The military forces of most UN member states conduct their training exercises away from heavily-populated areas and civilians are prohibited, for their own safety, from entering such areas. Israel is an exception to this norm. Where Israel has chosen to rule over a captive population, its military exercises are held in civilian areas. This practice serves two purposes – it demonstrates, menacingly, to Palestinians who is the boss and it helps in the development of Israel’s profitable population-control industry. The Western news media are quick to report any violent response to Israeli repression that may come from individual Palestinians but the non-violent resistance to Occupation practised by the majority of Palestinians is ignored. Non-violent Palestinian resistance is also accompanied by violence – but that emanates from Israeli Occupation forces, not Palestinian protesters. Israel simply will not tolerate freedom of expression for the Palestinian population and that even includes prayer. Watch this on-line video that shows Palestinians, on their knees and defenceless, being targeted with flying Israeli Army tear gas canisters.
One Israeli military training area is the second-largest Palestinian town in the West Bank, al-Khalil, otherwise known as Hebron. A UNESCO World Heritage Centre, al-Khalil’s historic limestone buildings arose between 1250 and 1517AD, during the Mamluk period. The town contains the site of the First-Century Ibrahimi Mosque (the tomb of the Patriarchs). Al-Khalil lay at the crossroads of trade routes for caravans travelling between southern Palestine, Sinai, Eastern Jordan, and the north of the Arabian Peninsula, and is a site of pilgrimage for the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The area was seized by the Crusaders in 1100 and Muslims were denied access until after the Muslim re-conquest in 1188. With the re-instatement of the mosque, Christians continued their worship. In 1994, a fanatical orthodox Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, entered the enclosure and used a submachine gun to kill 29 Palestinian Muslims and wound 125 others, before killing himself. Bullet holes from the tragedy are still evident.
On Tuesday, 4 July 2017, an Israeli soldier was shot dead near a military checkpoint in the Tel Rumeida district of al-Khalil. The soldier was killed by other Israeli soldiers during an Israeli Army shoot-to-kill military exercise. The 22-year-old army commander, David Golovenchik, had been carrying out a training exercise with his soldiers but had failed to check that they had unloaded their weapons. The commander, posing as a Palestinian, approached the checkpoint and produced a knife. The soldiers shot him, as they had been trained to do in such circumstances. The use of lethal force against Palestinians by Israeli Occupation forces is standard Israeli Army practice. Amnesty International has condemned such “extra-judicial executions” in which “some, including children, were shot when they were posing no immediate threat to others’ lives . . .”
Following the fatal shooting, Israeli forces then punished the Palestinian population for the Army’s own blunder by shutting down the area and closing all the Occupation checkpoints. That a belligerent foreign army of Occupation should conduct military exercises amongst civilians for whom, under international law it is responsible, is barbaric. The death of the soldier sadly exemplifies the Zionist shoot-to-kill policy and the level of danger that faces Palestinians during such exercises. Compare the immediate arrival of an ambulance for the soldier who was shot, with the Israeli Army’s practice of deliberately obstructing medical help for wounded Palestinians, who are often callously left to bleed to death.
Palestinian motor vehicles, including ambulances, are prohibited from using a road in al-Khalil that connects illegal Israeli Occupation settlements in the centre of the town with the Kiryat Arba Zionist colony on the outskirts. The closing of all the checkpoints in the area meant that anyone inside it could not leave and those outside, trying to reach their homes, were shut out. This is the price Palestinians must pay for living where Israeli forces have been posted to discourage any Palestinian presence. Illegal Israeli settlers, of course, can display their contempt for Palestinians and enjoy complete freedom of movement. Acts of violence by settlers against the Palestinian population are almost never prosecuted under a military regime that favours Israel’s colonists.
Even hospitals can offer no refuge from Israeli Army violence
On 18 July 2017, the Israeli Army raided the Al-Makassed Hospital, in Occupied Jerusalem, to abduct from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), a critically-wounded Palestinian teenager, Ala Abu Tayeh (17). The youth had been shot by Israeli soldiers the night before in the Silwan district. Israeli soldiers also broke into patients’ rooms, before surrounding the ICU, where the seriously-wounded teenager was receiving treatment. The hospital administration strongly condemned the Israeli military invasion and drew attention to the history of Israeli Army raids on the hospital – see accounts and videos of such violations here. After the raid on the hospital, Israeli troops remained, harassing patients, physicians, nurses, workers and visitors, as well as inspecting everyone’s ID cards. As part of the raid, Occupation soldiers took prisoner six young Palestinian men in several areas of the city.
The Jordan Valley
Elsewhere, in the Jordan Valley, Bedouin living under Israeli Occupation face eviction, destruction of homes and the danger of unexploded, abandoned Israeli Army ordnance, the latter being a particular risk for Palestinian children. They live in areas that Israel has declared to be ‘firing zones’. Firing zones are another term for military exercise areas amongst the Palestinian population. Israeli battalions regularly use them to practise combat techniques among real people. Tent dwellings and livestock shelters must move to make way for Israeli tanks, and people are evicted from their homes to make way for the exercises. One family recalled that in 2016 they had been forced out of their home by Israeli Army exercises around 30 times. In summer, these home evictions put children at risk of dehydration. “We wait in the sun for hours,” said a parent, and the children get very tired from being outdoors for so long. When winter rain and cold ensue, there is no let up in Israeli Army exercises.
Most of the Jordan Valley, comprising around 30% of the total West Bank, is prohibited for Palestinian use. The land has been commandeered by Israel for the benefit of both the Israeli military and Israeli settlements. There are many personal and family accounts of Israeli Army terror and disruption of Palestinian communities. Raiding Israeli soldiers destroy dwellings, forcing out women and children, still in their night attire, without explanation or any sign of humanity. Children are terrified at the sight of the family’s house and possessions being destroyed or vandalised, and the memory is hard to erase. The NGO Defence for Children-Palestine (DCI-P) reports that throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes and essential infrastructure, including water, livestock shelters, solar panels and even accommodation provided by international aid organisations. Last year, the rate of destruction perpetrated by Israel was the highest ever recorded since OCHA began tracking the issue in 2009. Home demolitions and evictions deny Palestinians the right to security and deprive children of an adequate standard of living, education and health. The psychological damage is enormous. Israel’s military exercises are an integral part of the Zionist plan to displace the Palestinian population in favour of Israeli settlers.
Israeli Army abuse of Palestinian children’s rights
Israel is the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in military courts. The unremitting presence of the Zionist state’s military forces amid a civilian population facilitates the discriminatory abuse of Palestinian children. Anything from 500 to 700 youngsters are forced to appear before the Occupation Army’s Courts of injustice. Since 2012, Israel has held captive an average of 204 Palestinian children each month, according to data provided by the Israel Prison Service. Ill-treatment in the Israeli military detention system remains “widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process,” according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, Children in Israeli Military Detention Observations and Recommendation. Between January and May this year some 331 Palestinian minors were abducted by the Israel Army, a 62% increase on figures from 2012 to 2015, according to DCI-P. The report details how Israeli forces regularly abuse Palestinian children, depriving them of food, subjecting them to beatings and denying them access to legal counsel.
The Accountability Programme Director at DCI-P, Ayed Abu Eqtaish, says: “For over a decade, ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system has been widespread and systematic.” Records show that this year, from January to June, 81% of Palestinian children were strip-searched when held captive, with two-thirds of them denied legal counsel, or even the presence of a parent while under interrogation. One of the youngest children was 12-year-old Suheib, seized from a refugee camp in Ramallah. He had been knocked to the ground by Israeli officers, beaten and blindfolded for, it was alleged, throwing stones. The child was then held captive overnight at a police station, where he was interrogated while still being denied food for 24 hours. In another case, a 13-year-old boy known only as Anas M. was terrorised by an Israeli soldier who painfully gripped his neck, as if to strangle him. Last month, DCI-P held a congressional meeting on the situation of Palestinian children over 50 years of illegal Occupation. In Britain, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), is organising a petition against Israeli military abuse of Palestinian children.
Justice demands that Israel be brought to account
As with other Israeli state abuses of human rights, military exercises among civilians and the imposition of military courts are prohibited under international humanitarian law. The passing of resolutions at the Security Council and elsewhere that condemn Israel’s deliberate and defiant violations of international humanitarian law have tragically failed to constrain Israel. Sadly, the international community continues to do nothing to bring Israel to account. When will our law-makers break the silence and raise their voices in Parliament and elsewhere in support of justice? The passing of UNSC Resolution 2334 was only the beginning. When will we demand sanctions against Israel? Inaction, like silence, is complicity.