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Settlers Fire Guns To Disrupt Olive Harvest

GUSH SHALOM - pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 - http://www.gush-shalom.org/

[Uri Avnery's article deals with the violence of the past week in the Gaza Strip. The second item gives the Jerusalem Post report of Saturday's joint Israeli-Palestinian olive harvest - in which Avnery (79) took part.]

[1] The Chain of Command - Uri Avnery's analysis of the Gaza killings

[2] Settlers fire guns to disrupt Israeli-Palestinian olive harvest

The Chain of Command

Uri Avnery

There is little controversy about the facts: last Thursday, in an IDF action in Rafah, at least eight Palestinians were killed (the number will probably climb, since some of the wounded were severely hurt). Five of those killed were woman and children. Almost fifty people were wounded - many of them children who had just left their school after lessons.

The event took place on the "Philadelphi" axis, a narrow strip of land designed to separate the Gaza area from neighboring Egypt. The Palestinians dig tunnels under the strip in order to move people, weapons and goods. The IDF endeavors to prevent it.

Thursday, the IDF sent a bulldozer, guarded by tanks and armored troop-carriers, to block the tunnels.

According to the army version, fire was opened on the bulldozer and the force. The brigade commander gave a tank commander permission to fire shells at the "sources of fire". All in all, five shells were fired at the densely populated refugee camp, including "flanchette" shells which spread thousands of deadly steel arrows, an especially inhuman weapon the use of which is forbidden by international law. The IDF suffered no casualties.

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The army alleges that among the Palestinians killed were three "armed men" who had shot at the bulldozer. The Palestinians contend that none of them was a known member of a fighting organization. (This is not necessarily a contradiction: nowadays any Palestinian is liable to open fire on the occupation forces.)

The Palestinians speak about a "massacre". Israeli spokespersons say they regret the deaths of the children. The Americans asked Israel to exercise restraint. "The world" was silently reproachful.

This was not an exceptional occurrence. It has become almost routine.

Who is to blame? Let's try to compose a list.

First: the occupation.

The occupation creates resistance. In order to overcome the resistance, the occupation is forced to use more and more brutal methods. The occupied people, too, become more and more brutal. Human life becomes cheap, the borderline between fighters and non-fighters becomes blurred and disappears.

Second: The axis itself.

When the Gaza Strip was turned over to the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli generals demanded that there be no border between the Palestinian area and Egypt.

The Rafah border crossing remained under Israeli control. The "Philadelphi" axis (I have no idea why it was so named) was designed to create the separation all along the border.

In order to guard the axis, a strip six kilometers long and one hundred meters wide, soldiers must pass only dozens of meters away from the Palestinian neighborhoods, which are among the most densely populated in the world.

In times of peace, that is a problematical situation. In times of conflict, this becomes a pressure cooker liable to explode at any moment.

Third: the Sharon-Ben-Eliezer government.

The "political leadership" consists of two generals, whose sole language is the language of force - the one is the leader of the Likud, the other is the leader of the Labor party.

The policy of this government is to break by force the resistance of the Palestinian people to the occupation. It acts according to the typically Israeli maxim: "If force doesn't work, use more force."

It may be that by now the Israeli occupation has become the most brutal of the modern era: millions of people are imprisoned in their homes for weeks and months on end, two thirds of the population have been pushed under the internationally-accepted poverty line, hundreds of thousands suffer from malnutrition, on the border of starvation - all this in addition to almost 2000 killed, among them some 400 children.

There is no sign that the Palestinian resistance is about to break. Quite to the contrary.

By orders and hints, the "political leadership" tells the army to use even more brutal methods, gradually abolishing all limits. To appease international opinion, some tiny restrictions are lifted, while at the same time much more severe ones are put into place. In this game, Shimon Peres, the Nobel hypocrisy prize laureate, plays an central role.

Fourth: the Chief-of-Staff.

Under the military hierarchical system, the Chief-of-Staff is the person solely responsible for all the acts and omissions of the IDF.

General Moshe Ya'alon has already made public his extreme right-wing orientation.

He has announced that any concession to the Palestinians constitutes a "reward for terrorism". He has defined the Palestinian resistance as a "cancerous growth".

The Chief-of-Staff controls the actions of even the last man in the army. If he resolutely objects to certain actions, it will travel with lightning speed through the chain of command reaching every soldier, and if he encourages certain actions, or closes his eyes, this, too, will be felt instantly. There is no need for written orders. Every commander senses what his superior wants, every soldier senses was his commander desires. That's how the army works.

Fifth: the Area Command chief.

The Commanding Officer of the Southern area and his staff are well familiar with the topographical realities. They know that if you put tanks into the "Philadelphi" axis, there will be Palestinians who will open fire. There exists, therefore, a high probability that a fire-fight will develop near a densely populated area, and men, women and children will be killed. That's what happened this time, too.

(The same thing has happened in other incidents in the Gaza Strip, such as the one a week before at neighboring Khan Younis, when 17 Palestinians, including women and children, were killed. A different topography, similar circumstances, same command.)

Sixth: the brigade commander.

After the fire fight started, the brigade commander ordered the firing of the shells.

He knew that under the circumstances there was no possibility of separating the armed men from bystanders. He acted according to a principle, which seems to have been adopted by the IDF: in order to "liquidate" one armed man, it is worthwhile killing ten unarmed people. He should not have ordered the firing of even one shell, much less five.

He acted with the approval of the division commander, who appeared again on television and boasted about the action. Like the commander of the air force, he seems to sleep very well at night. He has no qualms, no second thoughts, nothing.

Seventh: the tank commander.

A tank commander is supposed to be able to act under pressure and to make decisions under fire. He must have known that under the circumstances, one shell would cause havoc, and much more so several, including the murderous "flachette" variety.

The light finger on the trigger is another symptom of the deterioration of the situation and places a heavy burden of guilt on the whole chain of command, from the Prime Minister down to the last soldier. Shooting shells at curfew-breakers, and especially at children throwing stones at heavy tanks, has already become the bane of the West Bank.

The order to shoot shells may have been a "manifestly illegal order", over which flies "the black flag of illegality", which a soldier is obliged to disobey under Israeli law.

No soldier can argue that he "only followed orders".

I cannot judge if the lives of the soldiers were in danger. Fortunately, no soldier even suffered a scratch. IDF soldiers are better protected than any soldier in the world.

But if they were indeed in mortal danger - the responsibility lies with the commanders, who deliberately put them into this situation.


[2] Settlers fire guns to disrupt Israeli-Palestinian olive harvest

Oct. 19, 2002

Dozens of settlers prevented residents of the West Bank villages of Akrabeh and Inabus near Nablus, as well as Jewish and Arab Israeli left-wing activists, from picking olives Saturday. The activists said settlers fired shots in the air in an attempt to stop the olive picking.

Several dozens of left-wing activists of Peace Now, Gush Shalom, Ta'ayush (Jewish- Arabic partnership), the Women's Peace Coalition, as well as other organizations, arrived in Inabus on Saturday afternoon to help the Palestinian pick olives.

The olive picking season, which starts at around the beginning of October, has been severely hampered by prolonged curfews imposed by the IDF in the West Bank, Gush Shalom said in a statement. The IDF, the statement said, frequently bars the Palestinian population from picking olives, the main source of livelihood for many.

Also, the Jerusalem Post has previously reported police were investigating a West Bank settler on suspicions he was implicated in the killing of a 24-year-old Palestinian, Hani Yusuf of Akraba, and the wounding of another man on October 6, while they were harvesting olives near Hirbat Yanun and Itamar, in Samaria.

Villagers from Inabus, just south of Yitzhar, filed complaints with police, according to which they were attacked on October 5 by a group of 20 to 30 settlers. 'They almost killed my wife,' Hisham Salomon said. 'They shot in the air, at the ground, and beat us with sticks and rocks. They might as well ship us off to Jordan or Iraq as they plan, maybe there we will at least have some peace.' The activists said several settlers from Yitzhar fired several shots in the air as well as at the group of Palestinians and activists engaged in olive-picking in Inabus Saturday afternoon, from a distance of some 300 meters. One activist said they shots were aimed at a group that included women and children. There was no immediate response from the settlers.

In a conversation with the Jerusalem post internet staff, one of the Israeli activists, who would only give her first name, Liora, said her group had arrived at an olive grove near Yitzhar, at around 1 p.m. local time.

"They (the settlers) started shooting at us when we were there for only about ten minutes," she said. Even though they were most of the fire was shot in the air, she said they could not know that at the time." We just ran away." She says the fire lasted for some 10 minutes.

Later, she said, the activists resumed their work, but were moved by the IDF to a grove some 300 meters away, in what she termed "an attempt by the IDF to minimize 'friction' with the settlers." The olive-picking work, once resumed, lasted three hours.

In one case, Liora told The Jerusalem Post, settlers continued to shoot rounds in the air even after all the Palestinians had left the grove, and only an Israeli activist stayed.

"They kept shooting even though he was calling out to them that he was an Israeli," she said, "and shouted obscenities at him." Alleged illegal activity by West Bank settlers has come into the public eye during the weekend, when clashes residents of the Havat Gilad illegal outpost and their supporters clashed with the IDF over the dismantlement of the outpost.

Settlers who were evacuated from the outpost earlier in the week arrived at the site Thursday night, apparently after having learned that the IDF and police were planning to tear down several prefabricated buildings still left there.

In another case allegedly connected to settler brutality, six Palestinian families on Friday set out from the tiny village of Hirbat Yanun, near the settlement of Itamar, leaving it completely abandoned.

Sobbing as they filled a truck with furniture and piled themselves into dusty cars, members of the Sobih clan said they were fleeing the village -- once home to 25 families -- after four years of worsening attacks by settlers, who have set up illegal outposts on nearby hilltops. The attacks have become increasingly frequent in recent months, they said.

"Our life here is more bitter than hell," Kamal Sobih, a thin, bearded man of 40, said Friday. Groups of masked Jewish settlers have charged into the village, coming at night with dogs and horses, stealing sheep, hurling stones through windows and beating the men with fists and rifle butts, Palestinian residents said.

An electricity generator has been scorched by fire, knocking out power to the village.

Three large water tanks were tipped over and emptied.

An IDF spokesman, who insisted his name not be used, said soldiers try to prevent conflict between settlers and Palestinians, but that forces are primarily in the area to protect Israelis from attacks by Palestinian militants.

Police and the civil administration, as well as the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, could not be reached for a statement Friday evening, because of the Shabbat The nearby settlement of Itamar, about six miles west, was attacked by a Palestinian gunman June 20. Five Israelis were killed and eight were injured before the gunman was shot dead The residents of Yanun have not been linked to that attack or other violence.

More than 200,000 Jews live in about 150 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- lands that are home to 3 million Palestinians, who hope to establish a state on the territory Israel conquered in 1967.

"Death would be easier than leaving," Kamal Sobih said, describing his attachment to the land where generations of his family have lived. "But there is no choice". He said he often spent nights keeping watch for attackers from his windows.


Transcript of the war crimes panel available on the Gush site
For Hebrew http://www.gush-shalom.org/archives/forum.html
For English http://www.gush-shalom.org/archives/forum_eng.html
French available at request

At request, a selection of documents is also available in Spanish

Also on the site:
photo's - of action or otherwise informative
the weekly Gush Shalom ad - in Hebrew and English
the columns of Uri Avnery - in Hebrew, Arab and English
(and a lot more)

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