Category Archives: Militarism

As Olive Harvest Begins, Israeli Soldiers Prevent Palestinians From Reaching Their Groves

I reproduce without comment an article in Haaretz by Amira Hass, dated 17 October 2021

Amira Hass

When it isn’t the settlers who try to directly disrupt Palestinians’ olive picking, it’s the Israeli army that prevents it from taking place

Israeli soldiers detaining Mohammed al-Khatib, who had come with others to harvest olives, near Salfit in the West Bank.Credit: Matan Golan

Mohammed al-Khatib from the village of Bil’in uses every opportunity he has to talk to soldiers, in Hebrew. Even after they beat him, laid him on the ground and detained him, even after one of the soldiers imperiously placed his foot on Mohammed’s back, which is what happened last Monday near the West Bank town of Salfit.

“I like talking to young soldiers, explaining the occupation to them,” he said. “‘What do you mean by occupation,’ they ask, ‘you Palestinians can do whatever you like.’ And I tell them: ‘Don’t you believe me that a Palestinian cannot build on his own land? Look it up on the internet. Don’t just listen to your officers.’” He was talking to Haaretz two days after being detained for a much shorter than is usual under the circumstances described below.

Khatib has forgotten how many times he’s been arrested for his activity in the popular committees fighting against the separation barrier. The reason for his arrest this time was picking olives. Groups of volunteers are spreading out across the West Bank these days to help with the olive harvest, especially in areas that are prone to violence by Israelis living in adjacent illegal outposts.

Since the beginning of this year’s harvest season, October 3, until October 16, Israeli citizens in the West Bank have sabotaged the harvest 18 times either by direct physical attacks on farmers, or by cutting and breaking trees or stealing the crops.

Volunteers who came to harvest olives near Salfit in the West Bank found the area taped off and declared a closed military zone.Credit: Matan Golan

Among the volunteers is a group called Faz’a, established a year ago. Khatib was one of its initiators. The group strives to revive the tradition of volunteerism and mutual aid that characterized Palestinian society in the 1970s and ’80s.

When it isn’t the settlers who try to directly disrupt the olive picking, it’s the army that prevents it from taking place. This is what happened last Monday at a grove in the al-Ras area near Salfit, north of the settlement of Ariel. Just over a year ago, an illegal outpost called Nof Avi was established there. Since then, the owners of the grove can only view their plot from a distance. Now that the olives are ripe, volunteers were called to joining the farmers, on the assumption that large numbers would protect the latter from Israeli violence and allow for a speedier completion of the harvest, before the olives might be stolen.

When the volunteers arrived at around 8:30 in the morning, they were surprised to find “a hysterical number of soldiers,” as Israeli activist Gil Hamerschlag told Haaretz. The soldiers stretched a tape between some posts they had driven into the ground. To the tape were attached several notices, in English and Arabic, declaring the area a closed military zone. According to activists who were there, the soldiers did not present them with a signed closure order (this was presented in court the following day). In any case, the activists took care to remain outside the marked area, deciding to walk to the grove from another direction. This too was prevented by the soldiers.

Khatib says that he didn’t expect the area to be closed. “It’s true that on top of the hill there is a settler who has taken over the hill. But we were coming to protect something legal, like olive picking, against something illegal, the violence of settlers. If the army were truly worried about the safety of that settler, why didn’t they place the soldiers around the illegal structures of the outpost? Why prevent the olive picking? It all revolves around a decision by the commander.

“The previous day we picked olives in the groves of Beita. For that we had to go through an outpost [Evyatar]. The army didn’t bother us and there were no problems. In other words, the decision about whether there is quiet or not is in the hands of the military commander. We come to pick olives; we’re not interested in tensions. It’s not a provocation, but we refuse to coordinate with the army in advance in order to reach a private grove, only because a settler has taken over Palestinian land. Because of this one outpost, the land has not been ploughed all year in that grove; it’s full of thorns.”

Khatib arrived there a bit late, saying that he didn’t see the tape marking off the “closed military zone.” He saw soldiers denying access and joined the other activists. Khatib, who studied law, says that during his detention “one officer told me that if there is a closure order, that means it’s Israeli land. He knows nothing about the law. What logic! The settler is the one breaking the law, I’m abiding by it, and you claim that I’m the transgressor.”

Volunteers who came to harvest olives near Salfit in the West Bank found the area taped off and declared a closed military zone.Credit: Matan Golan 

Even though the activists moved away, the soldiers approached them and started pushing them. “I argued with the officer: ‘Why are you pushing us? I have a right to pick olives.’ I heard a junior officer telling the commander that he wanted to arrest two people. He asked for permission and got it. I told them: ‘You can arrest me, but what did I do?’ He said I was under detention. I raised my arms. A few activists came and extricated me, and then a few soldiers pounced on me, maybe five or six, and started beating me. I didn’t feel anything then, but later, in detention, I noticed it was difficult to move my neck. They laid me on the ground facing down, and one of them stepped heavily on my back.” Photographer Matan Golan had the impression that the major, seen in a video running toward the soldier stepping on Khatib, was not pleased with what was happening, and indeed, when he arrived, the foot was taken off Khatib’s back. At this point, the soldiers started lobbing stun grenades at the volunteers.

In responding to Haaretz, the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson stuck to the claim that there had been “a violent disruption of public order near the farm [illegal outpost] of Nof Avi,” and that the volunteers had violated a closure order which was presented to them and had used violence against soldiers. The spokesperson also stated that “the force responded with demonstration-dispersal methods, arresting three suspects. One of them behaved violently toward a soldier and behaved wildly during his arrest, even trying to escape. The soldiers therefore needed to use physical force in order to complete his detention. The conduct of the soldier [who stepped on his back] is unacceptable.”

It was 10 in the morning when soldiers handcuffed Khatib’s hands behind his back, blindfolding him and taking him to the grove, closer to the outpost. Two Israeli detainees, Hammerschlag and activist David Shalev, were already sitting there. Their hands were also cuffed behind their backs but their eyes were uncovered. The two remarked about the different treatment and one of the soldiers removed the blindfold from Khatib’s eyes. After two and a half or three hours, during which the three sat on the ground in handcuffs, soldiers blindfolded all three and put them on a jeep that took them to the nearest police station, in Ariel.

While they were waiting in a detention cell, they heard a police officer talking with one of the soldiers who had arrested them, the only one still there. Their impression was that the officer was instructing the soldier on how to shape the evidence supporting the arrest. Khatib said he stood near the door and heard the police officer explaining to the soldier that violation of a closure is insufficient reason for detention, which is why it should be noted that the Palestinian assaulted the soldiers. Khatib says the soldier said he didn’t assault anyone, only causing a disturbance, and the policeman said that this wasn’t sufficient. Hammerschlag says he heard the officer asking if Khatib had pulled the soldier’s rifle, as a hint of what could be noted in the evidence supporting the arrest (the Judea and Samaria District has not commented on this so far).

An olive harvest volunteer being handcuffed by an Israeli soldier near Salfit in the West Bank, last week.Credit: Matan Golan

After that, the three were split up. The Israelis were taken to Hadarim prison in Israel and Khatib to a detention facility at the military base of Hawara, south of Nablus. Israeli law requires a suspect to be brought before a judge within 24 hours of his arrest. Military law prevailing in the West Bank allows a Palestinian suspect to be held for up to 96 hours without being brought before a judge. In fact, Hammerschlag and Shalev were given the opportunity of being released on some conditions while they were still in Ariel. They refused, claiming they had committed no transgression.

Their refusal to be released immediately made it easier for the lawyer representing the three, Riham Nasra, from the law offices of Michal Pomeranz, to get Khatib released before the 96 hours were up. On Monday afternoon she filed a request for his immediate release, which require the military court’s secretariat to convene a earlier hearing session. This is no trivial matter. Given the abundance of prisoners, attorneys in the West Bank have grown accustomed to a minimum of four days’ detention, without even trying to obtain a release earlier.

On Tuesday, the two Israelis were brought to a court in Petah Tikva. The police asked for an extension of Hammerschlag’s detention and an order prohibiting Shalev from going to the olive grove for 15 days, so that “the investigation could be completed.” Nasra showed a video that proved the detainees’ version. If the soldiers had a video showing the opposite, the police would have been happy to show it. Judge Liat Har Zion concluded that the police could complete its investigation even if the two were released. Nasra immediately sent the minutes to the military court in Salem, in the northern West Bank, drove there and demanded an immediate ruling on Khatib’s release. At 4:30 P.M. a decision was taken to hold a session at 4:45.

Khatib remained at the detention facility in Hawara, participating in the session via video conference. The judge, Lt. Col. Samzar Shagog, said that there was “reasonable grounds to suspect that Khatib had pushed soldiers and tried to enter a closed military zone,” but he released him, with Khatib having to post personal bail amounting to 1,000 shekels ($310).

On Tuesday, at 6:30 P.M., Khatib was released. On Friday and Saturday, he was picking olives in Burin.

As you sow, so shall you reap

Israel is a militaristic state. For many years[1] now, it has ranked first in the Global Militarisation Index (GMI). By way of contrast, the USA ranks twenty-seventh, the UK seventy-seventh. The GMI bases its rankings on a set of quantifiable indicators, for example, GMI compares a country’s military expenditure with its Gross Domestic Product, and its health expenditure.  Notwithstanding this ranking, it seems to me insufficient evidence to justify what amounts to the charge laid down in my opening sentence: ‘Israel is a militaristic state’.

Militarism is not simply a matter of having armed forces, nor even the fact that a state might take pride in them. Rather, militarism is the expression, and propagation, of a totalising ethical, cultural, economic and political ethos such that the military, and ‘the military way’[2] of thinking, is the prism through which the world is viewed. Jeff Harper in War Against the People puts it thus:

Encapsulated in symbols, narratives, rituals, holidays, educational curricula and political discourse internalised by generations of Israeli Jews and reinforced by nearly universal military service, cultural militarism has become part of the natural order in Israel.

With the establishment of Israel in 1948:

Militarism was officially entrenched in Israeli culture and policy-making. The army became the primary instrument of nation building. Identification with the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] would define and mobilise “Israel-ness”…For Ben-Gurion, [Israel’s first Prime Minister]  Israel as a “nation-in-arms” should foster “a desire to fight and an ability to fight…Israel’s military culture keeps its populace in a constant state of mobilisation.”

It is because the ‘military way’ is Israel’s default setting, justifying both its existence and any action – vile and violent though they may be – that the charge of militarism can be sustained. Israel is a militaristic state.

Militarism, as a totalising system, must maintain and reproduce itself.  Special heed, therefore, is to be paid to the state’s young, in particular its Jewish young, for it is they that must – must! – carry forward the State’s ethnonationalist project of Jewish supremacy.

A key objective of the Israeli education system, the Jewish education system, is to prepare the young – from the very, very young through to the high school graduate – for military service; to prepare them for combat, for readiness to fulfil their role as controllers of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In other words, readiness to control Palestinians, children, women and men.  

Israel’s voracious appetite

An inherent, defining feature of Zionism, and therefore of the Israeli state, is its appetite.  An unrelenting, voracious appetite for that which is not theirs to consume: Palestinian land.  Zionism is this appetite, an appetite not capable of satiation until all – or practically all – Palestinian land has been consumed and digested by the Jewish state.

And what of those which the Israeli state finds indigestible – Palestinians – yet remain so naggingly present?  Well, they must be ‘encouraged’ to leave or accept a lesser life under the tutelage of the self-avowedly ethnonationalist Jewish state.  The state that is feted, funded, endorsed and protected by other states able, without blushing, to proclaim their commitment to democratic principles.

How to convey?

The means to convey what this unrelenting appetite for Palestinian land means in practice are so limited: words, pictures, personal testaments, sharing narratives of courage and resistance, all attempting to evoke the felt experience of, for example, the residents of Sheikh Jarrar threatened with eviction; the Bedouin attacked daily by settlers; of homes and the means to support livelihoods repeatedly destroyed by the Israel Defence Force – so inaptly and inaccurately titled –  working alongside Israel’s Border Police named thus, perhaps with paradoxical intent, since Israel has yet to formally agree its borders.

Israel, as I have elsewhere remarked, is the land of smoke and mirrors, of sleight of hand – little if anything is as on the surface it seems.

Except of course the iron fist, the ‘live’ bullet, the rubber-coated bullet, the tear gas cannister, the skunk water cannon, the handheld baton to beat unprotected Palestinian flesh. Here there is no sleight of hand, no smoke and mirrors, merely raw violence exerted by a militarised, hegemonic society intent on spacio-cide – clearing the land of as many indigenous Palestinians as it can. For the Israeli state, this is work in progress.  

ICAHD UK reports: ‘The Palestinian herding community of Humsa Al-Bqai’a (Khirbet Hamsa in Hebrew) was demolished yet again by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) on Wednesday, 7th July 2021 following previous demolitions in November 2020 and February 2021….

On Wednesday the ICA, accompanied by the military, held the residents at gunpoint and told them that they were to get on a bus and leave immediately but they refused. Therefore, the ICA proceeded to demolish a total of 27 structures including homes, animal shelters, and water tanks. All personal belongings were confiscated as were their food supplies and water. The residents were left without even milk for their children or fodder for their 4000 sheep.

Eleven households, comprising around 70 people, including 36 children, were left without shelter in yesterday’s scorching heat that reached 39 degrees C.  Included in the demolition was destruction of humanitarian aid that had been provided by donors including NGOs, EU Humanitarian Aid and European countries including the UK.’

An insightful letter framing a courageous act: Israeli students publicly refuse military conscription

Last month, January 2021, sixty Israeli High School students very publicly refused to be conscripted into the Israeli army (military service is compulsory for men and women) . Below is the letter they sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Education Minister Yoav Galant.

It’s a stunning, courageous letter, combining succinct political and social analysis within a strong ethical framework. It also offers an insight into the pervasive militarism of Israeli society, and how from the earliest age Israeli children are prepared for their role as enforcers of a corrupt, perverse Jewish supremacist ideology.

Beyond this brief introduction, there is nothing more I need say, the letter speaks so eloquently for itself.

We are a group of Israeli 18-year-olds at a crossroads. The Israeli state is demanding our conscription into the military. Allegedly, a defense force which is supposed to safeguard the existence of the State of Israel. In reality, the goal of the Israeli military is not to defend itself from hostile militaries, but to exercise control over a civilian population. In other words, our conscription to the Israeli military has political context and implications. It has implications, first and foremost on the lives of the Palestinian people who have lived under violent occupation for 72 years. Indeed, the Zionist policy of brutal violence towards and expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and lands began in 1948 and has not stopped since. The occupation is also poisoning Israeli society–it is violent, militaristic, oppressive, and chauvinistic. It is our duty to oppose this destructive reality by uniting our struggles and refusing to serve these violent systems–chief among them the military. Our refusal to enlist to the military is not an act of turning our backs on Israeli society. On the contrary, our refusal is an act of taking responsibility over our actions and their repercussions.

The military is not only serving the occupation, the military is the occupation. Pilots, intelligence units, bureaucratic clerks, combat soldiers, all are executing the occupation. One does it with a keyboard and the other with a machine gun at a checkpoint. Despite all of this, we grew up in the shadow of the symbolic ideal of the heroic soldier. We prepared food baskets for him in the high holidays, we visited the tank he fought in, we pretended we were him in the pre-military programs in high school, and we revered his death on memorial day. The fact that we are all accustomed to this reality does not make it apolitical. Enlistment, no less than refusal, is a political act.