The Real Fist in the Face of the Palestinians

By all appearances, it's possible to drive from the village of Burkin to Jenin on the main road. It's a five-minute trip. But at the end of the road is an earth barrier that no car can get by. So you have to take the roundabout route, between the olive groves. The trip is prolonged to a half hour of dust, jolts and anxiety.

By all appearances, it's possible to drive from the village of Burkin to Jenin on the main road. It's a five-minute trip. But at the end of the road is an earth barrier that no car can get by. So you have to take the roundabout route, between the olive groves. The trip is prolonged to a half hour of dust, jolts and anxiety.

Almost always a tank or some other armored vehicle of the Israel Defense Forces emerges from between the trees. In some cases, the soldiers tell the driver to turn around go back the way he came. Sometimes they let him continue. It's perfectly arbitrary. Sometimes the soldiers slash the four tires to render the car immobile, or they may impound the car keys for a few hours. There are cases in which the soldiers open fire in the direction of the passengers to frighten them, and, in rare instances, they kill them, as occurred a few weeks ago in the nearby village of Silat a-Hartiya.

This is the routine of life (and death) between the villages of the West Bank and its cities. This is also how the IDF has defeated the laws of geometry: in the territories, there are no longer two points between which you can draw a straight line.

This state of affairs has absolutely nothing to do with the security of Israelis. The fact is that traffic carries on somehow. You can get from Burkin to Jenin, and you can even transport terrorists and bombs, but to do it you have to use back roads that are more like trails. The purpose here is different. It's to make the lives of the local residents as miserable as possible and to remind them, day in and day out, who is sovereign here and thus also to make the settlers happy.

This is the sole reason for much of the army activity in the territories, though it's carried out under the lying guise of maintaining security. The head of the Central Command, Major General Moshe Kaplinski, told the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee not long ago that about 1,000 soldiers man 25 key checkpoints every day. In some cases another 4,000 troops are added at surprise checkpoints.

Most of these roadblocks are not between Israel and the territories, but between Palestinian towns and villages. The implication of this is that up to 5,000 soldiers are engaged in collective punishment whose only purpose is to brutalize the entire civilian population. In the future, this will have serious ramifications for the moral outlook of these soldier-warders. In the meantime, though, the victims are the Palestinians, who are unable to maintain any sort of routine. People who thought that the cessation of the terrorist attacks brought about an easing of this situation are wrong; far from easing the situation, in the past few days, the IDF has been working to raise the height of the barriers in the villages around Tul Karm and Qalqilyah.

Few Israelis are aware of this reality. Few Israelis know the difference between keter (encirclement) and seger (closure). All they want is for the terrorism to stop. The question of how many terrorist attacks these inhuman conditions have spawned never comes up. Not even the High Court of Justice gets exercised about the ongoing collective injustice.

Earlier this month, three High Court justices rejected a petition that was filed by three besieged villages near Nablus - Salem, Deir al-Hatab and Azamout - in conjunction with Physicians for Human Rights and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The petitioners described the inhuman conditions in the villages. They also told the court about two recent cases of death, one of a newborn and the other of a heart patient, which occurred because of the siege.

However, Justice Mishael Cheshin's conscience did not torment him, and he rejected the petition on the usual grounds of security. "It is true that the respondent [the defense establishment] could have adopted other measures to protect lives, but we did not find the way that was chosen to be flawed or defective," Cheshin wrote with characteristic serpentine logic. The residents of the three villages have been prisoners day and night for years even though they have done nothing wrong, but the High Court of Justice finds nothing "flawed or defective" about this, only because the IDF has decided that this is the way it has to be. This is the justice of the High Court of Justice.

Another attempt to cope with the situation in the territories failed as well. In the past few weeks, the chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Michael Eitan (Likud), initiated a series of committee discussions on preserving human rights in the territories. The panel focused on the behavior of the soldiers who man the checkpoints and the way the IDF deals with "irregularities."

To the credit of Eitan, who is an unusual, relatively courageous MK, let it be said that he put tough questions to the army officers who appeared before the committee. But Eitan, too, blurred the main point: the problem is not the "exceptions" but the policy. As long as no one talks about the siege as a whole, who cares how many cases the IDF investigated? Is it only the soldier who strikes a Palestinian who is acting irregularly, while soldiers who besiege a village and expel an old man who wants to see his grandchildren are acting properly?

The behavior of the female soldier who is charged with forcing a Palestinian woman to drink a toxic liquid at a checkpoint is revolting, but people should be far more revolted by the fact that for the past two-and-a-half years, we have been imprisoning an entire nation so cruelly. The fact that the IDF is putting the soldier on trial does not exempt it from its overall responsibility for its harsh measures.

"How old are you?" a soldier at a checkpoint rudely asks a young Palestinian driver in the 2002 documentary "Ford Transit" (2002), a film by Hany Abu-Assad that last week received the Spirit of Freedom award at the Jerusalem Film Festival. "A hundred," the Palestinian jokes, and gets a fist in his face from the soldier. Another "irregular" soldier. But the real fist is the one that 5,000 regular Israeli soldiers smash routinely, every day in the West Bank, into the faces of a million-and-a-half Palestinians.