Brutalizing dissent: How the IDF represses civil protest and creates violence

by Yaniv Reich on July 15, 2010

The only thing that distinguished this event from an endless stream of similar incidents was the fact it was recorded on video. Thankfully, a Palestinian held in hand one of B’Tselem’s video cameras and thereby managed to generate a massive quantity of evidence, which yielded an infinitesimal amount of accountability.

To make a long story short, a nonviolent Palestinian demonstrator against the segregation wall in Ni’ilin was detained, bound, blindfolded, allegedly beaten, and then shot in the leg at point-blank range with a rubber-coated steel bullet.

[Warning: Graphic video]

An IDF officer and a soldier in his unit were initially charged with the extraordinarily light offense of “unfit behavior”. But B’Tselem and other Israeli human rights organizations petitioned Israel’s High Court, which then instructed the Military Prosecution that the indictment did not fit the crime as recorded on the video. “The battalion commander’s actions, despite his desire to protect security interests, against a person who presents no danger, cannot be considered a legal action,” they wrote. As a result of this High Court decision, the Military Prosecution added a “threat-making” charge to the officer and an “illegal use of a weapon” charge against the soldier who fired. These charges are a mere “drop in the bucket”, remarked Joseph Dana, but at least they’re something.

Even then, some military officials complained: “No doubt there was a bad incident here, but, on the other hand, you can’t discuss and keep talking about it for so long. You need to know when to stop and not send a message to commanders and soldiers that when they make a mistake it will take years for the matter to be decided.” Indeed, it would have been far better from the IDF’s perspective if this incident was swept under the rug like the vast majority of such cases.

Subtext: Violent repression of civil demonstrations

More important than the legal treatment of these officers, in my view, is the context of occupation, ideology, and brutality, which is on full display in the court proceedings.

As the commander and soldier traded accusations, revealing attitudes surfaced. The two IDF militants threatened their prisoner, Abu Rahme, by saying: “Now you will stop demonstrating against the IDF.” It is not a specific charge they are concerned with, and it is certainly not any violence on the part of Abu Rahme, as the High Court understood in its statement. Rather, the threat posed by Abu Rahme was one of “disrupting the [IDF’s] peace” by daring to stage civil protests, apparently repeatedly for the IDF officer recognized him, against the illegal land theft and ethnic cleansing of he and his co-villagers from their own agricultural land.

The ultimately basic example is a powerful example and counterargument to Zionists and their unconditional defenders who are all-too-quick to explain away every Israeli transgression in the name of security. In the end, an extraordinarily large majority of what the IDF does is police and patrol and make life miserable for an indigenous population yearning for freedom from under a brutal military occupation.

Be clear: it is not violence and militancy that the IDF attempts to contain. Rather, it is primarily the essential craving for independence, free air, and one’s continually worked land passed on through dozens of generations, human impulses that are met constantly with this sort of banal, almost ritualized violence of an occupation army.

This is the reason why so many pro-justice, pro-human rights, anti-apartheid activists refer to the Israeli army not as the IDF (the Israel Defense Forces) but instead as the IOF (Israel Occupation Forces). It is simple matter of relative proportions spent enforcing occupation in the name of apartheid versus protecting civilians from violence.

A slap on the wrist for two scapegoats, violent thugs surely but scapegoated nonetheless, does not change this fundamental context.


For more information about Israel’s violent suppression of Palestinian civil demonstrations, see a recent B’Tselem report on the matter.

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