I thought I would republish this artcle by Gerald Horton, International Advocacy Officer - Lawyer
Defence for Children International – Palestine Section as it adds the ongoing debate around the West Bank and imprisonment of children as part of a policy of collective justice. I was in Palestine and the West Bank earlier this year....
On 26 August, the Israeli organisation, Breaking the Silence, released a report containing nearly 50 testimonies provided by soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The report – Children and Youth: Soldiers’ Testimonies 2005-2011 – describes the realities of everyday life for Palestinian children living under military occupation.
Credible reports of human rights abuses against children living under Israeli military occupation are not new. However, these latest testimonies from young soldiers given the task of enforcing the occupation provide further evidence of its deeply corrosive effects on all.
Maintaining control in occupied territory
A number of the testimonies illustrate how the Israeli military has exercised control over millions of Palestinians for the past 45 years. It is only through this use of the military, that 500,000 Israeli civilians are able to live in illegal settlements in occupied territory. The army is charged with the task of ensuring that any form of resistance against this illegal settlement activity is systematically crushed.
In the first testimony (Testimony 1), a soldier describes the modus operandi of the army in the West Bank: “[A] patrol goes in […] and raises hell inside the villages. A whole company may be sent in […] provoking riots, provoking children. The commander is bored and wants to show off to his battalion commander […] He wants more and more friction, just to grind the population, make their lives more and more miserable, and to discourage them from throwing stones, to not even think about throwing stones at the main road.”
In Testimony 6, a soldier rationalises why the army must enter Palestinian villages and arrest children: “[A]t the end of the day, something has to make these kids stop throwing stones on the road because they can kill. That specific kid who actually lay there on the ground, begging for his life, was actually nine years old. […] A loaded gun is pointed at him and he has to plead for mercy? This is something that scares him for life. But I think that if we hadn’t entered the village at that point, then stones would be thrown the next day and perhaps the next time someone would be wounded or killed as a result.”
In another testimony (Testimony 11), a soldier describes how a village in the West Bank is collectively punished after unidentified persons threw stones at a road used by army and settlers. It is relevant to note that collective punishment is expressly prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention: “[W]e took over a school and had to arrest anyone in the village who was between the ages of 17 and 50, something like that. It lasted from morning until noon the next day. Anyway, all sorts of people arrived, shackled and blindfolded. What happened was that when these detainees asked to go to the bathroom, and the soldiers took them there, they beat them to a pulp and cursed them for no reason […] I saw many soldiers using their knees to hit them, just out of boredom.”
In Testimony 12, a soldier recounts an ongoing debate in his battalion suggesting the existence of a culture of brutality: “[M]ost said the Palestinians should be beaten up so they’ll know what’s what, because that’s the only way they’ll learn.”
Perhaps more disturbingly, a soldier describes (Testimony 17) how the army is used to provoke violence, rather than simply to respond to a specific incident: “[W]e’d often provoke riots […] We’d be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we’d trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is. Search, mess it all up […] We’d go up to the window of a mosque, smash the pains, throw in a stun grenade, make a big boom, then we’d get a riot […] At best, in the middle of prayers. That annoys them the most. You know what it’s like. Soldiers are bored. They want action […] We had a screwed up company commander, a real Arab-hater, too.”
The violence described in the testimonies also extends to detaining and beating children known to be innocent in order to obtain information (Testimony 27): “[K]ids would throw stones at us, we’d catch some kid who happened to be there and beat him to a pulp. Even if he didn’t throw stones. He would know who did […] Finally he’d tell us who did it. Once we were on patrol, someone threw stones at us, nothing really serious, so we caught some Palestinian kid who had been nearby, we knew he’d seen this, he knew who had thrown stones. Let’s say we beat him, to put it mildly, until he told us.”
In the same testimony, the soldier describes how his commanding officer severely beat the 14-year-old boy: “[H]is nose was bleeding. He had really been beaten to a pulp. The commander said to his mother: ‘Keep away!’ Came close, cocked his gun, he already had a bullet in the barrel, or halfway so it wouldn’t just fly out. She got scared. He actually stuck the gun-barrel in the kid’s mouth. Literally […] ‘Anyone gets close, I kill him. Don’t annoy me. I’ll kill him. I have no mercy.’ He was really on the edge.”
Demonstrations against military occupation
One soldier describes in his testimony (Testimony 22) how a weekly demonstration against the expansion of a settlement, in the village of An Nabi Saleh near Ramallah, is dealt with: “[T]he atmosphere among the soldiers is [...] it’s like some kind of game. Before Nabi Saleh, everyone wants to arm themselves with as much ammo as possible, so they’ll have plenty to fire. It’s for kicks. You have lots of stun grenades, eventually there’s nothing you can do with one, you have to throw it, so they’re thrown for the sake of throwing at people who are not suspected of anything.” It is relevant to note that an Israeli military order issued in 1967 prohibiting a “political” gathering of more than 10 Palestinians is still enforce, 45 years later.
Institutionalised discrimination and racism
In another testimony (Testimony 21), a soldier describes how Israeli settlers in Hebron receive differential treatment in the event of a disturbance: “[T]his Jewish kid walks along, an Arab kid passes by, boom, the Jew kicks the Arab kid in the face. If the Arab kid would hit him back I have to catch him and slap him on the face, see? The Jew is free to do whatever he likes.” In a new development, the US State Department now categorises some forms of Israeli settler violence as “terrorism”, potentially with far reaching legal consequences.
Another soldier describes (Testimony 35) how the soldiers he was with beat a 15-year-old boy accused of throwing stones in Hebron, where a community of settlers lives in the very heart of a Palestinian city, made possible by a large army presence: “[T]hey were such worms at some point, I remember we hated them, I hated them [Palestinians]. I was such a racist there, too. I was so angry at them for their filth, their misery, the whole fucking situation. You threw a stone, why did you do that? Why did you have to make me bring you here? Don’t do it. We were shaking him out of despair, not necessarily because we were violent.”
In Testimony 21, a soldier describes how particular units, such as the Israeli Border Police, are notorious for their violence: “[D]id you work with the Border Police?” “Yes, they’re the worst shits. What we do is nothing in comparison to them. They didn’t give a damn, they go around breaking people’s knees just like that. I remember once some Arab was caught throwing stones, they put his leg up against the wall as he lay on the ground and, boom, someone just stepped on his knee. No mercy.” One such incident of Israeli Border Police violence in Hebron was recently caught on video.
Other testimonies reveal an apparent complete disregard for not just international law, but also Israeli law. In Testimony 15, a soldier describes how the army continues to use Palestinian children as human shields (“neighbor procedure”), in spite of a High Court decision confirming its illegality. The soldier describes how his commanding officer justified the practice as follows: “I know it’s illegal, and I am willing to have the neighbour killed, that mother, that woman, so that none of my men will be killed entering that house.”
Children fishing in Gaza
In Testimony 20, a sailor describes how the Israeli navy sometimes shoots at children fishing close to the sea border with Israel: “[I]t began with shots in the air, bullets passing them closely and in extreme cases, even shooting at their legs. I didn’t do it, but there were other vessels in my company that shot at their legs.” This testimony bears marked similarities to cases documented by DCI-Palestine in which children from Gaza were shot in the legs whilst collecting gravel close to the land border with Israel in circumstances where there could be no conceivable security threat.
A code of silence
Finally, Testimonies 31 and 32 describe how young soldiers may not agree with the conduct of their peers, but are reluctant to speak up or complain: “There was another instance of a 14-year-old […] He was detained, kept on the side, so he stood there and hummed to himself. This annoyed one of the guys. He went up to him and said: ‘Something amusing you?’ The kid said: ‘Yes, gotta keep my spirits up.’ ‘Spirits up, eh?’ and the other soldier slapped his face. You’re in a dilemma here, because he’s your buddy so you’re not going to tell on him. I began to say to him: ‘What are you doing?’ and he said: ‘No, they have to learn their lesson.’”
(Testimony 32) – “People were saying all the time that they beat Arabs for fun. Beatings happen all the time, but there was one episode that turned into my own ‘main event’ while I was out there.” The soldier then describes how his company commander severely beat a boy aged between 13 and 15 years. “I’ve been waiting for this situation for 3 years, from the moment I enlisted, I joined the army to stop such things and here I am, not doing a thing, choosing not to do anything. Am I fine with this? I remember answering myself: Yes […] I was conscious of not doing anything because I was really afraid of that company commander.”
The report by Breaking the Silence exposes the human cost of prolonged military occupation and illegal settlement activity. These testimonies are not isolated incidents or a question of 'a few bad apples', but rather the natural and foreseeable consequence of government policy. This report, along with others, makes it difficult for anybody to say: “I did not know.”
The report concludes with these words: “The dozens of testimonies contained in this booklet reveal the perspective of the Israeli soldiers on the ground, messengers of Israeli society, and serve as witness to the ongoing slide of the military system toward increasing immorality. The words of soldiers included here constitute an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders: We must foster a serious discourse regarding the price of military rule of the Occupied Territories, the factors that enable this reality, and their drastic effect on the future of the region.”
The report has received extensive media coverage including: The Guardian; The Independent; The Australian; and the Sydney Morning Herald.
International Advocacy Officer - Lawyer
Defence for Children International – Palestine Section
Tel: +972 2 242 75 30 ext. 103
Fax: +972 2 242 70 18
Mobile: + 972 0599 087 290
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