Netanyahu is trying to expand the open-fire regulations so that they target Arabs inside Israel. The outcome? Only more bloodshed.
By John Brown* and Michal Rotem
For the past few weeks it has been difficult not to avoid reports on stone throwing in East Jerusalem.
Government representatives compete with one another over who will offer up the firmest way to deal with these youth in order to “do away with this phenomenon.” Of course none of them offers dealing with neglected East Jerusalem, the discrimination, the home demolitions, and the fact that 75 percent of East Jerusalem residents — and 84 percent of children there — live below the poverty line, or the fact that there is no framework to take care of children and teenagers after school is over. It is strange that not a single politician has offered to shoot settlers when they throw stones following the demolition of their illegal structures in the West Bank. The opposite is true: they are granted hundreds of new housing units.
So what do they propose? Along with idiotic proposals by the Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan to block promotions for judges deemed to lenient on stone throwers, racist proposals by Culture Minister Miri Regev to revoke the rights of parents whose children throw stones, or simply war crimes under the guise of collective punishments, two proposals by the prime minister himself are already being implemented.
The first proposal is a minimum sentence for stone throwers, which was approved by the government on Thursday. “Like we did for sexual offenses,” said Netanyahu. This is such a baseless and humiliating comparison that there is really no point in discussing it, as it continues the right-wing’s long-standing tradition of using women in order to promote nationalistic goals.
The basic assumption of this proposal, as if a lack of deterrence is what allows for stone throwing, is a deceitful. The treatment of Palestinian teens and children by the authorities in East Jerusalem is already immoral and cruel (perhaps only the military regime in the West Bank exceeds it). A good portion of these children and teenagers are below the age of criminal responsibility, such that these penalties are not applicable to them.
So what do the politicians suggest? Just shoot them. They want to say: they may be too young for the legal system, but not too young for us to point weapons at. They suggest we use a “Ruger” sniper rifle — considered more lethal than an M-16 — to deal with these kids.
Firstly, we must refute the assumption that the Ruger does not kill, as well as the Erdan’s lie according to which “we do not intend to kill people.” The Ruger is able to kill from a distance of one kilometer, and it is used by the Israeli army in much smaller ranges. According to statistics provided by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the IDF has already killed three teenagers using this type of weapon in 2015. Not a single one of them posed any threat to the shooter. Firing at teens in East Jerusalem at close range and in an urban setting more or less guarantees death.
But here we reach a problem. Jews also throw stones, and they do so quite often. Ultra-Orthodox do it on a weekly basis, the settlers do it under the protection of the IDF, and many did it just this week when they threw stones at Arabs and Jews who were driving their cars on Yom Kippur. Needless to say, neither the government nor the police wants kill Jews.
The IDF does not face the same problem in the West Bank. The laws of the military regime distinguish between Arabs and Jews, which allows for the killing of dozens of Palestinians every year for stone throwing. Meanwhile not a single Jews has ever been shot for throwing stones. After all, if stones kill then there should be no connection to the nationality of those who throw them. So what does the government do when it wants to import the laws of the military regime into Israel? It gets creative and uses phrases like “popular terror.”
The draft of the new open-fire regulations includes a new clause that distinguishes between “demonstrations” and “popular terror,” making it possible to use live fire when it comes to the latter. But what is “popular terror” and how can it be distinguished from “demonstrations?”
The public could not view the draft itself, but even if it does contain some clear criteria that distinguishes between the two, it is clear that “popular terror” refers solely to Arabs. Thus, with one simple definition, the government ensures that Israeli Police can shoot and kill Arab citizens almost exclusively. According to orders.
It’s not that anyone believes that the killing of children in East Jerusalem at the hands of the police will bring quiet. In fact all branches of the security establishment believe, and rightly so, that this will only cause more violence. But this, of course, is not the goal. Controllable violence in Jerusalem is good for the Right. The goal is bloodshed, blood that can be sold to the public as an adequate national response. This will certainly be achieved through shooting children.
Shooting Bedouin too
But it doesn’t end there. Netanyahu declared that he will also be changing the open-fire regulations “in the south and Galilee.” We will now be shooting at Arabs in places other than East Jerusalem.
This is a strange declaration that lacks context or any justification. Although the police refuses to provide statistics, we have been able to find only three cases of stone throwing in southern Israel over the past year. As people who tend to use the roads of southern Israel quite often, we have never been the victims of stone throwing.
But even these isolated incidents do not stem from ideology: usually they are children or teenagers who throw stones out of boredom, since there are no after-school frameworks for the Bedouin villages of the Negev. Not a single member of the government wants to deal with the large percentage of dropouts, the lack of formal frameworks, or a desperate need for playgrounds. Why invest in education and formally recognize the Bedouin villages when you can just open fire on children?
So why is Netanyahu wrapping up the issues of Jerusalem and the Negev in one fancy package, especially when the issue of stone throwing is a minor one in the south? It’s unclear.
One possible reason is that Netanyahu is a seasoned campaigner, he knows that the next election campaign begins where the previous one ends, and so that his voters go out in droves when he tells them that the Arabs are going out in droves to vote. After all, someone needs to maintain the fear and hatred of Arabs on a regular basis; inciting against them seems to be the best way.
But there is another, more frightening option. The destruction of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran for the sake of building a religious, Jewish town (“Hiran”) on its remains is becoming more and more relevant ever since the authorities began building Hiran at the end of August. Although Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel retracted his decision to try to reintroduce the Prawer Plan, many believe that he will introduce a newer, far worse plan after the High Holidays come to an end.
Netanyahu does not respond to past events — he responds to future ones. He knows that the process of dispossession will meet severe resistance, and he is laying down the legal infrastructure that will allow widespread use of live fire against Bedouin children and teenagers. It is unlikely that disproportional police violence will bring an end to this resistance; it is much likelier that it will only increase the violence, which will allow the government to justify taking care of “the Bedouin problem,” using the excuse of “security” to continue dispossessing the residents of their land in the Negev.
In the south, like in East Jerusalem, the Israeli government chooses not to invest the necessary resources and thought to solve problems. Instead it moves straight from the stage of criminalizing any non-Jewish protest movement against discriminatory policies (a policy that often leads to stone throwing), to branding it a form of terrorism. This policy can only bring about blood, and much of it.
*John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and a blogger. Michal Rotem works for the Negev Forum for Coexistence and is based in Be’er Sheva. This story first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call, where both of them are bloggers. Read it here.