By Nadia W. Awad
While researching the structure of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), I was taken aback when I came upon an article referring to them as ‘the most moral army in the world’. Apparently, they follow a code of conduct much admired and respected globally, which manifests the IDF ‘spirit’. In addition to the general code, a further 11 rules were added, developed to guide behavior in low intensity warfare amongst civilian populations; i.e. in Palestine. Needless to say, upon reading the rules, I realized that all 11 of them are flouted on a daily basis.
Any Palestinian whose house and/or person have been subjected to an Israeli raid or detention can name several of those violations in just a few seconds. Pillaging occurs, medical attention is not guaranteed (as a 67 year old Palestinian farmer would testify to if he hadn’t been allowed to bleed to death), soldiers regularly exhibit disrespect for religious sites and artifacts (I think flushing a Qur’an down the toilet counts here), international aid workers are not guaranteed protection, and Israeli troops rarely use proportionate force. There’s nothing proportionate about using tanks to disperse rock-throwing youths. There are other rules that I could easily mention, and a hundred examples that I could use to show how these rules are breached everyday, but I’d like to focus on two rules which particularly caught my attention in light of recent events.
1. Soldiers must accord dignity and respect to the Palestinian population and those arrested.
2. Soldiers must report all violations of this code.
Last week an Israeli news channel aired footage taken of a Palestinian civilian being humiliated by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. The Palestinian, bound and blindfolded, was forced by soldiers of the Golani infantry brigade to repeat sentences in Hebrew, including, "Golani will bring you a log to stick up your ass." As the Palestinian repeated the lines, the soldiers could be heard laughing loudly in the background. An IDF spokesman immediately announced that they were unaware of the event, and had begun an investigation into it, stating that, “Behavior of this kind goes against IDF values and its soldiers’ expected norms of behavior.”
Watching the footage gave me a sense of déjà vu. Back in July, I remembered a similar incident that had occurred. A 14 year old Palestinian girl had filmed an Israeli soldier taking a shot at the feet of a bound and unarmed Palestinian man who was being taken to a jeep. This girl had the foresight to send on the footage and it eventually reached B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, who then forwarded it on to the Military Police. Once again, the IDF denied knowledge of the incident and condemned it. The soldier in question was arrested but released two weeks after the incident, pending further investigation.
My favorite story though, without a doubt, is the one where an Israeli military court convicted four soldiers of negligently shooting to death an 18 year old Palestinian in the West Bank. The sentence that followed was farcical: one hour in jail, suspension, and a fine of one Israeli agora – just under one-third of a U.S. cent.
The fact is that in the rare moments when these cases do come to light, investigations follow, and delays develop, pending this and that. By the time anything is concluded, the media and the world have forgotten all about it, but Palestinians do not forget. We take from these cases the message that Palestinian blood and dignity is worth nothing more than a fine, a suspension, and/or a little jail time. And of course, that’s assuming the case is uncovered at all. It is here that we come to the crux of the problem. Israeli news sources and the IDF constantly refer to these events as isolated incidents. The IDF’s logo should become ‘we were unaware’, for the number of times they’ve used ignorance as an excuse. Apparently, the IDF is unaware of many things.
It is ‘unaware’ of the daily abuses perpetrated by the IDF, or as Palestinians refer to them, the Israeli Occupation Forces – for that is what they are. They are troops whose main duty is to uphold the occupation, and all Palestinians, young and old, male and female, are potential terrorists. Most contact between Palestinians and IDF troops (when they’re not raiding our homes) takes place at one of the hundreds of checkpoints around the West Bank and Gaza. Approaching a checkpoint, an IDF soldier will very rarely look you in the eye. More often than not, they wear large sunglasses, even in the winter, to hide their facial expressions. Contact is minimal. At the best of times, they’ll look you and your ID card over quickly, and wave you through. At the worst of times, you are held in a long, crowded queue for hours, exposed to whatever nature has to offer, ushered through a metal detector, sometimes strip-searched – only to be told you can’t go through after all. I’ve personally seen soldiers hit men and children, scream at the elderly, call women whores, and shoot as a joke. I’ll never forget the day when my own sister was shot at. We had been standing around for half an hour, waiting to go through the Kalandia checkpoint. A soldier shoved an elderly man ahead of us, and my sister, easily moved, began to object. She hadn’t even completed the phrase Geneva Convention when the soldier laughed and shot at the ground around her feet. The Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, states that parties must as a minimum adhere to basic protections, including the prohibiting of “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment”. The soldier’s ensuing laughter effectively told us what he felt about that.
Unfortunately, these types of stories are just the tip of the iceberg, and I cannot imagine what other Palestinians have gone through. Sadly, disregard for Palestinian civilian life, property, and human rights is what we know and understand to be the norm. Horrible reports surface from almost all interactions with IDF troops. Their incursions, assassinations, and raids exhibit cruel treatment, and more often than not, Palestinian civilians pay the price. Most Palestinians can testify that they have witnessed or experienced inhumane treatment at the hands of an IDF soldier. Arbitrary detentions, confiscation of ID cards, strip-searching, the use of human shields, physical and vocal abuse – all done in the name of security, and all flouting the IDF’s code of conduct. Contrary to every IDF spokesman who has come along, this type of abuse IS the IDF norm; but of course, the IDF claims it is ‘unaware’ of this. I hastily beg to differ. The next time something like this occurs – and it will – I may just choke when the IDF says it was an ‘isolated incident’ and they were ‘unaware’.
(Originally published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org – November 10, 2008)