"Brutal Crackdown on Anti-Occupation Activists"
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Israel: Brutal crackdown on anti-occupation activists
By Chris Marsden
8 January 2004
The response of the army, judiciary and the government of
Ariel Sharon to Jewish opponents of Israel's occupation of
the West Bank and Gaza--and to foreign peace activists--is
becoming ever more brutal.
Israeli protester Gil Na'amati was shot in the legs by
Israeli Defence Forces troops during a demonstration against
the West Bank separation fence on December 27 near the
village of Maskha. In a demonstration organised by
Anarchists Against the Fence, the protesters were cutting a
length of the fence when they were met with live fire by the
IDF--seriously injuring Na'amati and slightly injuring an
The IDF regularly use live ammunition to disperse
Palestinians, but this was the first time troops have opened
fire on Jewish protesters.
A military investigation later found the soldiers were
following the rules of engagement. The IDF said in a
statement, "Given all the factors involved, including the
fact that the soldiers felt they were under a real threat,
the lack of accessible riot control gear and the rules of
engagement the force was operating under, there was no
deviation from the normal rules of engagement."
IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon told reporters he had "full
confidence in the testimony of the soldiers, who said they
felt threatened" by the demonstrators and "did not believe
they were dealing with Israelis."
Earlier Anarchists Against the Wall and the Association for
Civil Rights in Israel had organised a press conference
during which Na'amati's father, Uri, said, "One must be
drunk to believe the IDF's version" of the circumstances of
Uri Na'amati said the IDF soldiers "not only shot Gil, but
also failed to evacuate him, lied, and did not learn their
lesson. The IDF version has only one true element--the
According to reports, the material presented at the press
conference and an independent probe by Haaretz newspaper
disproves many of the army's claims.
Video footage taken using three cameras at the site of the
shooting shows that contrary to the IDF statements, the
soldiers could not have believed their lives were in danger.
The soldiers were also aware that the protesters were
Israelis, because the distance between the troops and the
demonstrators was just 26 meters rather than the 100 meters
claimed by Ya'alon when speaking to the Knesset Foreign
Affairs and Defence Committee. Protesters were shouting at
the soldiers in Hebrew.
The footage proves that the soldiers had not warned the
demonstrators before shooting at them. It shows that
soldiers were in shooting posture even when demonstrators
were only shaking the fence. They could not have felt
threatened because there was no chance the demonstrators
could get through to the settlement behind the soldiers.
Zionist settlers felt safe enough to cheer and dance beside
the soldiers in the back of a pickup truck and were not
prevented from doing so by the IDF.
The IDF also maintained that Na’amati was "the chief
instigator" of violence, but the video shows he arrived late
on the scene and was not masked as the army claimed.
Israel began to build what it calls a security fence and its
opponents often refer to as "The Wall" in June 2002. Costing
US$1.8 billion, the barrier slices through the Occupied
Territories splitting villages in two and preventing free
movement and access for Palestinians to vital services such
On New Year's Day around 15 people were wounded as they took
part in another protest against the construction of the
security fence. Two of those injured were foreign peace
activists who were taking part in the third such protest in
the West Bank village of Budrus, near Modi'in.
Some 30 protesters and one border policeman were injured.
The security fence runs along the western edge of Bodrus,
cutting off some farmers from their land. After a
hundred-strong protest march, some youths began throwing
stones at soldiers who responded with a volley of tear gas
and plastic bullets. The IDF imposed a curfew on the village
and carried out house-to-house searches. Five Palestinians
Four Israelis and four foreigners were also arrested,
including Swedish Green Party MP Gustav Fridolin, who was
later freed and escorted onto a flight to Stockholm by
Swedish Embassy officials. Fridolin said that the arresting
soldiers had "manhandled" him. The other three foreigners
were Fredrik Batzler from Sweden and Americans Katherine
Rafael and Kimberly Gray.
Many of those arrested are activists with the International
Solidarity Movement, which has been targeted for
particularly vicious treatment by the Israeli state.
In March 2003, US citizen Rachel Corrie, 23, was murdered by
the IDF while trying to stop an army bulldozer demolishing
Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza
Strip. On April 5, US citizen Brian Avery, 24, was shot in
the face in Jenin by IDF soldiers. On April 11, British
citizen Tom Hurndall was a shot in the head while helping
Palestinian children flee the scene of IDF gunfire in the
Rafah. He has been in a coma ever since and is expected to
die. It was only this month that an IDF soldier admitted to
shooting Hurndall, claiming it was a deterrence shot.
Since the start of the Palestinian intifada, the Israeli
military police have opened only 72 inquiries, and only 13
prosecutions have resulted from these.
In another expression of the hard-line stance being taken
against internal opponents of the occupation of the West
Bank and Gaza, on July 4 the military court in Jaffa imposed
one-year prison sentences on five conscientious objectors
who refused to enlist in the IDF. This is the first time
since 1981 that conscripts have been tried in a military
court for refusing to serve in the armed forces on grounds
Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Shimri Zameret, Adam Maor and
Noam Bahat are high school students who signed a letter
almost two years ago refusing to enlist in the IDF as long
as it continued to function as an occupying army.
They were put in trial for nine months before being
convicted of gross insubordination for refusing to obey an
order. The three judges denounced the five conscientious
objectors as draft dodgers who were giving Israel a bad name
during a period of conflict that demanded national unity.
The 14 months that the protesters have already served in
detention will not be deducted from their sentences. One of
the judges had recommended harsher sentences of up to 22
months. Draft-dodging bears a maximum penalty of three years
The court ruled that the objectors' freedom to follow their
conscience must be balanced against its impact on national
security. The court also insisted that as the five acted as
a group with the explicit goal of bringing about a change in
Israeli policy, their action was not conscientious objection
but civil disobedience.
Most significantly the judges ruled that the sentences were
meant to serve as a warning to others, especially in light
of the recent spate of elite reservists refusing to serve in
the territories. The military prosecutor added that the
sentence was "significant for the State of Israel" and would
force the five to "understand the error of their delinquent
Hundreds of soldiers have refused to serve in the West Bank
and Gaza, including recently 13 members of the elite Sayeret
Matkal unit. A group of 27 Israeli Air Force pilots also
issued a letter last September declaring their refusal to
take part in military operations in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip. Far more are evading the draft by citing medical
reasons or religious objections. Hence, the determination of
the courts to make an example of five young students, when
dissenters more typically face a month or so in detention.
The five young men refused to be intimidated. Shimri
Tzameret predicted, "Ethical people will follow in our
footsteps. The coming months will see other conscientious
objectors like us undergoing this process."
Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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