When A saw Israeli civilians approach, he did the sensible thing and fled. This is what quiet terrorism looks like.
By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz
A. is a resident of the village Faratha in the West Bank. He declined to have his name published, as he has become a regular target for attacks by Israeli civilians. He owns two plots of land; the illegal settlement outpost of Havat Gilad is built next to one of them. The establishment of the outpost led to the familiar pattern of dispossession in the West Bank: in order to protect the safety of the Israeli civilians who illegally took over land and settled, the army only allows A. to work his land during the olive harvest season, and only after coordination in advance with Israeli security forces.
But the military commander refuses to allow him to work his land, arguing that the plot contains no olive trees and that coordination is reserved for olive growers alone. And so, seven dunams of land were taken from A.’s possession and practically turned over to Israeli squatters as a reward. Once settlers seize land, it is almost impossible to liberate it.
A., who is 80 years old, was left with another plot of land, closer to Faratha itself. But the proximity to the village was not enough to protect it: for years he grew wheat there, and year after year his crops were set ablaze. Out of desperation, A. decided that this year he would grow sesame. After all, it’s less flammable.
Several weeks ago, A. went to his plot of land with a donkey and began plowing and preparing it for planting. Suddenly, he noticed three young men coming from the direction of Havat Gilad. A. feared for his safety, and fled along with the donkey. He left behind some clothes, his shovel and the donkey’s blanket. His sense terror was not baseless: A. remembered that a year ago his neighbor was working his land when suddenly Israeli civilians appeared and beat him severely. “It was only with difficulty that he was evacuated to the hospital,” he recalls.
After some 90 minutes, A. returned to the land. He found the clothes and the blanket, but not the shovel. Perhaps someone took a shine to it; perhaps he simply lost it while fleeing. The following day A. went back working his plot, planting sesame. Perhaps they will burn it, maybe not. Either way the land must be planted.
All of which, dear reader, takes place under the nose and with the tacit agreement of the strongest army in the Middle East — the ultimate sovereign in the West Bank. When the army demands that Palestinians coordinate their arrival to their own land, it does so by claiming that without such coordination it is unable to protect them from Israeli civilians. The High Court of Justice had some sharp words to say about this practice in the Murar decision (Hebrew): “A policy preventing Palestinian residents from reaching land belonging to them, for the purpose of protecting them from attacks directed at them, is as a policy ordering a man not to enter his house in order to protect him from a robber ambushing him there.”
And yet an army unfamiliar with its legal duty to defend protected persons, which is unaware that it has not only the obligation but also the authority to protect them from Israeli civilians, does precisely that.
Yesh Din has documented 21 cases over the last decade in which Israeli civilians were suspected of damaging agricultural property belonging to the residents of Faratha. In a series of cases, the witnesses describe the marauders as arriving from the direction of Havat Gilad; the incidents include burning fields and wheat, killing animals, and cutting down trees. These do not include the cases in which Israeli civilians attacked residents of Faratha — incidents which sometimes took place in the presence of IDF soldiers. If the army is aware of these incidents and does nothing, it is a passive partner in crime; if it is unaware of them, it is failing at its duty to protect the populace.
The incidents keep piling up. Palestinian residents do not believe the IDF is trying to protect them from the marauders. It appears that as far as the army is concerned, this is a tolerable situation – and, one suspects, even desirable. Terrorizing farmers paves the way for their dispossession. The Israeli civilians do their part, the army does its part, and A.’s land is set ablaze time after time.
After a while the fear works on its own. There is no need for physical attacks or direct threats. The mere appearance of some young men — the knowledge that the attackers have no inhibitions, that there is no reason for them to have any since no one will arrest them. No one will demand compensation for your pain and indignation – dammit, the attack against you won’t even be a newsflash. Self defense, of course, is out of the question.
A. does not intend to report the incident to the Israeli police, as he sees no point in doing so.