What's So Funny That the Soldiers Laugh?

More and more reports of coarse behavior on the part of soldiers at roadblocks have accumulated in the hands of IDF officers in the West Bank. The officers, disturbed by this, initiate meetings and conversations with soldiers on the subject of "the dignity of man."

From the window, the faces of the soldiers in the APC (armored personnel carrier) could be clearly seen. One could also see their hands, as they were shoved into the APC and emerged with an orange-colored ball - three soldiers, three hands, three stun grenades.

The soldiers shouted some indecipherable one-word cry. Two men and three women started to quicken their steps on the slopes of the hill. Then one soldier threw the stun grenade. The grenade exploded next to the walkers, who jumped in fear and started to run. The soldier smiled a big smile. A second soldier also threw the stun grenade in his hand, and laughed out loud.

They continued laughing even when asked from the window, what they were so happy about. A stun grenade has already caused a fracture in the leg of a worker at Birzeit University, it damages the hearing, and causes burns when it is thrown near people - which is not its purpose.

During the first two days after the neighborhood of Al Balua in northern Ramallah was "occupied," on October 18, there was Palestinian firing on several of the tanks and APCs. The soldiers did not leave their vehicles much, for safety. The firing decreased and stopped within a few days.

Since then, the soldiers often get down from their armored vehicles, and even walk around at night, without them. At the same time, the residents remaining in the neighborhood have noticed, the soldiers have become increasingly obnoxious and aggressive toward the hundreds of people who violate curfew rules.

Soldiers of 19 or 20 shout, scold, chase disobedient cars with tanks, or drive quickly behind a group of older people walking with tired steps on the steep hill, throw gas and stun grenades - according to the testimony of people who passed through the road-block yesterday, they even fired rubber-coated metal bullets - they pile up more earth ramparts across the roads. There is no doubt that the soldiers are obeying an order - the order to impose a total curfew. They confiscate car keys, with permission, and apparently have also received permission to block the parking lot of one of the houses with rocks. They throw stun grenades and tear gas grenades with the knowledge of their superiors, and under their instructions.

But why curse and laugh and smile?

More and more reports of coarse behavior on the part of soldiers at roadblocks have accumulated in the hands of IDF officers in the West Bank. The officers, disturbed by this, initiate meetings and conversations with soldiers on the subject of "the dignity of man."

Recently, an officer of a platoon of paratroopers was sentenced to 14 days in prison because a soldier in his platoon broke car headlights at a roadblock north of Ramallah with the butt of his rifle, and threw a tear gas grenade into a group of pedestrians. "Ha'aretz transmitted the report of this incident, as well as other similar ones at the roadblocks of Surda and Kalandia, to the IDF.

The investigations take time. Soldiers first respond to all the accusations with an almost-convincing "no." Palestinian eyewitnesses will usually refuse to meet investigating officers. For every case that is reported, they say, there are hundreds of others. And who wants to bother with shattered headlights and choking caused by tear gas, when women are killed in their homes by IDF fire?

Coarse behavior by wearers of uniforms and armies of occupation is not an invention of the Israeli army, neither is it an innovation of the past year. Present-day IDF officers believe that they can overcome this. But looking out from inside the neighborhood under curfew, from roadblocks where the ground is now filling up with rainwater, and in which the feet of peasant women who are trying to sell some parsley in the market place sink in the mud - it looks as though IDF officers are missing the message of the aggressive rudeness of the soldiers.

The soldiers declare with a great deal of conviction that the curfew or the roadblock prevent attacks in Israel, or that this is the land of our fathers and they are protecting it and the Israelis who are settling it. But the soldiers are arming themselves with increasing hardness of heart against children the age of their brothers, or adults the age of their parents. This rudeness is an emotional mechanism that protects them from extraneous and distressing questions.

What has been achieved in three weeks of curfew in northern Ramallah? Those suspected of the assassination of the late tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi did not come from here. Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat arrested members of the Popular Front [which claimed responsibility for the assassination], but such people were also arrested in Gaza, without a curfew. Soldier Raz Mintz was killed north of Ramallah, despite the curfew.

The suicide-attacker in French Hill, a Hebronite, didn't have to evade a curfew on northern El Bireh. Those who "violate" the curfew order are mainly residents of the villages in the area of the Jelazun refugee camp, most of whom are not checked. Were they not behaving rudely, there would be room in the hearts of the soldiers for feelings of admiration toward those hundreds of people who, despite the tear gas and the frightening cannons, and the tanks chasing them, insist on going to work and to school, via rocky fields and steep hills.

The soldiers, in their coarseness, convince themselves that the Palestinians are not as sensitive or vulnerable as we are, that they are people of a different sort. In this way, it is always easier to rule over civilians and to cause havoc with their lives. In this way, it is easier to obey the order to impose a curfew. And in other words, it is impossible to rule over a civilian population of three million people, and to try to impose military "solutions" on it, and at the same time to educate the soldiers to preserve the "human dignity" of these same people.