Jordan Valley: where the culture of lies begins

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Daphne Banai and Nurit Popper. Photos by Nurit Popper, translator Tal H.
קבוצה של אנשי צבא

“Old hags”, “Bitches”, “You’re not Jews!” The driver of the cement mixer truck got out of his vehicle, leaned into my car window and screamed, spraying me with his spittle, his eyes bulging – because two leftist ladies were in his way up a hill where he was paving an illegal road that would lead to a new illegal settler-colonist-outpost. This was an argument over who would make way for whom, becoming more and more menacing. We hurried to lock our doors and windows and make way for him. He was having a mad fit and we feared for our lives.

About half an hour later we were sitting in our car, two women well past their 70th birthday, on a narrow track in the Palestinian Jordan Valley, surrounded by 5-8 zany Jewish settler-colonists and 4 armed soldiers headed by captain Rubin.  Ahead of us we were blocked by the said cement mixer truck. All of this because we, activists in the Palestinian Jordan Valley came to document how the settlers were pacing an illegal road to an outpost – illegal even according to the laws of the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories, and no one was stopping it.

One of settler brought a large water bottle and poured its contents over our heads inside our car. The soldiers and their commander did nothing.

The officer declared the place a “closed military zone” and ordered us to leave. An argument ensued about the legality of this order and its selectiveness, since the settlers and the cement mixer driver were not ordered to leave, and that the officer and his subordinates were aiding and abetting the settlers in their obviously illegal action of paving an illegal road to a settler-colony which the courts have issued a stop-construction ordinance.

The argument drove this officer mad, so he produced the ultimate zany trick: “You tried to run me over!” he cried, while I was carefully maneuvering on the narrow track trying to get away. I shall not go into detail since you are all aware of how fictitious this accusation was. Immediately, more forces arrived with a higher-ranking officer, their weapons at the ready. We were now surrounded by 5-8 settler-colonists, one violent cement mixer truck driver, and about 10 soldiers/officers in 4 army jeeps. We were taken to the Ariel colony police station, detained for about 5 hours, the officer lodged a complaint against us (which developed during his hour of driving to the police station and became “injuring the knee of an Israeli army officer performing his duty” and supported by the soldier who came with him – word for word, and obviously they had memorized the text well…)

We were amazed how easily the soldiers invented a fictive story and how fine they felt about it. This is already automatic: every hurdle, any unpleasant situation is bypassed by simply lying. A culture of deception.

We were interrogated by a matter-of-fact police investigator who was not really impressed with the soldiers’ story, and we immediately lodged a counter-complaint against the army officer about lying, false complaint and lack of protection from violence, as well as violence and threats by the settler-colonists and the cement mixer truck driver. We were let off on bail and ordered to stay away from the area. We shall probably carry on with our lives as usual, in spite of our harsh experience.

On the other hand –

On September 3, 2019, Palestinians were with their herds at pasture near their own community in the Al Auja area. 5 Jewish settler-colonists arrived, followed by others, threatened the shepherds and attacked them. The frightened shepherds called up Israeli activists who hurried to call the army and police. When the army arrived, it arrested… no, not the Jewish assailants but the Palestinian shepherds. Naturally. The claim at first was that the Palestinians were stealing sheep, and then it was replaced by accusing them of throwing stones. The attacked Palestinians spent  13 days in custody after having called the police to protect them. Their arrest was under harsh conditions, until released at a high-priced bail.

Ever since our arrest I cannot help thinking about the culture of lying that has sprouted so well in our society. For days now I cannot help comparing the two events and many others. 15 years ago, already, I was witness at the checkpoints in the West Bank to dozens of cases of soldiers testifying – without batting an eyelash – that a Palestinian who no more than giggled, or said something they didn’t like, or didn’t produce his ID fast enough, or wasn’t servile enough, was accused of “bypassing” the checkpoint, or trying to attack soldiers, or actively injuring them, or throwing stones, or lying or whatever came to mind…I Saw it all with my own eyes! And every single time I was amazed at how easily these lies slip out of their mouths, lies for which the Palestinian inevitably pays a terrible price.

That unlimited power to do whatever they feel like –to people, to children, to the elderly – destroys the soul of these 18-year olds and encourages them to lie. For who would doubt the claim of a Jewish soldier that a Palestinian, one of those people who are known to be all liars by birth, had raised a hand to hit him? And even if that poor indigenous would swear by the lives of his mother and sister, and even if all eye-witnesses would testify that this never took place, after all – “Palestinians are born liars”…

And this should rock the land, shake us to the core and keep us awake at night for these soldiers are our children, and this is what we raise them to be. This culture of lying infiltrates the State and grows roots and spawns and is found everywhere, even at the highest echelons, so how can we raise an eyebrow when half our city mayors and prime ministers are all ill with this very same illness.

Because that is precisely where it comes from – that unharnessed power of rule over subjects who have no rights and no defense.