As a general rule I stay away from news items about what the various Palestinian governments do to their subjects. I lack the language, the knowledge, the perspective, and the overall ability to credibly say anything about how Palestinian society operates. Freedom House says there's no freedom in the Palestinian territories, and there's no dearth of stories about Palestinians who'd prefer to live in Israel, but I try to concentrate on Israeli things, which I know more about.
The point about that Aljezeera story, however, is that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians live in places where the decision to allow them to demonstrate or not is made by Arabs, not Israelis: Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians, Hamas in Gaza, and the PA in most of the West Bank. Aljazeera didn't report that the Israelis prevented the Palestinians from demonstrating, since Israel isn't there to be asked. It was the Palestinian authorities that banned the demonstration. If a Palestinian group wishes to demonstrate almost anywhere in the West Bank, not to mention Gaza, the Israelis don't care, don't get asked, and don't express an opinion. Which is as it should be. The only places where Israelis may intervene are when Palestinian demonstrators physically impact on Israelis. In today's reality, that means almost entirely in a very few places along the barrier; potentially it could also mean along some of the roads, but this doesn't happen much.
Almost all thedemonstrations are in two areas: near Bil'in, and near Na'alin, to the east and northwest of Modi'in Illit, respectively. In both places the barrier was planned deeper into the West Bank than it should have been, and in both places the High Court of Justice listened to the local Palestinian farmers, accepted their pleas, and ordered the state to move the fence closer to the Green Line and further from the villages. Such procedures happened elsewhere, too, the fence was moved and the demonstrations ended. For whatever reason, at Bil'in and Na'alin the moving hasn't yet happened. In Na'alin there's still an opening of a few hundred meters where the original fence was never completed and the new one isn't up yet; at Bil'in the original one is still up and the new one hasn't yet been completed. (The fact that there's a hole in the fence isn't good, but since hundreds of kilometers of fence are in place, it's a lot easier to watch the remaining few kilometers here and there which are not yet closed). I haven't talked to the relevant Israeli authorities and can't say why the work at those two spots hasn't been completed. They've certainly had long enough, and it would have been better for everyone involved had they put the issues behind us all in 2005, or 2006, or 2007 at the latest.
In addition there are occasional clashes elsewhere, such as Nabi Saleh, west of Ramallah.
Still, let's keep things in perspective. These events are the exception, not the rule. The Palestinian economy of the West Bank is booming, and the number of IDF troops active there is the lowest since before the first intifada (1987!) because both sides are doing their best to get on with their lives, not clash. Something like 99% of the West Bank population goes about its lives these days with very little encounter with IDF troops. They see the settlers on the hilltops, yes, and they share roads with them, but there's almost no violence on either side, and very little "brutal Israeli occupation" going on. Thank god.
It's hard to understand, therefore, why Lisa Goldman has decided that now is the time to begin her move from staunchly left-wing politics into Yonathan-Shapira-like radicalism. (See my description of him here). But apparently she has:
To my great sorrow, it is impossible to discuss these issues with most of my friends. Over the past couple of years, as I have spent more and more time in the West Bank, I have found myself feeling increasingly isolated from my oldest friends, because they do not want to hear, or they do not believe me, or they think ‘the Arabs’ deserve what happens to them. Compassion is rare – partly, I think because the ‘other’ is behind a wall and mostly invisible. It has become difficult, for me, to just “be” in Tel Aviv, filtering out what is happening a short distance away. That is why I rarely write, anymore, about art galleries, restaurants and fashion. I don’t seem to have the heart for it.Goldman is not yet Yonatan Shapira; she seems not yet to hate us for imaginary brutalities with his ruthless and evil passion; perhaps she'll stop before she reaches that point. But she is clearly willing to make baseless pronouncements.
Start with her title: In the West Bank, everyone knows there's no accountability. I assume "everyone" means all the few dozens Israelis she talks to. The rest of us know this is simple nonsense. Of course there's accountability. I've been talking to real-life soldiers who are on the West Bank now or have been there recently, and they can tell about the elaborate measures in place to ensure that every event is planned in advance, recorded, and de-briefed afterwords. It's possible that Goldman would prefer more IDF troops to be hauled to court-martial, but legal systems aren't supposed to serve narrow political agendas, they're supposed to apply the law. Carefully. Ultimately it's the same legal system that says the fence at Bil'in must be moved, to protect the Palestinian farmers.
The death last week of Bil’in resident Jawaher Abu Rhamah, after she inhaled tear gas at a demonstration, has received a great deal of publicity, making her into a symbol of the violent means the Israeli army uses to maintain its control over the West Bank. Many commentators are parsing the incident as if it were an isolated one, but the truth is that violence and brutality are the norm. And while there is plenty of documentation to support that statement, most Israelis would prefer not to know.Of course, the IDF claims Abu Rhamah didn't die because of Israeli tear gas, but Goldman isn't interested in what the IDF says, in spite of its notionally being the army that's defending her life, too. To use her own words: she'd prefer not to know. Her claim about Israeli brutality being the norm is puzzling, since in light of the description above, it's hard to know where this purported "norm" takes place. Her next paragraph then illustrates the brutality-that-is-the-norm-that-Israelis-don't-want-to-know. Note that she has to go back a few months to find this one case:
A few months ago, at a Friday demonstration in Nabi Saleh, a border police officer threw a percussion grenade on my foot. I was standing on the main road of the village, taking photos of some Palestinian women who were pleading with soldiers to release a young man, when he removed a metal cylinder from the webbing on his chest, pulled a pin out of it and tossed it at me. He was grinning a little bit.I can't say whether he was or wasn't grinning, and what it meant.
My voice sounded wild, fearful and hoarse, even through my ringing ears, as I screamed at the indifferent soldier. “What the fuck did you do? Are you crazy?! Are you fucking crazy?!” He just turned away and shoved his way through the crowd, disappearing into the chaos that was a Friday afternoon demonstration in Nabi Saleh. An Israeli photojournalist standing nearby shrugged his shoulders, smiled sympathetically and said, “I tried to warn you, but there wasn’t enough time.” The interesting thing, which only hit me much later, was that it never occurred to either of us that I should make a complaint against that border police officer. Because we all know that they function in a culture of near-total impunity.Yes, "we all know". The interesting thing in this paragraph is the pervasive presence of Jewish Israeli demonstrators. I'll write about them in a different post sometime soon, but the more I look into the matter the more I'm convinced that these young Israelis are playing a central role in the events. Israeli citizens, confronting their own troops, and at the very least empowering the Palestinian demonstrators; in some cases, they're leading the events and the Palestinians are tagging along. You can find them in every You-Tube video routinely put up after these events.
Having told us about how she personally suffered at the hand of an IDF soldier she then gos one to tell about suffering Palestinians
In the annals of brutality meted out by soldiers upon civilians in the West Bank, that incident was so minor that I was embarrassed to discuss it with the hardcore activists. A few meters away, soldiers were aiming tear gas directly at unarmed demonstrators, rather than shooting in arcs in order to avoid causing injury, as one is supposed to do. Earlier that day, I had seen two old women stumble out of their home, retching and coughing up mucus from the tear gas that had seeped through the cracks around their windows and doors. Sometimes, tear gas canister break windows.No context. Was anyone hit by the directly aimed tear gas canisters? If so, how come she doesn't say so? If not, perhaps the soldiers weren't actually aiming at anyone? The tear gas at one point seeped into a home. That's not good, but it's not obviously brutal nor a war crime. Was the gas shot at the home, and if so why? If not, who was it shot at, and were they totally innocent bystanders or something else?
In practice there are no rules or accountability in the Wild West Bank. Soldiers can do pretty much whatever they want, and there are plenty of video clips and testimony online to prove that. Once in awhile a particularly shocking video clip makes its way to television, eliciting condemnations and mutterings of bad apples. But, as Breaking the Silence documents in Occupation Testimonies (the oral testimonies of dozens of soldiers who served in the West Bank, collected over a 10-year period), it’s the occupation that’s rotten. Give heavily armed, poorly-disciplined soldiers with little-to-no accountability control over a population that is defined as an enemy, and which has no civil rights, and you will have soldiers who commit evil acts.Her source for there being no rules is Yesh Din, a group of Israelis like herself. There's no particular reason to accept the veracity of their statements simply because they say them. Those online You-Tube videos and Breaking the Silence testimonies, also on-line, are worth watching and reading. I do so regularly, and don't find them telling the story Goldman is telling. More on that some other time. As for the heavily-armed and poorly disciplined soldiers: bah! Nonsense. Those are my sons and nephews she's talking about, and while it's her right to defame them, she needn't expect the rest of us to respect her for doing so. It's sentences like this which illustrate how people like her cut themselves off from what was once their society, and descend into that cycle of scorn and then hate.
One of the many sad things about Lisa Goldman's departure is that the fundamental base for her anger is solid. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is a bad thing. We shouldn't be sending our sons to clash with Palestinian farmers, or any of the rest of it. The Nabi Saleh clashes have to do with the settlement of Halamish; better it not be there and there be no clashes. Zionism can live perfectly well without it. Alas, however, the events of the past 18 years (or 43, or 91, take your pick) demonstrate that there's no way to reach the European-style peace we'd all so dearly love to have. The war with the Palestinians isn't about Halamish, nor about a fence near Biil'in. So we can live the complexity and its many pitfalls, or we can pretend there's no complexity, only an evil Israel. Lisa Goldman is well on her way to the second option.