Spotlight highlights Checkpoint events characteristic of the policy of the occupation: the systematic repudiation of basic human rights in the occupied territories. For Palestinians, reality is a complicated tangle of problems (survival in the everyday, education, health, making a living…) that cannot be solved because the Israeli occupation is conducted by enforcing countless inhuman bans. The Spotlights rely on collections of relevant reports from the field.
If one man sins, will you be furious with the entire community …. (Numbers, Ch. 16)
'The responsibility for criminal acts, including offenses carried out against laws that were enacted by authorities in an area occupied by the military, is personal responsibility. That is to say, you are not allowed to punish a person or a group of people because of deeds and offenses that were carried out by other people.'
Actions forbidden by the Hague Convention have long been routine and the behavioral norm in actions taken toward the population in the occupied territories. This is true to such an extent that reports on these actions stress the level of violence, the horror, and the brutality implemented by the army toward civilians, but they lack mention of their illegality (see references from the newspaper, Ha'aretz, below).
Types of punishment in the army arsenal, according to the stages of severity:
(a). Shutting the CP for a shorter or longer period of time is an action that is undertaken without any forethought. For the most part, it is carried out by a single soldier or a group of soldiers in the area without instructions from officers of higher rank. Even though the office of the Chief Attorney has forbidden the closure of a CP without an explicit order, the custom has not been eradicated. This may be because none has been reprimanded or taken to court for such actions.
Here are some examples from the reports:
Tayasir– The CP commander tried to get us to stand at a distance and he even shut the CP for a few minutes. For the full report, click here.
… In the people-cages at the entrance to the CP, a young man began to curse the soldier who is sitting in the post farthest forward. The face of the soldier did not express anger, rather there was an expression that showed his consciousness of his power, a kind of 'now we'll see who is stronger'…. And with the hint of a smile on his face, he defiantly pushed a button to lock and close the passage for everyone. The people looked at the person whose finger controls their time indifferently and complacently; and they waited, objects of collective punishment with no idea of how long it would take until the retaliator would relent. For the full report, click here.
(b). A higher level on the scale of punishment is the 'procedure of halting life' during which people find themselves in forced imprisonment in a particular location threatened by rifles, for an unknown period of time. This is an action that is carried out under instructions from ranking military commanders who combine a number of military units.
The CP commander appears and quickly notifies the people of a 'halt to life' – because of some events with settlers … He tells us to leave the area of the CP and all traffic in the CP is halted.
On the road leading to the turnstile of the entrance into Nablus, where there is usually no inspection, three soldiers prevent any passage into Nablus. Nor is there passage for people leaving Nablus. A big crowd of people collects on both sides of the CP, but there is no possibility of going through. We are told that there is a problem with the settlers at Kikar. A few of us go there: We see endless queues. All the vehicles are standing still with no possibility of going through in either direction.
And the Palestinians … what patience --- God!
For the full report, click here.
"The halting life procedure" …. About 200 people found themselves imprisoned in a shed …. In the vehicle CP, traffic from the occupied territories was halted. The first of those who had to stop was an ambulance. On the other side, its parallel partner from East Jerusalem is waiting. Who is being taken to hospital? Who needs treatment? Whose life hangs by a hair or by the minute hand? – We do not know. But whoever is suffering has to wait in his pain for a long time. Only after an hour and a half, when activity was renewed in the vehicle CP, did the ambulances meet. For the full report, click here.
(c). A step higher in the scale of punishment is the curfew, which means – imprisoning the residents of an entire village or town in their homes for a period of time whose end is unknown.
… The village Bet Omar is under curfew since a settler shot two residents. In the cemetery of the village, there is constant activity of throwing stones at cars. Last week, a settler shot at people taking part in a funeral and since then the village has been under curfew. For the full report, see Ha'aretz 1/4/11.
(d). The most severe, and the highest in the scale of collective punishment is having soldiers (usually in the middle of the night) invade the intimate personal domain, when all the people are huddled in their homes because of the curfew. The soldiers search everything in the house, touch everything in every corner, break and destroy anything that comes to hand, and carry out mass arrests without focusing on anything in particular. Even if it is certain that a hunted criminal is a resident of the village, it is completely illogical for everybody in the village, or all the members of the suspect's family, to be the object of such terroristic activity.
… on Sunday, the army closed all the entrances to the village of Awarta and for three full days terror ran wild in the village …. The village underwent a collective punishment. A military force with dogs entered every house in the village. They damaged everything they could ….. For the full report, click here.
Awarta– at night …. Soldiers entered the houses, took out more than 40 residents, all of them men of different ages. They handcuffed them, took them to the camp and interrogated them until 4 in the morning; they interrogated them while they were handcuffed. At the same time soldiers with dogs carried out searches in the houses. In some of them they broke, destroyed, and shattered everything that came to hand. A neighbor said to the officer: "There are little children in the house and they are trembling with fear." And the officer answered: " Shut up!". For the full report, click here.
What all the types of collective punishment have in common is how arbitrary they are, and the fact that those who implement the measures do not accept responsibility for their actions. The fact is that these punishments are not legal and counter Jewish moral values, that they place the victims into an unstable reality in which their voices are not heard and injustice is not seen. People are in a state of constant uncertainty, knowing the moment when the nightmare begins, but never knowing when it is likely to end.
Even if the punishment is acceptable according to state law; even if 'legal' decrees have been issued with the instructions and the knowledge of rulers and lawyers, they are opposed to the internationally enacted laws of warfare; and since the West Bank and its Palestinian residents are under occupation, they are supposed to be able to rely on the umbrella of defense provided by the Hague Convention. However, along all the walks of command, there is no fear of being called to task in court. Officers know that they have backing. Among a few, the voice of conscience has been aroused. There are those who refuse to take part in these operations; and others give evidence afterwards and confess. And as the saying goes, "the rest will be told in history books".
Judge Haim Cohen wrote about the integration of law and moral values when he described the foundation for the strength of the IDF:
"Morality is not less important than any other kinds of weapons, and perhaps even more important – and there is no moral weapon more effective than the rule of law. May everyone who is responsible, know that the rule of law in Israel will never 'give in to its enemies' ".
Written by Tamar Fleishman
Photography by Maya Gan Zvi
Translated by Dvorah Kalekin