temperment of soldiers

While I have not become immune to the tragedies of life under Occupation, hearing daily of the latest Israeli army inflicted deaths, injuries, and invasions becomes somehow ‘normal,’ although no one should be subjected to this sort of life as a ‘normal’ reality. But some things shake up these perceptions anew, awakening one to how truly abnormal and terrifying Palestinians’ lives under occupation and invasions are, as used to them as Palestinians may be.

Meeting this latest batch of soldiers in the West Bank village we are in has done that today. The village has been assaulted with invasions, curfews, roadblocks and flying military checkpoints near-daily for the past month, and on a regular basis for the past year, with overall Occupational problems since the start of this Intifada over 7 years ago. These latest Israeli soldiers are jumpy and nervous, very aggressive and seemingly ready to fire and hit at any provocation, or perceived provocation.

Yet it is they who are doing the provoking, loitering at schools at the end of classes when kids will be walking home, roaming the streets looking for potential trouble (rather, inviting stone-throwing by repeatedly invading residential areas in their heavily armed military jeeps and hummers), nabbing boys of 13 from the streets to rough them up before dumping them back out, and scouring the area even in the early hours of the morning, flashing search lights down residential lanes and into windows.

This evening around 5 pm they occupied a hilltop, surrounding the lone house atop it and from their vantage point firing flares, sound bombs, and live ammunition off in the direction of the homes below. Presumably, they were ‘searching’ for some one. But more likely they were searching for the pretext to arrest and terrorize the residents.

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Terrorizing. What else can it be called when families are terrified awake on a near-nightly basis from the loud noises of Israeli soldiers setting off sound bombs, firing live bullets, and unleashing tear gas on the streets and even inside homes.

These families are people whose resistance entails not running away from the harassment, not moving out, continuing to work/study/live in the West Bank town they know as their own. Why should they leave? Where should they go? The Israeli army is trying very hard to encourage them away, but where would they go?

How old are these boys in uniforms who roam the streets by day and night, terrorizing the citizens? What really goes through their minds: do they really believe that they are in a highly dangerous area, that the residents are militants, that the 12 and 13 year old boys they haunt, handcuff, blindfold, and beat are suicide bombers? More somberly, are these soldiers aware to any degree of the needless and massive collective fear they engender with their nightly invasion antics, in which they shoot flares, sound bombs, tear gas, even bullets in the sleeping hours of the night, shocking residents awake? How lightly must residents sleep here. We foreigners start at every sound, not particularly because we fear they are directed at us, but because we want to be awake and ready if need be.

Ready to do what… we don’t know exactly in this situation. In theory, to document, to prevent assault and arrest, to de-escalate, to diffuse the IOF potential fear of being surrounded by terrorists and the Palestinian civilians’ feeling of being abandoned by the world to the world’s bully’s younger sibling.

In practice, we are finding that these particular soldiers are more on edge, more inclined to shun recognition of human rights, rights violations, and the international standing which normally affords observers relative safety from soldiers. Except at Bil’in. Except for Tom Hurndall, Rachel Corrie, Brian Avery…

Clearly the soldiers do not appreciate our presence here. In most places that the army romps, HRWs are seen as meddling where we don’t belong, in what we don’t understand, despite our solid grasp on international human rights norms, IOF violations of said norms, the desperate longing for peace and justice by the vast majority of Palestinians, and the denial of such justice and peace by the vast majority of IOF soldiers and Israeli politicians.

The IOF disdain was made evident when earlier they threatened us, told us not to be seen here again, in this village they impromptu called a closed military zone.

How, yanni, does life continue amidst this terror? Just 1 hour ago, the army prowled the streets, shot flares at the homes of sleeping villagers, shot flares at our apartment, shot the transistor supplying electricity to this side of town, and rumbled off in their military hummer and jeep. 20 minutes later, one intrepid man turned up solo in the centre where the transistor stands, fished out his flashlight, and worked on the problem, re-supplying electricity to the quarter. The mosque re-alit in its neon green, and home lights came on in dim glows. He ambled seemingly unaffected up and down the street where 30 minutes before soldiers had stationed their vehicles and played their war games. Did he know the IOF had been there, were the cause of the power outage? Did he care? Is he resigned to such antics? Is he determined not to resign to such antics?

Jumping a little more this evening at street sounds, each passing car brings us to our feet and the window. A taxi. The man to fix the transistor. A distant truck jangling with its load but out of sight. A long empty flatbed truck brazenly rolling down this invaded town’s road.

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The night is long, the week is long, the months are long, the Occupation and its deadly games are long, have gone on far too long, are long overdue for the world to see, grasp, and act upon to render a very late semblance of justice to a very maligned group of people recipient of injustice after injustice, rendered refugee time and again.

In a sad irony, this quest for justice will go discussed but not discussed in Annapolis later today.

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