For nearly a month now, a young Palestinian has been hospitalized at Beilinson Hospital; soldiers shot him at a checkpoint in northern Nablus on Saturday, November 4. Haitem Yassin, 25, is conscious now, but he is still hooked up to a respirator. In recent days, he has been suffering from a high fever, apparently caused by an infection in his abdomen, which was wounded in the shooting. His family is still waiting for a report from the hospital about the number or type of bullets that caused the serious injury.
At the Samaria Brigade, they are still investigating what happened that day at the fortified and isolated Asira al-Shmaliya checkpoint, through which only the inhabitants of several villages are permitted passage. However, according to testimonies taken by a researcher for B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, it emerges that Yassin had irritated the soldiers. He dared to suggest to them that their demand of women to feel their own bodies to carry out a “security check” was inappropriate. So annoying was he that a soldier shoved him.
Yassin, who had returned from overseas a few months earlier, had apparently not yet internalized the fact that it is dangerous to remind a soldier that a Palestinian is a human being. When the soldier shoved, Yassin shoved back. The soldier, according to the testimonies, started to scream and curse and hit. He quickly received reinforcement from two other soldiers, who fired into the air and at the ground. Even though Yassin fell to the ground after the shooting, the soldiers, relate the witnesses, threw him onto a concrete block, handcuffed him and kicked him. They also kicked him in the head, according to the testimonies, and beat him with their rifles.
In a village in the Nablus area, S., another young Palestinian, is recovering from the trauma he suffered from a harsh beating at the hands of a soldier at the Jit checkpoint, midway between Nablus and Qalqilya. The office of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman has stated that it was the young man who had shoved and hit a soldier who told him to return to his vehicle, whereas the soldier only fended him off, but the testimony of S. is completely different. He, like many others on that day, November 9, had got out of his vehicle while on the way to the Jewish settlement where he works, in order to find out why, just when everyone was hurrying to work, the line of cars at the checkpoint wasn’t moving.
According to one taxi driver, the soldiers announced that the cars would not be able to go through until noon. S., according to his own testimony, intended to return to his vehicle when the soldier approached him and looked as though he was going to hit him with his rifle. S. grabbed the rifle and pushed it aside. This apparently really bothered the soldier, who grabbed him, pulled him away from the rest of the people, flung him to the ground, and proceeded to him in all parts of his body. Including his head.
Other soldiers, at the Beit Iba checkpoint west of Nablus, also got annoyed: At a student who felt he was suffocating among the mass of people who flocked to the checkpoint on October 9, and who felt the only way he could get some air was to climb a pole. When he refused to obey the soldiers’ orders to come down, because there was no room and no air, they fell upon him and beat him with a rifle. According to the testimony of a friend, who spoke to an activist from Machsom Watch, the soldiers also broke his glasses and punished him: They detained him in “solitary confinement,” in a kind of punishment cell into which the soldiers and the commanders throw Palestinians who “misbehave.” The cell is intended for security suspects, but all too often people who dare to argue with the soldiers are thrown in there, or held in another sort of punishment cell at other checkpoints.
In tens of thousands of homes in the West Bank live others, who may have not ended up in the hospital, but who every day accumulate harsh impressions of the nature and behavior of almost the only Israelis whom they encounter – the soldiers at the checkpoints. The non-Palestinians who pass through the checkpoints can also reach a similar conclusion – that most of the soldiers stationed at them are crude, arrogant, boastful and definitely hardhearted. All too often it appears that the soldiers intentionally cause the line of cars and people to dawdle at a checkpoint for a very long time. All too often they are seen laughing and grinning at the sight of the hundreds of people jostling and crowding in the slow line behind the narrow inspection turnstile.
The Palestinians are not interested in, and do not need to be interested in, the explanations that Israel will give: It’s a difficult mission; the soldiers are afraid; maybe someone will come bearing an explosive belt; they’re young, still children; they’re defending the homeland; if they weren’t posted at checkpoints in the middle of the West Bank, suicide terrorists would be free to enter Israel.
The truth is that even the soldiers’ parents should not be interested in these explanations. They should, however, be very worried about their country sending their sons and daughters on an apartheid mission: to restrict Palestinian mobility within the occupied territory, to narrow the Palestinian expanse in order to enable Jews to move freely within that same occupied territory and in order to increase their expanse within it. In order to carry out this mission in full, facing the natives, the soldiers must feel and act like “superiors.”
AMIRA HASS writes for Ha’aretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.