by Jack English
20 January 2012 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank
The ongoing repression of international activists took a turn for the ridiculous on Thursday night in Al Khalil, also known as Hebron. At approximately 7:30pm on January 19th, an activist approached a military checkpoint en route to his apartment, where two soldiers on duty, recognizing him as an activist and international observer in Al Khalil, demanded to search his person and bag. Upon finding two bags of bulk tea, which they insisted were drugs, and a fork-knife-spoon camping utensil, they called the police to make an arrest.
However, upon arrival at the scene, the officers confirmed the legality of possessing both tea and eating utensils. Yet upon further discussion with the soldiers, the activist was informed that he would still be detained and brought to the police station in the neighboring illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba for interrogations under the charge that the activist had “insulted a public servant.”
The specific alleged act was explained as, incredibly, “farting on a soldier.”
En route to the police station the accusing soldier sang songs demonstrating his excitement and belief that the international would be deported for this alleged flatulent offense. Of course, following a long wait and brief interrogation, the ludicrous charges were thrown out, and the activist was released.
While he was leaving, the soldier left him with the parting warning and threat “I will remember your face. I will be your worst nightmare”.
While the comic absurdity of this event calls into serious question the maturity of many of the heavily armed members of the Israeli occupation soldiers, and the professional integrity of the Israeli police officers who attempted to proceed with these charges, it is significantly less funny when viewed in the context of the occupation, and specifically the situation in Al Khalil, where 600 illegal settlers have taken over the city center, protected by 2,000 Israeli occupational soldiers, enforcing the ban of Palestinians from certain streets and the closure of 1,800 Palestinian shops in and around Shuhada Street.
This comes with the frequently raid of Palestinian homes, and subjection of Palestinians to humiliating searches, harassment, and detention while passing through the numerous military checkpoints in the city center. Meanwhile, illegal settlers are protected when they violently attack the remaining Palestinian residents of the area and attack their property, such as the burning of a Palestinian family’s car in the neighborhood of Tel Rumeideh last Saturday, while soldiers looked on.
Even the mere presence of the various international groups that serve to observe and document these abuses in Al Khalil is viewed with unveiled disgust by both settlers and the military. The settlers frequently respond to this presence by verbally, sexually, and physically attacking internationals while onlooking soldiers characteristically turn a blind eye.
The soldiers do their part with unwarranted, long, and frequent detentions of the internationals, recent attempted raids on both the apartments of the International Solidarity Movement and the Christian Peacemakers Team, and when possible, as is clearly illustrated by this most recent incident, arrests under even the most absurd pretenses.
It is important to note that while internationals at least have the “benefit” of being subject to Israeli civilian law enforcement and it’s civil constraints, Palestinians can be arrested by the soldiers themselves, face significantly longer detentions, are tried in Israeli Military Court, and finally, often face obscenely long prison sentences.
This is why it is so important to maintain an international presence here, and illustrates why this mere presence is viewed as such a threat. The work of both internationals and Palestinians of exposing the realities of this occupation to the international community is essential in fighting Zionism’s systematic erasure of Palestinian history, culture, and theft of their right to land and freedom.
Jack English is a volunteer with International Solidarity Movement (name has been changed).