Palestinians handcuffed, detained for picking wildflowers

Three Palestinians were detained by IDF gunmen for the crime of picking endangered thistles. Settler riots continue per schedule

Last Thursday, IDF gunmen detained three Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, on suspicion of picking an endangered plant, Gundelia tournefortiii. They handcuffed one of the Palestinians, and kept the detainees for about three hours, standing outside in the sun. One of them, aged over 60, felt ill and, after an intervention by the women of Machsom Watch, received medical treatment. The IDF Spokesman did not dispute the facts (Hebrew).

Gundelia tournefortii is a thistle, the use of which is popular in Palestinian cuisine. The three detained Palestinians were basically trying to literally put food on the table. For this they were detained, and will likely be fined, as well: The IDF Spokesman said their case was referred to the Nature and Gardens Authority. One wonders whether one of the gunmen who arrested them was an amateur botanist, identifying the endangered plant, or whether the unit had the benefit of plant sensitivity training.

Feeble jokes aside, this incident, which can properly be described as grotesque, clarifies the essence of the occupation. The Palestinians are prohibited from picking thistles that have been part of their diet for generations, because a foreign occupier has forbidden them to, naturally without bothering to consult them. The occupier relies on the laws of military administration, and has been doing so for 44 years; in comparison, the occupation of imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, two of the worst regimes in history, ended after seven years. Martial law in those countries was indeed temporary; in the West Bank, it is the normal state of being.

The occupying power has refrained from formally annexing the territory, because annexation would force it to choose either granting the residents the franchise, creating an official apartheid state, or removing them somehow – by expelling or exterminating them. That third option is the one the occupier would secretly – and, often, not so secretly – prefer, but another 1948 is not in the cards. It was a unique moment, happening three years after the Holocaust. It will not repeat itself. So, instead of a formal annexation, the occupier contends itself with an informal one: It tells its subjects what they may eat – and subjects them to the Israeli Nature and Gardens Authority, a clearly non-military organization whose authority to act in the West Bank is, to put it mildly, unclear. Yet act there it does, just like the Israeli police – which, too, has no jurisdiction outside the borders of Israel.

And while the occupier is a martinet when it comes to the Palestinians, strictly enforcing the law when they pick a wild thistles, it disregards with contempt much more serious crimes committed by the settler it imports into the occupied territories. These carry out pogroms (Hebrew) at the drop of a hat, causing much more damage than the picking of a thistle: They burn and poison fields, uproot trees, commit arson against houses and cars. But towards them, the IDF gunmen are much more lenient, assuming they bother to detain them at all.

Needless to say, an army busily looking elsewhere while a pogrom takes places, or refrains from taking the necessary steps to prevent one (for instance, imposing and enforcing curfew on trouble-prone settlements, which the IDF does without thinking in Palestinian towns and villages) is not different, essentially, from the police and military forces of Czarist Russia, whose behavior during pogroms was notorious. Come to think of it, yesterday – and not for the first time – the gunmen joined the pogrom-makers in firing on Palestinians who were trying to push the marauding settlers off their lands (Hebrew).

The government informed the courts yesterday it will remove all “outposts” (Israeli term for settlements lacking official recognition) built on private Palestinian land (but not confiscated lands) by the end of 2011. Nobody would be blamed for disbelieving the claim. The different attitude of the IDF gunmen in dealing with thorn pickers and squatters on private lands says all there is to say. When the Netanyahu government moans again about “de-legitimization”, someone should point out this gap to it.