Following orders: How the IDF eliminates ‘quiet’ in the West Bank

Following orders: How the IDF eliminates ‘quiet’ in the West Bank

When the occupation seems to becomes a bit too ‘quiet,’ the Israeli military is always there to fully contain and eliminate the threat.

By Talal Jabari

Israeli soldiers escort Jewish settlers as they tour the Old City of the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, June 4, 2016. The Israel army has enforced segregation in the city for over two decades, restricting residents’ movement according to their religion. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

Israeli intelligence has intercepting would-be suicide bombers down to a fine art. The military is quite adept at quashing demonstrations in the West Bank (they did a very thorough job at leveling entire sections of the Gaza Strip during the 2014 military campaign). And along with every Israeli military action come the right-wing politicians who make their television appearances, patting themselves on the back and talking about eliminating the enemy — all the while reinforcing their fear-mongering message that Israelis face an existential threat from the Palestinians.

The military wasn’t really ready for — nor really knew how to deal with — the adult Palestinians who fit no certain profile who started plowing their cars into people, or teenage Palestinians with no political affiliation who started a spree of stabbing attacks. That, however, did not stop the right-wing government from carrying on with its message, while assuring the populace that the solution to the current problems is more oppression.

But a more significant threat to the establishment has reared its ugly head, and no amount of military training, nor advance intelligence warnings can stop it. What makes this threat worse than the stabbing attacks is that it is posed by the majority of the Palestinian populace, and they’re relentless about it: the desire to live a normal life.

It is difficult to keep track of the amount of times Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wing ministers have gone before the cameras to complain about Palestinian violence. And although that violence was only committed by a minutia of Palestinian society, that never prevented the Israeli authorities from imposing widespread collective punishment. However, one would assume that the fact that the level of violence has dwindled almost entirely should have the PM elated, perhaps even celebratory.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses Israel's Arab citizens, urging them to take a larger role in Israeli society. (YouTube screenshot)

But “quiet” isn’t what the establishment actually wants. Quiet doesn’t help explain why tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers are needed to protect the Israeli settlements. ‘Quiet’ doesn’t explain why Israel actually needs to keep those settlements. Quiet definitely doesn’t encourage Congress to send more money to Israel in the form of military aid. And most importantly, quiet doesn’t explain why the status quo of collective punishment over the Palestinian people is maintained through various mechanisms, some more oppressive than others.

It only makes sense, then, that the Israeli military be deployed to fully contain and eliminate the threat of quiet. Case in point: according to an article by Haaretz’s Nir Hasson last month, the Israeli Border Police were mandated in an internal memo to cause “friction” with the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem. In other words, if it gets too “quiet,” it’s their job to make a little noise. This process of initiating said “friction” landed a 12-year-old boy in hospital; he has reportedly suffered permanent brain damage.

Furthermore social media reports seem to indicate that the policy of initiating friction isn’t limited to the Border Police, nor is it limited to East Jerusalem. A video posted to Facebook last week shows four young Palestinian men sitting and chatting when an Israeli army jeep pulls up. The young men look at the jeep, the occupants of which, after a slight pause, open the rear door and lob a stun grenade at them. Has it been too quiet in Ramallah lately? And before you respond with, “they must have done something wrong, otherwise why would the army do that?” the army announced that the soldiers involved were disciplined for the unwarranted action.

This past week another story emerged, this time out of Sinjil in the West Bank, where the Israeli army had taken over a house as a temporary outpost. A few weeks in the house and it looks more like the set of The Walking Dead than someone’s home. The army issued an apology, and again reportedly tried the officer in charge. One cannot help but wonder, however, if this was another “friction” initiative by the Israeli military.

There are dozens of similar cases that have gone unreported because there didn’t happen to be any cameras filming, or because the practice is so commonplace that it rarely makes the news. But as the situation stays quiet and Netanyahu faces greater political opposition, one can only assume “friction” initiatives by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians will only increase.

Talal Jabari is a Palestinian award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist from East Jerusalem. He tweets from @TalalJabari.