There is much individual suffering in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But more often than not I write less about individual suffering and more about broad concepts and analysis of policy. Today’s post returns to the theme of individual suffering.
I am a member of Brit Tzedek. As such I do various tasks on behalf of the local and national organization. One is to host a Brit Tzedek graphic ad in my sidebar, which I’ve done for some time. Locally, I’ve helped raise money for the Seattle chapter as I’m a former non-profit fundraiser. I volunteered to help promote the local appearance by an Palestinian militant and Israeli army officer who’ve both renounced violence as a means of settling their conflict. The speakers are members of Combatants for Peace, an Israeli-Palestinian group devoted to creating reconciliation between the two peoples.
Brit Tzedek is hosting the national tour for Combatants for Peace. They’ve already spoken in many cities and will arrive in Seattle on February 8th for two appearances at Seattle University and (the next day) Temple De Hirsh Sinai. Shimon Katz and Sulaiman Al Hamri will speak on:
* Thursday, February 8th, 7 pm, Seattle University, Schafer Auditorium, Lemieux Library, (Columbia & Broadway)
* Friday, February 9th, 8:00 am, Temple De Hirsch Sinai, 1511 East Pike
Last week, Brit Tzedek announced that one of Combatants co-founders, Bassam Aramin, lost his 10 year old daughter, Abir, to Israeli Border Police fire in their local village of Anata (near Jerusalem). The NY Times covered the story today in a joint profile of Bassam and his group:
His daughter, Abir, was in an upbeat mood last Tuesday after completing a math exam at the Anata Girls School. She walked out the front gate and crossed the dusty street, where she bought a small gift for her mother, Salwa, who had helped her study.
As Abir emerged from the store, a clash was erupting between stone-throwing Palestinian youths and the Israeli border police. A moment later Abir was hit in the back of the head, a blow that threw her headlong into the street, according to her sister, Areen, 12, who was with her. After three days in Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, Abir died without ever regaining consciousness.
Israel’s separation barrier, a towering concrete wall here, is just a few yards from the adjacent boys’ and girls’ schools, and the area was the scene of frequent confrontations during its construction. But work on the wall was finished several months ago, and the area was calm until the border police began patrolling neighborhoods on the West Bank side of the wall in recent days. Youths threw stones at the Israeli jeeps on several occasions, residents said.
Notice that it was the mere presence of the Border Police that fueled the demonstration. Had there been no provocation from them, there would have been no demonstration, no stone-throwing, and Abir would have come home and given her mom a lovely present. Here we have the Israeli-Palestinian conflict writ small. Not content to let well enough alone, Israeli forces flaunt their presence to “teach Palestinians” a lesson. Palestinian children respond with the only weapon at their command, stones. Police reply with their weapons of choice when confronting children: stun grenades and rubber bullets. Is this all making sense to you??
NPR’s Linda Gradstein (audio version) portrays the activity of the Israeli Border Police in the runup to this incident in a much more provocative way:
Palestinians here say a jeep load of police drove by and began taunting another group of students, several of whom responded by throwing stones at the jeep. The witnesses say the police then fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.
Such provocative Border Police behavior, even goading children into deadly confrontation are fully in line with previous tragic incidents. Chris Hedges documents such tragic and lethal behavior in a heart-rending 2001 interview he gave on Fresh Air:
…Every afternoon–you know, you could almost time it–around 3 or 4, the Palestinian kids, who have nowhere to play, would play–would go out on the dunes and they’d have kites or rag balls and this kind of stuff. And I remember–I heard it the first day. And I speak Arabic, so I’m listening over the loudspeaker to the worst curse words in Arabic, and phrases like, you know, ‘All the Palestinians who live in Khan Yunis are dogs,’ which is calling an Arab a dog is particularly insulting. And I couldn’t–I just couldn’t believe what I heard.
And I walked out towards the dunes and they were–the–over the loudspeaker from an Israeli army Jeep on the other side of the electric fence they were taunting these kids. And these kids started to throw rocks. And most of these kids were 10, 11, 12 years old. And, first of all, the rocks were the size of a fist. They were being hurled towards a Jeep that was armor-plated. I doubt they could even hit the Jeep. And then I watched the soldiers open fire. And it was–I mean, I’ve seen kids shot in Sarajevo. I mean, snipers would shoot kids in Sarajevo. I’ve seen death squads kill families in Algeria or El Salvador. But I’d never seen soldiers bait or taunt kids like this and then shoot them for sport. It was–I just–even now, I find it almost inconceivable. And I went back every day, and every day it was the same.
So you can see that the Border Police are more than happy to kill even children for sport.
Usually, such violence is distant from us here in the U.S. We don’t know who died. We didn’t witness their suffering. We don’t know them. But Bassam’s loss is different. We were all invested in making this tour a success since the stakes have become so high and the crisis so deep there. So Bassam’s pain is our own.
I hope you will ensure Abir didn’t die in vain by doing something on behalf of Israeli-Palestinian peace. My first wish if you live in Seattle or any other city which will host a Combatants event is that you will make a strong effort to attend.
The Israeli Border Police are a notoriously violent and vicious bunch of thuggish law enforcement agents. They are known for their gratuitous violence against innocent as well as guilty. In fact, they make almost no distinction between the two. That is why I greet their “explanation” for what happened with such deep skepticism.
While Palestinian eyewitnesses say Abir was struck by a rubber bullet and possibly a stun grenade, the police claim a rock thrown by a Palestinian demonstrator killed her. This is an almost laughable hypothesis for several reasons. First, no witness saw a rock hit her. Second, while a rock might kill a person how many times have you heard of someone killed by a thrown rock? Third, there is the record of lies and distortions used by both the Israeli police and army whenever tragedies of this kind happen. Fourth, the spokesperson who mouthed this obscenity did not witness the incident and merely advanced this ludicrous hypothesis as a supposition rather than a solid claim (Haaretz: “‘The girl may have been hurt by a stone thrown by the protesters,’ said a security source.”). There is almost a standard operation procedure of blaming the killing on the Palestinians themselves. When 8 Palestinian beachgoers were killed by Israeli munitions last summer, the IDF first claimed that Palestinian militants mined the beach, a statement which died a quick death and was never heard from again.
Here are the dueling stories of what killed Abir Aramin:
Areen and other Palestinian witnesses say they have no doubt that Abir was hit by Israeli fire. Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli lawyer representing the Aramin family, said he had received a rubber-coated steel bullet that witnesses said they had found at the scene, which he presented to the Israeli police.
A preliminary report of the autopsy conducted by an Israeli government pathologist and one appointed by the Aramin family found that Abir’s head wounds were consistent with the impact of a rubber-coated bullet, though other possibilities could not be ruled out, Mr. Sfard said.
But the Israeli police say the autopsy did rule out the possibility of a rubber-coated bullet. The police say an investigation has found that police officers fired tear gas but has not confirmed the use of such bullets. A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the inquiry is continuing, said the police suspected that Abir might have been hit by a rock that one of the Palestinians had thrown toward the police.
The police say the autopsy DID rule out a bullet. The Aramin’s lawyer disputes that claim. But note that even the police concede that she may’ve been killed by a stun grenade. According to Haaretz, the police claim that she wasn’t killed by a bullet because the head wound was too large. However, even the Haaretz story notes that during the operation to save her life, doctors removed a portion of her skull. So how can the police claim to know with certainty what type of weapon killed her? Further, it is very common for the IDF and police to release quick statements denying responsibility in incidents such as this. There seems to be some view that the proper way to respond to such Israeli-made disasters is to deny, deny, deny. Doesn’t matter whether there’s a shred of truth to the denial. Just putting the denial out there is deemed a useful tactic by the spinmeisters.
Haaretz reports that the scene of the attack is near three schools housing hundreds of students. Can someone explain to me why Border Police would be firing potentially lethal ammunition in such a vicinity? Of course, we already know the answer: any police force that would fire rubber bullets at children doesn’t credit the lives of said children being worth more than two bits. Why don’t such police officers consider if the tables were turned and it were their own children getting blasted with lethal force. I am afraid I may be attributing to these people more humanity than they are worthy of.
Would anyone care to lay odds that Abir was killed by the police and not by a demonstrator?
NPR also broadcast this report on Abir’s death.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.