Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more embarrassing or distorted, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit has managed to top itself. On Sunday, the unit published a new video on its YouTube channel, showing scenes of Palestinian demonstrators throwing rocks and Israeli soldiers firing rounds of tear gas “in self-defense” in the West Bank village of Qaddum.
Every Friday for the past two years, the villagers of Qaddum (along with Israeli and international activists) have marched toward the nearby settlement of Kedumim to protest the continuing expropriation of their land. As in every un-armed protest across the West Bank, the IDF is ready for them. With its state-of-the-art crowd dispersal weapons – tear gas, rubber and live bullets, sound grenades and skunk water – the villagers don’t stand a chance. As anyone who has been to these protests can attest, the tear gas often starts well before Palestinians even have the chance to throw a stone, let alone march.
So what does the video teach us?
According to the good folks at the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, Palestinians are “free to demonstrate non-violently, as IDF officers explain to them every week.”
You don’t say.
The order regulating demonstrations in the West Bank is Order No. 101 — “Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions,” which was set after Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967. According to the order, any assembly, vigil, or procession of 10 or more people requires a permit from the local IDF commander and imposes 10 years’ imprisonment on violators. Of course, as with all Israeli military orders, it applies only to the Palestinians who live in Areas B and C (both under full Israeli military control), whereas Israeli settlers (who live in Area C) are subject to Israeli civil law.
Back to the video. We see an IDF soldier’s view of a Qaddum protest that took on place on February 7 of this year. “We ask you today not to choose violence,” a megaphone-wielding IDF officer announces to the protesters in English. “It is okay to demonstrate, but it is not okay to use violence — we ask you to stop throwing rocks,” the officer shouts. I wonder how many of the people he was speaking to understood him.
According to the video’s subtitled narration, the Palestinians “consistently ignore the officer’s request and start attacking the soldiers.” The video states that one of the officers was injured after Palestinians “threw rocks at his head.” This, of course, forced the IDF to use “non-lethal methods of crowd dispersal.”
Now the officer is in an explanatory mood. He returns with the megaphone, and tells the protestors (in English, again), that the soldiers “came in because you threw stones and…injured one of our officers.” The officer is then seen pleading with the soldiers to stop.
The clip ends with something out of the most banal anti-smoking television commercial: “Every week ‘non-violent’ protesters injure soldiers who are then forced to act in self-defense.”
What’s striking here is that the Israeli army never acknowledges the fact that it is “defending” itself from confrontations that its own soldiers initiate. The Palestinians are unarmed civilians demonstrating on their own land. But instead of letting them chant, wave flags and burn tires inside their own village, the army sends fully armed soldiers wearing riot gear to invade the village, blanket the protestors in tear gas, shoot them with rubber bullets, douse them with putrid gas and, in many cases, arrest them violently.
As documented in many places, including on +972, soldiers have on several occasions shot demonstrators who were clearly no threat — for example in the case of Ashraf Abu Rahmeh, who was blindfolded and handcuffed when a soldier, acting on orders from a high ranking officer shot him in the foot. Ashraf was only lightly wounded in this incident, but his brother Bassem was not so lucky: he was killed in 2009 when a soldier shot a tear gas canister directly at his chest, despite the fact that the video clearly shows he was unarmed. His sister, Jawaher, died a year later after inhaling massive amounts of tear gas while standing outside the front door of her own home.
In 2011, Mustafa Tamimi from the village Nabi Saleh died when a soldier shot a high velocity tear gas canister directly at his head, at nearly point blank range. These are only a few representative incidents that illustrate a broader picture of Israeli soldiers who unleash gratuitous, often deadly violence against an unarmed civilian population in Palestine. Since 2004, 15 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces during these demonstrations, eight of them minors.
If the army really did have a policy of allowing Palestinians to demonstrate, then Ashraf Abu Rahmeh would not have a hole in his toe. His brother and sister would still be alive, as would Mustafa Tamimi. Perhaps Ofer Military Prison would have many more empty cells. But instead it is packed with teenagers who have been sentenced to a year in jail for stone throwing. The military judges who convict them, do so at a rate of 99.74 percent. That is a documented fact that even the army does not deny.