Cogs in the Israel Settlement Defense Forces

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Israeli troops detain a Palestinian medic during a protest against settlements, in Kafr Malik in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, November 20, 2020.
Israeli troops detain a Palestinian medic during a protest against settlements, in Kafr Malik in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, November 20, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

A pillowcase. That’s what soldiers put over the head of Ayman Abu Alia from the village of Mughayir during his arrest, 40 days after other soldiers (or who knows, maybe it was the same ones) killed his 15-year-old son Ali. I choked up at this particular detail, which Nihad, the bereaved mother, remembered as if it were an afterthought. A pillowcase. What is more domestic than that? An item from the bedroom, which soldiers entered with the nonchalance of victors, and brimming with self-indulgent suzerainty, put the pillowcase over the head of a man in cuffs to disorient and humiliate him.

The bereaved father, flooded with pain over his dead son, was led before dawn through the dark streets. Perhaps the white pillowcase was the only thing the other villagers could see when they peeked out of their windows. Twenty-four residents of Mughayir and Kafr Malik were arrested on that early morning of January 14. Ten were released a few hours later, including Abu Alia.

The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service said outright that the purpose of the arrests was to deter the residents from protesting against the old and new settler outposts that terrorize the entire area with impunity. Two years ago, Israelis who came down from the ever-expanding outpost of Adei Ad opened fire on farmers from Mughayir. Nine people were injured; a tenth, Hamdi Na’asan, died of his wounds. The murder never made it to court.

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers age 19 to 21 are deployed every night on missions of state terror when they break into Palestinian homes in the West Bank, without a judge’s warrant or oversight of a body that is not an interested party (there is no such body). The authority is a military order from 54 years ago, when we thought the occupation was temporary. We were wrong, and now it’s impossible to understand our society without taking into account the tens of thousands of Israelis who, with a sense of entitlement, commit these violent intrusions on the privacy of millions of Palestinians.

Israel gives these young soldiers so much power. They kick in doors or break them down with a huge explosion that invades the sleep of the people who live in the house. With shouts and screams they raid the rooms; with guns aimed, they rouse the children, the old and the young out of their beds.

Imagine them, the great heroes: heavily armed, sometimes with a dog in tow, wearing helmets, standing in front of the pajama-clad residents. They move the family into one or two rooms. Sometimes they make arrests immediately, sometimes they rummage through the towel and underwear drawers, or shoot holes in the mattresses. Sometimes they pour out the contents of sugar and rice sacks. Sometimes they take over the house and turn it into a military post. They bark orders, they shout, “quiet.” Sometimes they take the people outside into the cold. Is it the darkness or their acquired hardheartedness that prevents the soldiers from seeing that the children’s lips are turning blue?

Making sure the people taken outside of their homes are cold is another way to show control, like invading the house and pointing the guns at the heads of the women and the elderly. During the arrests at Mughayir some 10 days ago, the soldiers didn’t let the detainees put on something warm. Does that come to them intuitively, to those darlings of dozens of Jewish mothers, or does their commander order them to make sure those they arrest are cold?

“On Fridays, you’re heroes in your demonstrations, but here you’re girls,” a Shin Bet coordinator mocked the detainees from Mughayir and Kafr Malik, after someone dared to say he was cold. You don’t have to be an expert on gender to understand the boundaries of that Shin Bet operative’s world.

The detainees were made to sit in the courtyard, blindfolded, with wrists cuffed. When someone said something to the man next to him, a soldier came and hit him. From time to time a soldier tightened someone’s cuffs, so it hurt more. We heard about these methods 20, 30 years ago. Are the slaps and the tightening of the cuffs tics that are transmitted in the Israeli genes, or are these orders that are passed on from one cohort of soldiers to another? So many of these soldiers, commanders and Shin Bet coordinators – heroes who terrorize the civilian population, keep them cold and in pain – have become heads of political parties in Israel and are running for prime minister or to become ministers and Knesset members.

Soldiers are a small cog in the conveyor belt of the Israel Settlement Defense Forces. Their ignorance and lack of curiosity are as essential as their helmets. Small cogs, but important ones. Because they are many, because some of them become commanders, because they recite the mantra of the Shin Bet, that every protester and opponent of a foreign regime is a terrorist. The mantra that silences all independent thinking.

The progrom-like violence of the “hilltop youth,” which in recent weeks has reached new heights, is shocking. That shock is still a kind of bon ton in what is called the “Israeli center,” especially because those same pious thugs attack police and soldiers. But what is the response of our army when settlers run amok? It not only stands and does nothing, it carries out more raids on villages that dare stand up against the rampagers. Here “the Israeli center” falls silent. This doesn’t shock them. Here it supports the violence. Because it guarantees that we, undisturbed, will continue to devour the Palestinians’ land.