Commentary

IDF "Chokehold" Image Goes Viral

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Images of an Israeli soldier putting a 12-year-old Palestinian in a chokehold have become emblematic of the stifling environment in which the Palestinian people live under. The images were shocking enough as to illicit reactions from various segments of the Israeli media and political spectrum, each of them suggesting a different narrative. The question in everybody’s mind is what gives rise to such violent confrontations, and what can be done to avoid such violence in the future. Meanwhile, violence in the Occupied Territories continues unabated, with more Palestinian youths, like that 12 year-old boy, being harassed, interrogated, and arrested.

In Israel, reactions have been varied. Reflecting on last week’s events, a recent Haaretz editorial engages with the subject by taking issue with the reality of Israel’s engagement with the Palestinians rather than the soldier’s actions: “There’s nothing like the video clip broadcast in Israel and around the world this past weekend to show the ugly, crazy and pointless face of the Israeli occupation. The video was shot last Friday during the weekly protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. In it, an Israel Defense Forces soldier is seen trying to forcibly arrest a 12-year-old Palestinian boy who has his arm bandaged. A few Palestinian women are trying to stop the soldier, until his commander instructs him to let the child go....The images show him having no idea what to do. His commanders probably didn’t have an answer for the situation in which he found himself, and it’s doubtful if the senior IDF brass would know what the soldier should have done. It’s hard to blame him. An army that fights children and chases them as they flee is an army that has lost its conscience. The only way to change the situation is to change the reality. There is no other way.”

But in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Seth Frantzman dismisses such claims, arguing it is the lack of reforms in the IDF that is at the heart of the problem: “It’s a strange thing that conscript (draftee) soldiers who are paid wages of between $150-$300 a month are asked to be both expert soldiers, riot control professionals and sometimes a kind of social worker and media relations expert to deal with daily duty in the West Bank. And if they make mistakes, if they lose control, they are punished with military prison. It’s a good deal for the country: for minimum expense, a hundred thousand soldiers stand ready to quell riots in the West Bank, man checkpoints in the blazing sun or freezing cold, and do all the other duties....Although the conscript army in Israel was initially seen as essential for national defense, over time it has become so ingrained in society that questioning its nature is seen as stepping over a red line. But there is a dire need for hard questions....If Israel doesn’t want to look like a worse version of its current self in 2045, with an army more balkanized and with less motivated soldiers doing less important work that they are less trained for, it would do well to consider massive reforms.”

Meanwhile, Arutz Sheva’s Eliran Aharon opts for a more hardline position on the Palestinian protesters, agreeing with some who have suggested that the Israeli political class is tying the hands of the IDF and therefore putting soldiers unnecessarily in harm’s way: “others have questioned why authorities are not being more proactive in tackling what are essentially staged provocations, in Nabi Salah and elsewhere, many of which happen like clockwork each and every week. Speaking to Arutz Sheva, David Bedein of the Center for Near-East Policy Research explained that the clashes are part of a longstanding attempt by Palestinians to seize control of a well owned by the Jewish village of Halamish....Since losing a legal battle in the Israeli High Court, the Arab villagers - led by the notoriously violent Tamimi clan - have staged weekly attempts to take the well by force. Each time the IDF turns up to repel them, in what has become a weekly ritual involving anarchists and left-wing activists from both Israel and abroad.”

The incident has prompted reactions outside of Israel, with each all of them connecting the chokehold of a young and powerless Palestinian boy by an Israeli soldier with the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. For example, The National’s Ben White’s assessment of the situation resembles that of the Haaretz editorial, pointing out the continuing deterioration of the situation in Gaza and elsewhere and Israel’s unwillingness to deal with the reality of its occupation of Palestinian land: “under international law, the Gaza Strip constitutes part of one single territorial entity, along with the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). Israel’s so-called “disengagement” could not, and did not, change the status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory....Ten years on, Israel’s stranglehold remains, with both bombs and blockade an indictment of Israel’s colonial cruelty and the international community’s inaction. Thus Gaza, including the war that ended one year ago this week, is a microcosm of the ongoing story of the colonization of Palestine.”

That such criticism is closer to the truth is evident by recent Wafa news reports, documenting the continuing detention of Palestinian youths and activists: “Israeli forces Monday detained five Palestinians, including a teenager who was assaulted during his arrest, from across the West Bank, including Jerusalem, according to local and security sources....According to OCHA Weekly report covering the period between 11 and 17 of August 2015, ‘Israeli forces arrested 78 Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian Territory, the vast majority in the West Bank.’”

Maan News’ Fadwa Baroud comments on the almost wanton destruction of Palestinian homes, schools, and businesses wondering whose building will be next: “On July 12, 2015, Israel announced that it would seek to carry out demolition orders of structures in the Palestinian village of Susiya in what is known as Area C, an area that covers 60 percent of the West Bank, under Israeli control, including the tiny school that consists of four classrooms, three toilets and a kitchen. Before the school was built in 2010, the original classrooms were made of tents that were destroyed by a heavy storm....The European Union has repeatedly called upon the Government of Israel to put an end to demolitions in Area C and has highlighted the worsening living conditions for Palestinians living there....while the school has opened for the new term, children and their parents are still uncertain about the future. The question that remains for Mohammad and other children in Susiya: what if we wake up next day, and we find that our school has been demolished?”

The question then becomes what can be done about such wanton destruction? Jordan Times’ Rami Khouri puts forward the suggestion that the only real solution lies with the willingness of the international actors to put pressure on the Israeli government by embracing the divestment and boycotting movement: “Events related to the Iran nuclear technology/sanctions agreement, the war in Yemen, and the battle against Daesh tend to dominate the headlines from the Middle East these days, but behind the scenes significant developments related to the Arab-Israeli conflict continue to take place....significant may be the slow but continuing moves by the European Union (EU) to differentiate between the security of the state of Israel within its pre-June 1967 borders and the actions of Israel as a colonial and occupying power in the territories seized in 1967....Such moves would take the initial labelling of products made in Israeli settlements to a much more significant level, including possibly ending the tax-exempt status of European charities with links to Israeli settlements, or not recognising qualifications from academic, medical and other Israeli institutions based in the occupied territories.”


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