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Following an incident of an Israeli soldier cocking his weapon at a Palestinian teenager holding nothing but prayer beads spread on social media a solidarity movement by fellow soldiers grew online. The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky and political correspondent speak to Rela Mazali, one of the founders of New Profile, an Israeli organization that works on demilitarization in society.
SHIR HEVER, POLITICAL ECONOMIST AND ANALYST: Welcome to The Real News.
Today we are going to have another conversation about Palestine with Shir Hever in Germany.
LIA TARACHANSKY, ISRAEL-PALESTINE CORRESPONDENT: And I’m Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.
HEVER: So, Lia, today I thought we could talk about a video that caused quite a stir in Israel and also a little bit in the international community of an Israeli soldier cocking his weapon in the face of a Palestinian boy. And this has been known as a David HaNachlawi story. And why don’t we watch the video?
[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]
TARACHANSKY: I think what’s interesting about this incident is not so much that the soldier and the incident were documented, especially since the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has been giving out camcorders to Palestinians to record the daily violations perpetrated by the Israeli army and the settlers in the West Bank.
But what’s more interesting is that the soldier was punished. Now, it was later revealed that the punishment had nothing to do with the incident with the Palestinian. He was punished for an incident with his superior. But still, in that moment between when he was punished and when it was revealed that his punishment was not related, we saw a whole sea of solidarity from other soldiers, who started publishing pictures of themselves holding up signs reading “I am with David Nachlawi”.
HEVER: It should be noted, of course, this sort of behavior by Israeli soldiers is illegal. Israeli soldiers are not allowed to express any kind of political opinion. And it also begs the question whether the announcement of the Israeli army that this soldier was reprimanded not for his behavior towards the Palestinians, but actually towards–his behavior toward his own commanding officers, whether that was really the case, or maybe they actually published this as a kind of surrender to this wave of protest by Israeli soldiers.
TARACHANSKY: Earlier, I spoke to Rela Mazali, one of the founders of New Profile, an organization in Israel that works on demilitarization.
RELA MAZALI, FOUNDER, NEW PROFILE: It’s an expression of a much broader standpoint that’s pervasive throughout the population that continues to perceive itself as threatened and attacked, despite the fact that for many, many years now it’s been the powerful party and mostly the attacking party. The attacks of the military on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and in Gaza remain virtually invisible to most Israelis, except when they’re exceptional. They don’t follow it, they don’t take any interest in it. There is no awareness that this is a choice, this is a policy choice, that it is exploited for many different kinds of interests.
TARACHANSKY: Now, the Israeli media completely ignored the fact that an Israeli soldier in an occupied territory threatened a teenager with an assault rifle, and instead focused on the dangers of social media. There’s a quote I wanted to read you from Haaretz.
TEXT ON SCREEN:
“It’s not that earlier signs to the subversive potential of smartphones weren’t visible. In recent years soldiers uploaded videos of themselves doing the Harlem Shake, Gangnam Style, the Tacata and other dances on their tanks, or just in the middle of streets in the West Bank, even though they were definitely were [sic] forbidden from doing so. Couldn’t those same devices that recorded these silly videos be used for other purposes? The IDF didn’t think so.”
HEVER: This sort of image of the Israeli army as very professional is actually kind of shattered by this story. Here we see a clash between social media, which is used both by Palestinians to record the daily violations of human rights that is perpetrated against them, and also by Israeli soldiers, who are using social media as a form of disobedience and protest against their own army.
And I should say something about the name David HaNachlawi, because that’s not his name. This is a reference to the unit, to the division that he’s a part of, the Nachal division. So he’s sort of David of the Nachal division. And this is actually very–this division of the Israeli army is a division which combines civil projects with the military.
When I was in high school, I was taken to a sort of day in which various Israeli military divisions would present themselves to school children to convince them to join that particular division. That’s part of the Israeli militaristic education system. And this was after an incident in 1996 in which a mass of angry Palestinians, as part of their protest, marched on an Israeli colony in the West Bank, and the colony was only defended by those soldiers from the Nachal division. And the soldiers panicked and called for help until some other unit came to save them. This was, back in the day, a very big blow to the image, to the pride of that unit. And when I went to hear from a soldier from that unit who tried to explain to young highschoolers that they should join the Nachal, he said, don’t worry about this incident, this story was a one-time thing. And if you join the Nachal, I can guarantee that after each stint of service you will have with this unit, you will be able to mark four or five xs on your weapon. So that, of course, means killing four or five people.
TARACHANSKY: But how do you explain the soldiers’ sense of victimhood against the institution of the army?
MAZALI: Well, the army is a victimizing institution. Throughout the First Intifadah as well, the higher levels did not ever take responsibility for what is perceived occasionally as going too far, as what is sometimes–very rare, but sometimes–as violations of human rights. It’s almost unfairly the soldiers who are held responsible.
TARACHANSKY: This trend of punishing low-ranked soldiers instead of addressing the major policy issues of the occupation actually translates also to the civilian population. In recent weeks, we saw the so-called price tag attacks, which are attack by settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians, usually involving slashing Palestinian cars’ tires, burning cars, spray-painting racist slogans, and also burning down mosques. So in recent weeks we’ve seen these attacks that usually only happen in the West Bank spread outside of the West Bank, inside Israel proper. We’ve seen attacks in Umm al-Fahm, which is in the middle of the country, to Palestinian city. We’ve seen an attack on the Palestinian city on the coast called Fureidis.
HEVER: Yeah. Well, we can see how the Israeli government is talking about these attacks by the extreme right as sort of something that’s out of their control, that they don’t condone it, but nevertheless it happens, even though they’re clearly not enforcing the law on these criminals. And what we saw regarding /bɑːrsiˈnaɪ/ is that when they–if they want, they can. They have the means to enforce the law on whoever they want.
And this begs the question, why is the Israeli government allowing these attacks to take place, even though they certainly harm Israel’s image around the world? When the Israeli government is confronted by international pressure and, for example, the United States government is saying Israel has to freeze the construction of the colonies, then the Israeli government says, well, we would, but we can’t because of these extreme right wing activists who are going to go nuts. And that kind of image, as if there’s a few rotten apples or a few crazy extremists who are undermining the government policies, makes it easier for the government to present itself as if it’s just trying to calm things down, while in fact they are the ones who are increasing the pressure on Palestinians every day.
TARACHANSKY: And just reading the Hebrew press in recent weeks, Yedioth Ahronoth, which is the largest-circulation paper in Israel, had a whole week in addition a few weekends ago specifically about these price tag attacks. And so the edition opens with one journalist saying, well, if only the Israeli internal intelligence agency, the Shabak, knew who the perpetrators are, we could arrest them. Then the next journalist says, well, that’s not true, because the Shabak knows exactly who they are–they’ve admitted in various forums that they have. The problem is that the police doesn’t have enough evidence. Then the next journalist says, well, the police have said they do have enough evidence, and, in fact, they’ve interrogated these people in the past, but they don’t make arrests. The next one says, well, the police does make arrests, but the judges decide not to prosecute them. And then the last one says, well, the judges would prosecute them, but they don’t have enough evidence. So it goes back full-circle.
HEVER: I want to just go back to the point where we started the discussion about David /ɛdˈmɔːv/, who’s nicknamed David HaNachlawi, and his behavior, his video. I think that maybe we can end on actually a positive note or an optimistic note, because what we really see in this video and in many other similar videos is that the person who is in a state of panic is the Israeli soldier. The soldiers are afraid. They don’t exactly know what is expected of them and how they should behave. On the one hand, they have been taught to see the Palestinians as less than human beings, as the enemy, as people that they can treat like garbage. But when they see the camera, they know that everything that they do will be broadcast and they could actually face some consequences.
TARACHANSKY: Also, the coverage we’ve seen in recent weeks is another positive step that potentially will start a debate inside Israel about the whole occupation at large.
I’m Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.
HEVER: And I’m Shir Hever in Germany.
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