“The army crossed another red line:” Report from Beit Ummar

The Israeli army arrested 19 Jewish peace activists who held a demonstration outside of the West Bank village of Beit Ummar on Saturday. One of the activists who was arrested and beaten shares his recollection of the day’s events.

An Israeli peace activist in Beit Ummar yesterday. Photo: ICAHD

An Israeli peace activist in Beit Ummar yesterday. Photo: ICAHD

“The army has crossed another red line,” Micha Kurz, longtime Jerusalem peace activist told me this afternoon as he recounted yesterday’s spontaneous Ta’ayush demonstration outside of the southern West Bank village of Beit Ummar. “The soldiers acted as if they’d thought about how much they hate leftist Jews before we arrived and then just unleashed fury on us” Kurz recalled. Over the past weeks, the Israeli army has intensified a gaza-like siege on Beit Ummar, as punishment for unarmed demonstrations, alleged stone throwing on the shared settler road bisecting the village and as part of the reality of Israeli control in the occupied West Bank. Yesterday (Saturday 2 April 2011), the Israeli army attacked a group of Israeli peace activists who had come to check the situation and hold a nonviolent demonstration. Kurz, a former IDF solider himself, was beaten by soldiers and arrested for being in a closed military zone. Yesterday’s unprovoked attack on Israeli peace activists falls in line with the army’s strategy of repression of nonviolent resistance by Israelis or Palestinians against Israel’s increasingly violent occupation in the West Bank.

Beit Ummar has been holding weekly demonstrations against the occupation and the confiscation of its lands by neighboring Jewish-only settlements for the past several years. The demonstrations have ranged from calm to deadly with hundreds injured and jailed. Some have even been killed in settler rampages through the village.

Yesterday, a group of Ta’ayush activists were returning to Jerusalem after spending the morning with Palestinian farmers in the South Hebron Hills. They made the quick decision to check on the closure of Beit Ummar on the drive home.

“Within five minutes of arriving at a series of concrete barriers in front of the village, we were surrounded by soldiers. We walked to a large gate [which the army had installed two months prior in order to seal the village] at another entrance to the village only to find that it was locked shut” Kurz recalled, “At this point there were a lot of soldiers, many of whom were officers. So we decided to have an impromptu nonviolent protest against the closure of the village.” Speaking to one Israeli activist present at the demonstration, the commander in charge threatened that “every time you do this (demonstrate), I will close the village.”

The commander in charge pronounced the area a ‘closed military zone’, after which one member of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity group asked the commander to see the closed military zone warrant. Being a stout guy, soldiers felt threated by his presence and attacked him. This set off a chain of violent events as soldiers attacked anyone bold enough to look them in the eye. Virtually everyone was arrested. According to activists, the commander never showed them the closed military zone warrant, a legal right afforded by Israeli law.

“I understand that soldiers get scared and nervous but they crossed every red line,” Kurz told me, “as the soldiers were beating and arresting everyone, one solider said to me: ‘I would rape your mother and sister if I could’ and another said that he would shoot me if he was allowed to.” In the embedded video, one brave activist caught a solider calling one of the activists an ‘Arab son of a bitch.’

Within half an hour of the demonstration beginning, 19 people had been arrested. Some were released quickly but eight were taken to the Kiryat Arba prison next to Hebron. After some interrogation, the activists agreed not to return to the area for 15 days and they were released.

While Kurz vowed to return to Beit Ummar and continue resisting the Occupation through direct action, he ended our conversation on a sober and realistic note, “I can’t recognize this anymore, these soldiers were totally out line. I’ve been a soldier in their position, I know, but this was way worse than I’ve ever seen or experienced. No one will be held accountable for that, they can do whatever they want. They even get away with murder.”

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Ynet, the website of the leading newspaper in Israel, published a video shot by the activists this morning as well as a small story written by Yair Altman. Notice the use of the word ‘clashes’ in the report. An army beating up a group of unarmed, nonviolent peace activists can hardly pass as a clash. Yet, this subtle language is one way that the mainstream media in Israel is able to create the image of ‘violent and angry leftists’ who are interested in ‘clashing’ with the good boys of the Israeli Defense Force. A look at the comments section, especially the comments in Hebrew (use Google Translate to get the gist), is a revealing window into mainstream Israeli understandings of nonviolence and leftists Jews. The overwhelming majority of the comments sign the praise of the good work that the Israeli army is doing in attacking the ‘disgusting’ leftists who side with Palestinians. Reading the comments, one is able to start to understand why a Jewish solider in the Israeli army could say to a fellow Jew that he would shoot him and rape his mother if afforded the chance.

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