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Checkpoints - Conscience and good sense


Everyone in Israel knows what happens at the checkpoints established in the Palestinian areas, except possibly the government. Everyone understands the day to day inhumanity and brutalization of Palestinians that goes on there. Even the most gung-ho Greater Israel zealot, if they are not insane, must understand that humiliation and intimidation of ordinary people is bad for Israel as well as being an immoral act. It breeds resentment and hatred.

Cleaning up the checkpoints should be a number one issue for every Zionist. But the checkpoints have existed for many years, and nobody except a few head-in-the-clouds moralists, leftists and journalists in search of a story have taken up this issue. Every criticism of the checkpoints is either denied ("our soldiers don't do such things") or met with the defense that they are needed to prevent terrorism. That is excuse number 1. However, they can prevent terrorism without hurting innocent people. As they are run presently, checkpoints are probably breeding more terrorists than they are preventing terrorism. Even those who don't care at all about Palestinians should recognize that this is bad for Israel.

So convinced was the IDF of the exemplary humanitarian behavior of its soldiers, that it sent a crew to film a checkpoint, as a propaganda documentary. Instead, the IDF was surprised for some reason when the cameras caught soldiers beating Palestinians as a matter of course.

The tape was handed over to IDF commanders, who passed it on to the Military Police, which then investigated the checkpoint commander and his soldiers. B. was handed an indictment following the investigation and will be tried in the Central District Military Court. He is charged with aggravated abuse, assault, willful wrongdoing, and improper conduct.

Moreover, the IDF has decided that the checkpoint will now be commanded by an officer rather than a soldier.

The full videotape, revealed by NRG Maariv, was used as key evidence in the trial of the checkpoint commander. It contains several violent scenes, one of which shows IDF soldiers beating a Palestinian man in full view of his two children and screaming wife. They then force the man into a closed shelter, out of the range of the film crew's cameras.

Out of sight is out of mind. If you didn't see it, it didn't happen. That is the way it is handled. The lawyer of this commander offers usual excuse #2:

"The IDF, not the soldiers, should be on trial. The entire senior staff of the IDF should be called to trial. Let them come and explain why they assign young soldiers with an impossible task".

OK, so the IDF should also be put on trial. However, let the soldier explain why he brutalized people. If he thought the job is impossible, why didn't he ask for guidance? If he is so proud of what he did, why did he hide it from the cameras? This is his rationale:

On film, the commander explains his actions: "If he gets through, everyone will get through. So, there's a limit, and there's a red line. For example, Here, right now, no one is going through. Why? Because that guy got a beating. It bothers me to beat a grown man. But I try not to be near people. That's why I took him aside. And no one knows what I did with him. They have no trouble with the beatings, but the humiliation in front of all those people - his wife and children - that's why I took him aside".

Understand: this scene is repeated hundreds of times every day. Virtually every adult Palestinian has undergone a similar experience, or worse, or knows someone who has. This is what "occupation" means - one facet of it, for just plain folks who are not terrorists and only want to get to work, to go shopping to get to a hospital or to visit a relative.

Too late, after all the years of occupation, the IDF is running some courses in humanitarian behavior for border police who will man checkpoints. The utility of such courses may be doubtful, if humanitarian behavior is not monitored and enforced.

This week, there were fresh abuse stories. Perhaps these few egregious instances that caught the eye of the public will be punished, but we are fooling ourselves if we think they represent only aberrant behavior of a few bad apples. Not every soldier may shoot a Palestinian for calling him a liar, but evidently the use of humiliation as well as physical punishment is part of a system and a philosophy, not the initiative of a few psychopaths. It is much easier after all to control people with force and humiliation, as the checkpoint commander explained, and as long as the cameras are not rolling, nobody is the wiser, because the IDF ignores the complaints of humanitarian groups.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000286.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 6 comments

The phenomenom described may be a general human failing.The brutality of checkpoint IDF soldiers is reflected in the atrocious treatment of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers in Iraq. IS THIS A NATURAL CONSEQUENCE WHEN YOU GIVE SOMEONE TOTAL CONTROL OVER ANOTHER HUMAN BEING?

In either event, strict control over the activities of personnel charged with police functions must be instituted by the powers that be, be they USA or Israeli.

Posted by Elchanan @ 07/29/2004 12:01 AM CST

Israeli's should be ashamed of themselves,they have forgotten how their fore-father's were slaves to the pharoh and now they are doing the same thing to the palestinians.
God is Great

Posted by daghalodi @ 07/29/2004 05:04 PM CST

From my own experience I can say that the situation for the soldier is a de-humanising one. The soldier, regardless of nationality, has to deal with a situation for which his combat training and his equipment does not equip him. Further in his enclosed military environment his primary perspective is that the civilians he is dealing with may be his military enemy or individuals who actively or passively support his enemy. He will see them on other occassions waving banners and marching, and shouting obscenities and he is denied the opportunity to respond. He will be ordered to look out for apparent civilians who are carrying weapons etc. and who pose a material threat to him and to his nation.
It is likely that the soldier does not have sophisticated outlook on the world. He is unlikely to appreciate the nuances of politics and international laws. He will only fully understand the civilians - "them" - the other - as enemies. He cannot afford to regard them as humans with personalities because that would impede his ability to respond to a threat arising from them. Doubt or confusion can easily kill him.
Most of all he doesn't want to be there. He will resent the civilians because they compel him to be there and so he vents his anger against them.
Sometimes the soldier will become "drunk" on the power he can wield in this situation, and it will be different to his life elsewhere where he has no power. Because he has almost absolute power in this situation, it corrupts him absolutely.
Beating the civilian may be his act of revenge for something entirely unconnected to the individual civilian.
I often hear the angry statements condemning the soldiers. Yet so often the person making these statements denies the soldier the same humanity that the soldier denies the civilian. And thus these angry commentators become as bad as the soldier.

Posted by RD @ 07/30/2004 10:55 PM CST

as always, not a word about what made the checkpoints necessary. there were none until Arafart declared war on Israel. hundreds of thousands of Arabs moved freely into and out of Israel, to work, shop, play.
frankly, i would be much more sympathetic if i saw the palestinians fighting against those who commit terror attacks against Israel, if i saw them jailing killers in non-revolving door jails, destroying terror organizations, etc.
the checkposts will disappear when the Arabs stop murdering us.

Posted by mike levine @ 07/31/2004 09:15 AM CST

Dalghodi's comments are interesting insofar as there is an assumption that the Israels / Jews as a collective should behave in a more exemplary manner because their forefathers have been subject to oppression and abuse. However if we consider how what we expect of abused individuals, we do not express astonishment if they subsequently abuse those over whom they have power. The abused child often grows up to be the abusive adult.
I suggest that this expectation that Israelis / Jews should somehow be "different" it merely an extension of the abuse they have collectively experienced over the last 2000+ years. Also that the opprobrium often attached to this demand of exemplary behaviour is merely a technique by which the accuser avoids culpability for the abuse to which Jews were subjected.

Posted by RD @ 08/16/2004 11:05 AM CST

I enjoy this web site as a place where people can learn about this crisis in an even handed manner as possible. Unfortunatly some of the posters don't seem interested in this goal. The blame the victim comments posted here are shameful. Are we back to the days of the rape victim asking for it?

Posted by robert @ 09/22/2004 05:56 PM CST

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