En Camino volunteer Misha Laban is in the Occupied Territories, and will be spending a bit of time there. Misha was asked to contribute a journal/diary/weblog/blog. Misha's insights, photos, and observations will be collected here. We hope you find them as exemplary as we do.
Base 202, Torturing Kids to "Protect" Settlers:
Imposing the Logic of Apartheid in the Nablus Governorate
March 26, 2004
[The following is a testimonial written by an ISM volunteer about the arbitrary detention and torture of 7 Palestinians between the ages of 13-18 on March 23rd, 2004 by IOF authorities at Base 202 near the Israeli settler-colony of Ellon Moreh. The author of this testimonial would appreciate suggestions on reporting this incident to relevant human rights organisations and authorities (including Israeli and International NGOs, as well as the UN Human Rights Rapporteur). The full names of the children in this case have been omitted although these can be obtained upon request, along with relevant contact information.]
On Tuesday, March 23rd, two North American volunteers from ISM Nablus left for Salem village near Nablus to accompany some Palestinian friends to their olive trees on the ‘wrong’ side of the settler by-pass road that links the settlement of Ellon Moreh to that of Itamar. The by-pass road is only one element in what Jeff Halper calls the ‘matrix of control’ deployed by the IDF in the West Bank to control Palestinian movement and to ghettoise entire communities (http://www.mediamonitors.net/halper1.html).
In the eastern reaches of the Nablus Governorate this system of control takes the form of a military road that separates Nablus from Azmut, another military road that separates Azmut from the villages of Deir al-Hatab and Salem, a large trench followed by a by-pass road that separates these villages from their lands as well as from the neighbouring villages of Beit Furik and Beit Dajan, as well as the settlement of Elon Moreh and Itamar that hem these communities in from Palestinian communities to the north and south. A collection of checkpoints, watchtowers, and all-terrain ‘tracterones’ and army patrols serve to further complete this comprehensive mechanism of militarised surveillance and control. This system is deployed in order to ‘protect’ a handful of settler-colonial outposts that are illegal under international law (for a related article about the current situation in the region, see: http://www.imemc.org/features/2004/march/ten-settlers.htm).
We arrived in Salem after negotiating the side paths leading from the Askar Camp on the edges of Nablus, over a military road, through a narrow valley that runs along a sewage canal, up through the village of Azmut, through its olive groves, past the other military road on the other side of the village and into Deir al-Hatab and finally Salem a trip fraught with the dangers of being caught by the military, and one made daily by Palestinians in order to visit relatives, go to school, maintain jobs, visit the hospital, etc.
At about 1:45 p.m., after a generous breakfast, some tea, eating pommelons and some interesting, at times funny conversations in the shade of olive trees, we finally made it to our two teenaged friends fields. Fadi (18) and his brother Shadi (17) are well known to ISMers from previous campaigns. Along with them came some of their friends from the village including, Omer (14), Enad (14), Mohsin (16), Tayseer (13), and Aysar (13). One of the boys, Mohsin, was apprehensive about crossing the other side of the road fearing that the group of boys may be shot at by settlers or spotted by the makeshift observation post on a nearby hill.
As soon as we made it to the other side of the settler road, the boys began working the olive trees belonging to Fadi’s and Shadi’s family, pruning branches and digging around the trees with agricultural implements to turn the earth and remove weeds. Soon however our activity stopped and our group of 9 quickly ducked behind the cover of some bushes as an IOF humvee had stopped on the side of the road to berate an elderly Palestinian shepherd for approaching the road with his sheep. It wasn’t long before the company of soldiers spotted our group and we were called over from the other end of the ravine that separated us from them.
By the time we made it to the other side it was 2pm. An armed settler that had appeared on the scene with a white 4X4 truck donated by some American charity from New Jersey began to interrogate us on what we were doing in this area and to inform us that a car had been stoned earlier in the day. No evidence was offered that any of the kids with us were responsible for the act, nobody was injured, and yet the military insisted that we be kept. After about 20 minutes of waiting and occasional verbal abuse - including abuse from a soldier sporting a helmet emblazoned with the words ‘Born to Kill’ (modelled on the same one that appears in the movie Full Metal Jacket) - our group was packed into another Humvee and taken to Base 202 at the foot of the hill that houses the Elon Moreh colony.
By three o’clock we found ourselves waiting in the sun near the Azmut checkpoint, deprived of water, and transported there for reasons none of us could explain. The IOF soldiers detaining us there again refused to state a specific reason for our detention other than vague references stating that the kids that we were with were ‘suspects’ in the ‘stoning’ of a car. No specifics were provided on what type of car, whether or not it was even hit, if anyone was injured, if there were eyewitnesses etc. even though the question was asked repeatedly to a variety of soldiers.
The only reply the soldiers would give us from time to time was to assure us that ‘Palestinian kids have killed Jewish kids with rocks before and its our duty to protect the people that live here’ (pointing in the direction of Ellon Moreh). Again, no concrete time, place, or dates could be provided. Sadly enough, this is a story I’ve heard from right-wingers in North America before I came to Palestine and have found the same rationale among settlers from Hebron in order to justify the murder, detention, and torture of Palestinian children. I’ve yet to obtain any names, dates, or places were this (or these?) alleged incidents were supposed to have taken place. Even if such an incident actually existed it would in no way justify the arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of children that had nothing to do with the act. Let alone the murder of some 450 Palestinian children since the beginning of this intifada.
The UN Convention Against Torture (1987) is instructive on this point it its definition of torture:
For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. (The integral text of the CAT can be found at: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/h_cat39.htm).
The definition is important for what followed. By 3:30 p.m. we were back at Base 202. The day seemed to have been ending for many of the paratroopers and soldiers on hand. They passed us as we were being detained near a white metallic portable with an image of a monster driving a humvee on one side of it. Just as we thought that we might be released, the remaining soldiers responsible for our detention soon escalated their level of repression. Suddenly the soldiers began binding and blindfolding the kids that were with us after removing plastic handcuffs and blindfolds from a small metal toolkit that had been lying near the portable. At regular intervals giant red settler busses, subsidised by the State of Israel, would pass by the base, almost all of them completely empty.
As we protested the binding and blinding of the children that we had accompanied, we were separated from them. We tried in several concerted attempts to insist that the children receive water and that they be released. We insisted that the children were being subjected to torture the circulation in the hands of many were being cut severely (capillary reflex in the hands of one was reduced to 12 seconds, when the avg. reflex is two seconds), some were crying uncontrollably out of fear, and others were simply bearing their pain silently but to no avail. The soldiers kept insisting that the children ‘need to be taught a lesson’, that the situation was one of war, and that under these circumstances the children had to be punished (for what? Tending to their olive trees on occupied land?). "Besides," one soldier insisted, "what do you want me to do, I agree and understand you, but these are the orders of the commander."
Again the Convention Against Torture is instructive in this regard in that it specifies under Article 2 that:
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
The IOF forces on the ground clearly violated all three points of the Convention, and there is good reason to believe that their actions also violated Israeli law. According to PASSIA, the Israeli Supreme Court, in a landmark decision made in September 1999 outlawed arbitrary torture as an interrogation method, "although it stopped short of the absolute ban on torture and ill-treatment required by international law." The IOF was further condemned in 2001 for having resumed the systematic torture of Palestinian detainees. According to the soldier allegedly sympathetic to our arguments although still implicated in the torture of these children in that he refused to disobey orders that were given to him "the Commander has ordered that the children be kept in this way. By the way, his name is Itmar…"
The actions of the soldiers suggested that they were ultimately less concerned about establishing the facts most admitted that they didn’t think it likely that this group of children was responsible for anything but were more interested in "teaching these children a lesson" as a senior officer at the scene explained. There was thus an arbitrary decision made to hold the children until nightfall, bound up, blindfolded and forced to sit in uncomfortable positions for several hours. Passing soldiers would taunt the children occasionally, with one of them singing "One little Indian, two little Indians…" and laughing, another telling them that they’d join Sheikh Yassin soon, and a third giving all seven children only one cup of water from which to drink after several protests that they were becoming dehydrated in the often blistering sun.
The two ISMers at the scene were eventually thrown off the base at 5:30 p.m. after repeated attempts to secure the release of the children. At this stage frantic calls were made to Hamoked, the ISM media office and other human rights groups to put pressure on the DCO to release the kids. As night fell the kids were finally let go at 6 p.m. Aysar (13), however, was kept for nearly another two hours and was joined by his brother Haysam (15) who had come to the base with the boys’ mother in order to inquire about the missing boy. Haysam was then detained by the soldiers and separated from his mother who was forced to return home without either of her sons. I took the first group of kids back to Salem, while the other ISM volunteer waited in the dark, on the side of the military road, until the last two boys were released, at great personal risk to himself.
I can imagine some pompous right-winger reading this and smugly stating that it’s not the IOFs fault that ‘Palestinians use their own children for terrorism’, while a liberal apologist for Israeli military occupation will say that the incident was unfortunate but that ‘under the circumstances’ it is better to be safe than sorry.
The problem with these rationales is that they are fundamentally racist, in that the object of torture is not conceived of us a human being, but a potential ‘terrorist.’ This is the worldview of the British in Malaysia, the French in Algeria, the Americans in Afghanistan, etc. The term ‘terrorism’ has long ago joined the ranks of words like ‘barbarian’ ‘uncivilised’ ‘bandits’ ‘criminals’ etc. employed over the centuries by elites throughout this world to justify the subjugation and oppression of people’s with a different skin pigmentation or from socio-economically subordinate classes.
And yet the fanciful image of the "boy-with-the-bomb" is splashed across mass-circulation media in sensationalistic tones in order to confirm that such treatment is justified as has happened on two occasions in the last two weeks near Nablus. In both cases, however, the media was much less interested in the fact that both boys seemed uncertain of what was happening, the widespread condemnation the news elicited among Palestinians throughout the Nablus region, or to cover other human tragedies, like the killing of a 17 year old teenager walking home from his sisters house, or the murder of a 22 year old journalist by IOF forces in the Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of the city.
Furthermore, in focusing on such cases to prove some racist stereotype along the lines of ‘they even use children to promote terror’ the fact that a cross-section of Palestinian intellectuals and leaders called this week for abandoning armed struggle in favour of non-violent resistance is lost in the misleading headlines. The tabloid press and pro-Israeli publications evidently being more concerned with preserving the racist image they have collectively nurtured of Palestinians in order to deny them self-determination, than examining the real human tragedy of the occupation.