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When Israeli soldiers meet Palestinian children

Lack of clear borders is making those unwinnable encounters with stone throwing minors ever more complicated

They threw stones and glass bottles at us, we fired rubber bullets and threw gas and stun grenades back at them. So the running battles of Qussra were conducted. Usually around the time school ended.

It was Summer 2004 when I was posted to the area near Nablus that included the small village. By night we would go into Nablus and make arrests and get into occasional brief firefights, by day we would spend eight hour shifts driving through the area in a Humvee. Everyone knew that when things got too boring we could just drive into Qussra in the hope that there would be some stones and bottles thrown, giving us the chance to break out the riot gear and really get stuck in.

It was a game and the game had rules:

1. Never fire the first shot

2. Never use live fire…unless calling a timeout

3. Never leave the close proximity of your own vehicle, never be alone

4. Never meet the enemy up close

5. Never get filmed by the media

Not firing the first shot was simple, we just rolled around town poking into every nook and cranny until we felt the first impact on the car, then we broke out with the stun grenades. Live fire was pointless, we weren’t there to kill people, we were there to play.

Sometimes though, things got a little too hectic, you could sense when the atmosphere had reached the point where things were getting out of control. If points of exit were blocked by burning tires, if the enemy had too much domination of the battle space, then a time out would be called by firing live ammunition into a wall. The effect of this was to create temporary silence in the area.

A silence punctuated after a couple of minutes by a lone stone being thrown, then another until it was back on again.

We loved moving through Qussra because it was the only village in our area where anything actually happened. After hours spent driving up and down a road wearing full battle gear in the relentless heat of summer, an excuse to leave the vehicle was as good a tonic as we were going to get.

Seeing the recent video of a soldier attempting to arrest a Palestinian kid in Nabi Saleh reminds me of Qussra. But he has broken the rules. He’s alone for several minutes allowing himself to be surrounded, he’s met the enemy up close and he’s committed the sin of being filmed doing it all. Very bad combination. Back then, as long as there wasn’t a professional camera crew from CNN, you were ok, there were people filming on camcorders but it was less relevant.

Now every little clip from a mobile phone is a YouTube vid waiting to go viral. And why not, look at this, how can you take Israel’s side when you see it?

According to the latest legislation from the Knesset the kid he’s failed to grab is a hardened criminal with a 20 year sentence for throwing stones about to be handed down to him.

When I broke rule number four, I was in Qussra and the driver of my Humvee had stepped on the gas without warning just as I opened the door to the vehicle. We went bounding 100 feet straight forward to where a group of kids had been standing throwing rocks at us. They all fled except one. The driver opened the door and grabbed the kid’s arm with a gleeful “Gotcha”.

The kid burst into tears. I rolled my eyes. My enemy was six. “Let him go,” I instructed the driver. “Let him go” I told him again. Reluctantly he unhanded the kid who gleefully ran off to join his friends, smiling all the way. The driver glared at me. I didn’t care. I hadn’t joined the paratroopers to arrest babies.

I sat back in the car and closed the door. I had met the enemy up close and the enemy was a baby. When I could only see them from afar and they were throwing things at me, when they were silhouettes on rooftops it was fine. But I had no appetite for doing more than throwing things at them from a distance.

Israeli generals and politicians love talking about the tough job, the complicated job Israeli soldiers do. They talk about it as if it’s a job handed down from heaven, that can only be changed by order from heaven. But it’s a job handed down by them, and if they lament that it’s so complicated there is a very obvious answer. Make it simpler.

Instead they have made it more complicated. Now any kid who throws a stone is going to have their life taken away by the system that lords it over them. Well I say we are going to need a prison big enough to hold every Palestinian if we want this new legislation to be enforced. Should the soldier in the video above be reprimanded for letting the boy go? If he’s a criminal the soldier must do his duty and make the arrests, no?

It’s no accident that there are women and girls jumping all over the soldier in the above video, and I don’t doubt they were sent to do it.

But so what?

All they do is expose the truth about the stupidity of what we’re wasting our manpower on. They expose the truth about how, year in year out, we force the cream of our young people into unwinnable situations in the glare of the social media spotlight, when we should be using them to defend the country in ways that are, you know, meaningful.

Kinda hard to do that when you refuse to actually say where your borders are though.

About the Author
Marc Goldberg is the author of Beyond the Green Line, a story his service in the IDF fighting through the al Aqsa Intifada