed Israeli civilians who were nearby. How do we know that? In one instance – involving Issa Barham, 41, an expert in international criminal law who worked in the Palestinian prosecutor’s office in the Salfit district, and who intended to help evacuate the wounded – there wasn’t even an announcement by the army spokesman that day, regarding the protests or the victim.

Concerning Zakaria Hamayel, a 26-year-old teacher of Arabic, and Mohammed Hamayel, a 16-year-old high-schooler, the spokesman issued a statement, after each death, that he was familiar with the report that a Palestinian had been killed. If any soldier present had felt even the faintest fear for his physical welfare or his life, that fact would have morphed in the spokesman’s report into a specific rather than a generic assertion that “a soldier’s life was in danger.”

• Regarding the fourth Beita victim – Ahmad Bani Shamseh, also a high-school student – it was claimed that he ran toward a soldier and threw an object at him that exploded; the army’s suspicion was that the latter was an “explosive device.” The spokesman did not specifically say there had been a danger to the soldier’s life, or anyone else’s. Nor does he explain what the object was. (Fireworks? A Molotov cocktail? A homemade explosive device?) Or what the distance was between Shamseh and the soldiers? Twenty meters? A hundred? Or what were the differences in height between where they were each standing?

• Soldiers know they are allowed to fire tear-gas grenades at wounded Palestinians and their rescuers, and to aim rubber-coated metal bullets at evacuators and ambulances transporting the wounded. The spokesman says that aiming and hitting rescuers and injured people are not deliberate acts. Permit me to have my doubts: Without hints and signals from the officers that it is permitted to interfere with the evacuation of the wounded and to harm their rescuers – this custom would not be repeated during every suppression of a Palestinian protest.

• Shooting with live fire at the upper torso of demonstrators is part of the procedure, because it is meant to scare and deter other demonstrators, and to end the protest in Beita, so that the invaders of Evyatar will be satisfied and will remain happy. But the shooting, it turns out, is not a deterrent.

The Evyatar outpost, last weekCredit: Hadas Parush

• The demonstrators from Beita and other villages are heroes. With their own bodies they are trying to prevent another massive land-grab. They know the soldiers have permission to take their lives, and yet they continue to protest and to deploy in the terraces on the hill and among the olive groves.

• The Palestinian Red Crescent teams and those volunteering to evacuate the wounded are also heroes.

• The topography of this area clearly favors the soldiers and the armed Israeli civilians: They are located at the top of the highest hill. The demonstrators, who are unarmed or equipped with stones that are thrown symbolically, from a distance that cannot reach the settlers, or with tires and firecrackers, usually descend into the wadi below from other hilltops, spread out on the cliffs and then climb up toward Evyatar – exposed to the sights of IDF rifles.

• It is the soldiers who determine the distance between themselves and the demonstrators, and the differences in height between where they are standing. If the troops wanted to reduce the friction and to prevent loss of life and injuries on the Palestinian side – they would deploy around the outpost itself, next to the steep and hard-to-climb parts of the hilltop. They would remain at the entrances of the dirt roads that lead to the groves, at a considerable distance from the demonstrators.

• Soldiers enjoy the action. “Action” means sniping and causing injury.

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