Khalil Anati was from the Al-Fawar refugee camp in the southern part of the West Bank; a soldier in an armored jeep shot him in the back with a live round and killed him as he was running home. He was 10 years old. Mohammed Al-Qatari was a promising soccer player from the Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah. A soldier shot him from a distance of several dozen meters while he was taking part in a demonstration against the Gaza war. He was 19 years old when he died. Hashem Abu Maria was a social worker from Beit Ummar who worked for the Geneva-based NGO Defense for Children International. He participated in a demonstration against the Gaza war, trying to protect children by preventing them from throwing stones. An IDF sharpshooter situated on a distant balcony shot and killed him. He was 45 years old, a father of three children. Soldiers killed two more demonstrators at that demonstration.
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These people were among many others killed by IDF fire far from the battlefields of Gaza. According to data provided by the United Nations Office for Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs, the IDF killed 20 adults and three children in the West Bank during the fighting in Gaza. Soldiers also wounded 2,218 people, 38% of them by live fire, a particularly high number in comparison to 14% in the first half of 2014 and 4% in 2013.
None of those killed were endangering soldiers’ lives, none of them were armed or deserved to die.
The fighting in Gaza loosened all restraint. Under its umbrella soldiers permitted themselves to use live fire in order to disperse demonstrations, settle scores with people throwing stones or Molotov cocktails – including children – and punish anyone demonstrating against the war. Perhaps these soldiers were envious of their comrades fighting in Gaza, perhaps they were frustrated at being far from the real action – in any event they were confident that no harm would befall them, not while in Gaza there was almost a massacre taking place, with the nation’s heart going out to its fighting men.
No one stopped them, no one was arrested or prosecuted. “The Military Police is investigating” has become code for the IDF spokesman in his automatic responses, a code which blurs and conceals, until the files gather dust and are forgotten. In civilian life, anyone suspected of manslaughter or murder is immediately arrested, with an investigation coming later. In the IDF the opposite is true. First comes an investigation, usually leading nowhere, even when the circumstances are straightforward. There is no question of arresting anyone, even when the incident cries out to the heavens, as in the case of the shooting at Al-Fawar. The soldier who killed the boy is apparently continuing with his life as usual.
These are routine practices associated with the occupation. There is no comparison to the numbers in Gaza, but this routine exposes the true face of the IDF, the way it regularly conducts itself with regard to Palestinians, and especially its persistent disregard for their lives and deaths. There was no war being waged on the West Bank – soldiers were not facing battalions of Izz-ad-Din al-Qassam fighters, nor were they up against attack tunnels, rockets, sharpshooters or explosive devices. Yet see how they killed and maimed, using live fire against demonstrating youths and even children; how they cut short the life of a soccer player who a few weeks earlier had been promised a brilliant career by Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA; or the lives of a 10-year-old refugee boy and a social worker innocent of any crime.
The crimes committed in the West Bank will not be investigated by any international tribunal – there is no need to prepare excuses, write reports or enlist lawyers. But it is precisely these smaller incidents – after all, what are 20 deaths in contrast to the hundredfold larger numbers in Gaza? – that should worry us. There was no war here, hardly any acts of terror, only angry demonstrations by those who were understandably driven to distraction by the fate of their brethren in Gaza. Note how they were treated by IDF soldiers.
This is the behavior of the nation’s army, its soldiers now lauded by all. One can respect and cherish the people’s love for its soldiers, but one should remember what these soldiers do as part of their routine military service, day in, day out, year after year.