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Collective Punishment in Bil’in

by Allison and Rann

It was 12am on Sunday morning. We were headed to bed in Bil’in when we were alerted that Israeli soldiers had again entered the village. We, along with countless residents of Bil’in standing watch on rooftops, watched the military jeeps driving around the land near the annexation barrier, away from the village itself, for close to an hour before deciding to give up our post and go to sleep.

We were not able to quite lie down before we were called back to the roof — the soldiers had entered someone’s home.

In a pattern that has been repeating itself over the last week or so, the Israeli soldiers, approximately 25 in number, had chosen to harass a new member of the Popular Committee Against the Apartheid Wall in Bil’in, the local Palestinian organizing body. We, the two ISMers along with one resident of Bil’in, drove toward the soldiers, stopped the car, and got out in order to investigate the situation. Immediately we were faced with a group of soldiers directly in front of us, all pointing their M-16s at our faces. They began speaking to us in Hebrew, but then in English they ordered us to back away from the house, return to the car, and drive away. The soldiers stated that they were executing a military operation and that we were interfering with it.

After a few more questions, we decided to follow the orders of the soldiers and drove back to the ISM apartment, where we stayed up waiting for news from the Palestinians whose homes were searched. The ‘military operation’ in question involved no more than casual harassment and intimidation. Try to imagine for a moment that a gang of soldiers entered your home at 1am, pointed guns at your family members, demanded identification and searched the house for no other reason than your involvement in non-violent organizing. Just one more example of Israeli democracy in action.

We found out in the morning that the Israeli soldiers had searched several homes, taken identification cards, and verbally harassed the Palestinians of Bil’in that night. They left several hours later.

What happened early Sunday morning in Bil’in was not an isolated incident. The Israeli army has repeatedly come to harass the people of Bil’in at night, choosing different areas to ‘search’ each night.

Bil’in is also not the only village in the West Bank that is being intimidated, stripped of its privacy and peace of mind. Boudrus has also experienced similar harassment by Israeli soldiers in the middle of the night. The pattern seems to be similar every time: the jeeps come to Boudrus, spend some time harassing the villagers, then drive over to nearby Bil’in and do the same again. Incidents like these are well-documented and have been ongoing for many years.

Why is this happening? According to Lieutenant Colonel Tzachi Segev, commander of the 25th Battalion of the Armored Corps, which is operating in the Bil’in area: “The stronger the activity against the fence, the stronger our operations will be. We reserve the right to enter the village at any hour … Sometimes there is no escaping collective punishment, even if it has a negative impact. Collective punishment is closure, prohibiting people from entering a certain village, blocking the Bilin-Safa road [referring to the neighboring village] as a lever of pressure if the village does not behave properly.” (Meron Rappaport – Gandhi Redux)

Collective punishment is forbidden by the fourth Geneva Convention. It is illegal to punish entire segments of civilian population for the actions of a few individuals, whatever those actions may be. In this case, groups of civilians are being punished for organizing peaceful demonstrations. The right to organize and peacefully demonstrate is protected by the universal declaration of human rights and by Israeli law. In violating these rights, Israeli soldiers are committing war crimes

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