Thursday, July 24, 2008

Violent demonstrations

Most people would have been horrified and disgusted by the recent video footage showing a young man, Ashraf Abu Rahma, being shot from close-up by an Israeli soldier while in custody and while blindfolded and handcuffed. The video has been widely circulated on YouTube.

Israeli army sources claim that shooting helpless prisoners is against IOF policy and that the incident is being investigated. Meanwhile, according to local sources, the soldier responsible was back on duty next day. In the eyes of his superiors, I suspect, his crime is that he was caught on film.

Official Israeli spin doctors have gone into top gear, assuring us that Abu Rahma was only shot with a rubber bullet (read rubber-coated steel bullet) and that he was taking part in a violent demonstration. Both statements bear closer examination:
  • The so-called rubber bullets are designed to hurt and to incapacitate. They have the power to cause fractures, to blind, to penetrate the flesh and to cause severe trauma, even to kill. They are used routinely by Israeli troops against peaceful demonstrators.
  • The regular demonstrations at Ni'lin (where this incident took place) are organised along non-violent lines. Villagers, supported by Israeli and international activists and supporters, make speeches, wave flags and banners and attempt to march, through village lands, to the site of the latest land theft. They are met by lines of heavily armed troops and border police, who attack them with sound grenades, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets - sometimes with live ammunition. In this sense, yes, it is a violent demonstration - the Israeli troops use unprovoked violence.
I can attest to this violence. On May 27 of this year I, along with several scores of villagers and a number of Israeli and international supporters - including women and children - attempted to walk from Ni'lin village to the site where bulldozers were clearing olive trees for another land confiscation. As we approached we were confronted by a line of Israeli soldiers barring our way. Without warning, they lobbed sound bombs and commenced firing tear gas grenades into our midst. Blinded, tears streaming from our eyes, our lungs on fire, those of us at the front could only lurch about, unable to retreat or to get our bearings. Some were on their hands and knees, retching. At this point, the brave soldiers of the Israel "Defence" Force commenced firing rubber-coated steel bullets into the helpless crowd, from close range. I was hit in the lower back/hip (see above photo) and, while it hurt, others around me suffered much worse injuries.

This is the common scenario when Palestinian villagers attempt to peacefully demonstrate against the theft of their lands: they are met with violent, often brutal confrontation by the Israeli military. Veteran newsmen and photographers prepare for it by wearing flak jackets and military-style helmets. Ambulances and medical crews are always on standby to treat the inevitable injuries and wounds. Internationals always attempt to accompany any Palestinians who may have been arrested or detained, fearing what may happen to these detainees once they are taken out of public sight . Abu Rahma's experience confirms the wisdom of this practice. The helpless are easy prey.

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