‘I’ll open up your face’: The routine of collective punishment in Hebron

A new video shows Israeli Border Police preventing children from passing through a gate in order to reach their homes. This is what collective punishment looks like. 

Ever since Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem launched its Camera Project 11 years ago, the Israel public has had countless opportunities to get a glimpse of the routine of occupation from the point of view of Palestinians living under it.

Sometimes those videos create a public uproar, as happened with Elor Azaria, who was caught on camera executing a dying Palestinian, or the infamous settler from Hebron, who was seen spitting and cursing at the camera. Most of B’Tselem’s videos, however, convey the injustices of the occupation through the everyday, mundane experiences of humiliation, violence, aggression, and arrogance at the hands of the masters.

The same goes for the latest B’Tselem video, published Tuesday, which shows Israeli security forces standing in front of the main entrance to Gheith and A-Salaimeh, two neighborhoods in Hebron, on May 13th.

Through A-Salaimeh runs one of the main roads on which Palestinians are forbidden from traveling by car. There are military checkpoints at both entrances of the road, called A-Salaimeh Street, which leads to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. In 2012, the army built a barrier that divides the street into two: a paved road for Jewish pedestrians and vehicles, and on the other side, a narrow, dilapidated passageway for Palestinians who are forbidden from traveling by car.

On May 4th, the army enlarged the fence it had built at the beginning of 2012 at the entrance to both A-Salaimeh and Gheith. The fence has a single gate, which the army said must be kept open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. in order to allow residents to pass through. However, according to B’Tselem, for the past year the gate has been closed at various times throughout the day. Closing off the two neighborhoods is especially harmful to students, who are forced to take an alternative path that forces them to pass through a checkpoint, extends their journey by 500 meters, and passes through a dark alley.

On May 13th, as the students were on their way back from school, they once again encountered locked gate. The video shows some residents of the neighborhood – mothers of the students – standing on the other end of the gate, pleading with the Border Police officers to open it. The officers ignore the women. After a child asks one of them to open the gate, an officer responds by yelling “I will open your face.” An Arabic-speaking officer threatens one of the mothers, telling her “If you continue I will drag you outside and arrest you. Try me.”

Meanwhile, the children begin crowding around. Some of them climb over the locked gate as the officers look on (a stark reminder that locking the gate has little to do with security).

So why is it closed? The Arabic-speaking officer has an answer: “It’s not my problem,” he tells one of the mothers who asks why the children can’t cross, “you throw stones, this is your punishment.” Collective punishment is forbidden under international law, yet it has turned into one of the army’s most commonly-used tools.

The gate was eventually opened three days later, at around 5 p.m. Until then, the children were forced either to walk half a kilometer and pass through a checkpoint on their way home, or put themselves in danger while climbing the locked gate. The B’Tselem video lasts two-and-a-half minutes. No one opens fire. No one is beaten up. No one is arrested and dragged through the street with their eyes covered. And yet the violent force of the occupying army in the apartheid city of Hebron is on full display.

The IDF Spokesperson issued the following response:

There have been several incidents of stone throwing from the eastern Casbah area of Hebron, targeting civilians and security forces operating in the area, as well as the throwing of an explosive device at security forces nearby, while security infrastructure was destroyed in the area. As such, the gate was closed for a number of hours in order to assess the operational situation and repair the damage. After that, the gate was reopened to the local residents.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.