The B’Tselem video shows a group of Israeli settlers and their dog, who decide to celebrate a festive Jewish holiday by intimidating and abusing a Palestinian man at a checkpoint. Instead of intervening, the Israeli troops on scene made the victim leave, telling him it is a place for Jews only.
There is no blood in this video, published here in English for the first time. There is no extraordinary physical violence. For a checkpoint in the occupied city of Hebron, it’s fairly routine — a few Israeli Border Police officers and a handful of settlers having a little fun for the Jewish holiday of Purim. Their fun, however, includes intimidation, harassment and bullying with a canine. Fun times.
This past Purim, March 12, 2017, Hebron resident ‘Abd al-‘Alim a-Salaimeh filmed Israeli Border Police officers detaining a young Palestinian man who wanted to cross an Israeli army checkpoint on his way to the Ibrahimi Mosque, part of the same complex Jews refer to as the Cave of the Patriarchs. In the film, comprised of footage by a-Salaimeh and B’Tselem volunteer Suhair Fakhuri from the window of her home, one of the officers is seen approaching the a-Salaimeh and asking for his ID. Then vehicle full of settlers shows up, along with their German Shepherd. It seems they decided to celebrate Purim by “backing up” the border cops, and the best way they could think of doing that was to boost their morale by harassing Palestinians at the checkpoint.
“Guys, we’re here. Don’t worry,” they tell the border cops, as they throw their impromptu party around a-Salaimeh. The Border Police officer returns the ID card to a-Salaimeh, who continues filming once he puts some distance between himself and the settlers. Then one of the setters approaches him again, with his barking dog in a threatening manner. The officers ignore his please to get the dog away from him. He then threatens to file a complaint against the officers who are standing idly by, and the settlers continue dancing around him confidently. They know that even if he does file a complaint — who’s going to do anything about it? (See the police statement at the end of this article.) “This is what happens when you mess with our soldiers,” the settlers shout as they dance around a-Salaimeh in colorful wigs and costume hats. The dog keeps barking.
At that point a Border Police officer approaches a-Salaimeh, not the settlers harassing him, and orders him to leave the area. Salaimeh asks the officer to get the dog away from him so he can leave, but the officer doesn’t even acknowledge the request. he continues to demand that a-Salaimeh while the settlers continue to dance around him and their dog barks at him. When he asks the officer again why he can’t stay where he is, the Border Police officer responds, that only Jews can be there. “ When he is asked for some sort of legal order to back up his demand, the officer threatens a-Salaimeh: “Don’t make me mad.” In the background, the settlers shout, “the State of Israel belongs to the people of Israel, you son of a bitch. To the Border Police officers, the settlers taunt, “He’s filming you, that little shit.”
And that’s how it goes. The Israeli security forces watch over Israeli settlers as they entertain themselves by humiliating a random Palestinian at a checkpoint.
An Israeli police spokesperson responded to a request for comment with the following (editor’s note: the Hebrew word used by the spokesperson that appears below as “officer” literally translates to “warrior” or “combatant,” a revering term that usually used to describe Israeli soldiers in combat roles. Border Police officers are often deployed in the West Bank in roles identical to combat soldiers.)
This is an edited and tendentious video that presents a false version of the reality in Hebron. In the video the [officers] can be seen detaining a suspect for a check at the end of which he was released and asked to pass through the checkpoint and continue walking, but the suspect stayed at the location and made an unnecessary provocation. At no point can the [officers] be seen as those who enabled an attack by the dog of the suspect.
Unfortunately that there are organizations who aim to slander the name of the [officers] who put their lives in danger on a daily basis for the security of the population. [Officers] who, in a complicated reality, operate with values of duty, love of the homeland, human life and human dignity.
You can imagine that upon receiving that statement I rubbed my eyes and wondered if we saw the same video. (We also sent the spokesperson the raw, unedited video clips, available here, here and here.) How did the photographer, the complainant, who fell victim to the celebratory mood of a group of settlers, become the “suspect” who made a provocation? And what values of human dignity embodies a group of young men in uniform to stand by as another human is being abused?
Israel’s way of ensuring Jewish ties to the city of our forefathers always seems to manifest itself through the humiliation, abuse and oppression of Palestinians. Those charged with carrying out that mission — the various security forces and settlers. Maybe instead of yelling something or other about UNESCO, we should think about how our own actions look to the world.
Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.