Al-Safa, June 27, 2009

This, from my friend David Shulman, an activist in the Israeli-Palestinian peace group Ta'ayush, who has written widely about acts of witness in the South Hebron hills--including in this blog:

While Prime Minister Netanyahu scoffs at Ahmedinajad’s beatings of peaceful demonstrators, here is what happened yesterday, in broad daylight, at the village of al-Safa, inside occupied Palestinian territory. I am reporting the testimony of Dr. Amiel Vardi, and many other supporting testimonies. There is graphic photographic documentation, including a live video clip, which can be seen here. The pictures seen here are part of a series that can be viewed at this Flickr site.

Further photographic evidence will become available within the next day or two. (Israel has so far not resorted to blocking internet sites.) What Amiel reports is incontrovertible.

The activists arrived in the morning at al-Safa to accompany Palestinian farmers to their fields, since it is nearly impossible for these farmers to work their land without the physical protection of Israelis: violent settlers from nearby Bat 'Ayin invariably attack the farmers and chase them away. This time, however, the army and Border Police were waiting, in force—dozens of soldiers (the Border Police are part of the army), including two Brigade Commanders. As usual, they declared the area a Closed Military Zone.

But they also immediately arrested the activists and then attacked several of them brutally with fists, rifle butts, and other weapons. They rammed their heads repeatedly against the sides of the military jeeps (you can see this clearly on the Walla video). They severely beat the detainees while the latter were hand-cuffed and defenseless. Even worse, they continued to beat them while transporting them to the police station—stopping the jeeps on the way and attacking their helpless prisoners with clubs. One Palestinian activist, Yusuf Abu-Maria, suffered a broken leg. An Israeli activist, Sahar, had her armed savagely twisted, though fortunately not broken. Many were injured.

Incidentally, while this was going on, settlers from Bat 'Ayin set fire to Palestinian olive trees only a few hundred yards away; but of course the soldiers saw no reason to interfere.

This was not random violence. It’s the kind of thing that is directed routinely at Palestinian detainees, but this is perhaps the first time Israeli activists have been assaulted so brutally. The sense is that the Border Policemen were acting under direct, premeditated orders. The two Brigade Commanders—the senior officer in this zone, commander of the Etzion Brigade, and the commander of the Kfir Brigade— stood there overseeing the assault. Perhaps they had their orders from above. Internal Security in Israel is now under the direct control of the proto-Fascist party of Lieberman, the Foreign Minister.

Let no one claim that such things happen only in places like Iran but never in Israel. Let no one claim that Israel is an enlightened, free country, the very opposite of places like Iran. Let no one claim that the Israeli army is incapable of inhuman cruelty inflicted on innocent victims, whether they are Palestinian civilians or Israelis demonstrating peacefully against the occupation. Already now, as I write, the system Israel has put in place in the occupied territories is barbaric, in every sense of the word. Unless there is massive international pressure and effective protest, that system is not about to go away. Indeed, in the meantime, things are getting worse, on the ground, day by day.