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Vanguard in Humiliating Palestinians

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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The offices of the Civil Administration, in El-Bireh, in the West Bank, in March. The organization was supposed to have been dismantled, according to the Oslo Accords.
The offices of the Civil Administration, in El-Bireh, in the West Bank, in March. The organization was supposed to have been dismantled, according to the Oslo Accords.Credit: Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Sometime after three in the morning, the phone rings in the war room of the Palestinian security liaison and coordination office. The sleepy officer on duty hears the voice of his counterpart, a sleepy soldier at Israel’s Civil Administration, announcing that the army is about to raid this or that Palestinian locality. What this means is that all Palestinian police must go into their offices at once. In the Civil Administration’s internal slang, this task is known as “folding up SHOPIM,” with SHOPIM standing for the Hebrew acronym for “Palestinian policemen.” The phone warning and “folding up” are a routine both sides make sure to uphold, because “nobody wants one side to shoot at the other,” as a former soldier in the unit told Haaretz.

He remembers that the time-frame given to the Palestinians to “fold up” was around half an hour. A female former soldier in the unit recalls 45 minutes. Another male veteran remembers the Palestinians complying at once; she on the other hand recalls them dallying. They all remember being forbidden to reveal the target and purpose (arrest, mapping, searching for arms, confiscating funds, demonstrating ‘governability’) of the raid.

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These are three of dozens of former soldiers who served in the Civil Administration and testified about the unit to Breaking the Silence in its new booklet, “Military Rule,” released Monday. This defiant organization continues to deconstruct the military rule over the Palestinians, exposing the lie of “security” and the falsehood of “morality.”

The soldiers on duty didn’t tell their Palestinian colleagues that there were “policemen folding,” rather that there was “activity” going on. In the lingo of the Palestinian security forces, the disappearance of policemen from the streets due to an impending raid is called “zero-zero.” A Palestinian security source was unfamiliar with the term “SHOPIM folding” and said it was humiliating. But reality – in which Palestinian policemen scurry to hide in their strongholds shortly before Israeli soldiers break into a family home, pointing rifles at freshly-awoken women and children – is more humiliating. Mortally humiliating is banning Palestinian security from defending their people not only from soldiers, but also from Israeli civilians attacking them in their fields and orchards, at home and when out grazing their herds. The Palestinian Authority’s compliance with this prohibition is humiliating.

And the opposite of folding up is humiliating too: when the Palestinian side needs to ask Israeli approval for their policemen to go from a given city to a nearby village that happens to be in Area B, or because the road between them crosses Area C. “They don’t make a peep without us telling them. … Even if there are no settlers in between, [even if] they go without uniforms, without weapons, they’re just going to investigate a car crash – they still need to coordinate it with the brigade,” says one of the testimonies in the booklet.

The humiliation factor – another means of the hostile rule of a military junta – can be read within as well as between the lines of the booklet: in the broken Arabic spoken by the soldiers in the reception windows for Palestinians, the contemptuous treatment even of those as old as their grandfathers and grandmothers, in allocating water to settlers at the expense of a Palestinian community, in the wholesale revocation of movement permits. Humiliation of the other is an inseparable part of the bureaucratic violence – killer of soul, time and hope – which we Jewish Israelis, being the dispossessors of a people from its land, have turned into an art form. We use the power of the edicts we have composed, the laws, procedures, and rulings by honorable judges to continually abuse the other people. The Civil Administration did not invent the system, but it is the spearhead and the spear of this bureaucratic violence.

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