A man goes out for a stroll on his land. An hour later, he finds himself being violently arrested. His brother, who comes to his aid, is shot by soldiers. The man is released from custody only six days later. These are the facts. But what has the Israeli public focused on, in a chorus of moral indignation? On a Facebook post in which B’Tselem quoted Haaretz journalist Amira Hass referring to the beauty mark on the face of the officer seen in video footage of the incident.
A man goes for a stroll on his land. That doesn’t seem like an act requiring courage. But for a Palestinian whose land lies too close to the peace-loving settlement of Yitzhar, it takes guts. Armed soldiers turn up and try to remove him from his land. Staying put and arguing with them is an act of bravery. So does recording them on camera, possibly the only non-violent means available to Palestinians to try and convey their lives under occupation to Israelis and to the world.
Has anyone in Israel even stopped to consider why soldiers tried to forcibly remove Ahmad Ziyadah from his land? Or why they arrested him? Or why they shot his brother? Why aren’t any of these questions being asked? Why is all this considered reasonable, in keeping with standard procedure? Oh, come on, it’s no big deal. What’s appalling is that piece by Amira Hass. And B’Tselem’s outrageous Facebook post. Not to mention the Palestinians with their video cameras – awful, just awful. And the violation (!) of that soldier’s privacy (!!) – that was perfectly horrendous.
One day, long after the abomination that is the occupation has ended, this incident might be used as an educational anecdote in school to illustrate how a society can lose its moral foothold. It will show how maintaining a sense of self-victimization helped Israeli society keep its eyes tightly shut and its ears firmly closed – because otherwise, how can one be blind and deaf to what those soldiers did in our name near Yitzhar in February?
Yet even when we at B’Tselem show you the reality of the occupation – a reality that is manifested daily in the actions of individual soldiers throughout the Occupied Territories – it doesn’t divert us from the bigger picture. As we have said time and time again, the occupation is not a project that the military decided to take on. No Israeli soldier, neither the junior officer at Yitzhar nor sergeant Elor Azaria, got up one fine day and decided to employ force to impose control over the Palestinians.
Controlling the Palestinians is the choice of the Israeli public – the choice of masters to continue ruling their subjects be means of an army of bureaucrats, undercover agents, judges, planners and, yes, also soldiers. That is why the question is not how to outfit our fist with a better glove so as to continue controlling the Palestinians. The question is how to stop controlling them. Until that time, the persons responsible for this control are not junior officers or sergeants, but the heads of state and the top officials of Israel’s planning, military, judicial and administrative systems.
Have you watched the video from Yitzhar? At the end of the day, the people standing there, giving orders, dispossessing, shooting and arresting – are actually us. A man goes for a stroll on his land, and we arrest him violently, hold him in custody for almost a week, and shoot his brother. Then we pile on self-righteousness, not in order to fix this broken reality, but rather to bolster the fight to silence evidence of this reality.
The occupation has no beauty spots. But blind spots it has galore. Israelis, open your eyes.
Hagai El-Ad is B’Tselem’s executive director.