“It Is Fun to Shoot Palestinians”: Six Former Israeli Soldiers Speak Up
Six Israeli occupation soldiers recall the atrocities they committed onscreen in a staggering reality that reflects the severity of the situation in al-Khalil from one angle; a reality that amounts to crimes against humanity.
“Soldiers really like shooting rubber bullets.”
“It is fun.”
“Everyone high fives.”
“You are awesome, you got him”
The New York Times Op-Docs has lately obtained a short documentary “Mission: Hebron” by the Israeli Director and 'former' Israeli soldier Rona Segal.
It is the first time in recent years that a documentary film sheds the light on part of the Palestinians’ daily sufferings in occupied al-Khalil "Hebron"; a staggering reality the public has rarely been allowed to see.
Al-Khalil is considered the largest city in the occupied West Bank and the only one in which Israeli settlers reside so close to the Palestinians, thus exacerbating their sufferings.
Palestinians face severe movement restrictions as Israeli occupation forces are constantly present and committed to long-standing efforts to expel them notably from the Old City.
The short documentary in its six chapters frames Israeli atrocities in al-Khalil
Six Israeli occupation soldiers, all of whom joined the army at the age of 18, describe their so-called "mission" in al-Khalil. They were “tasked with protecting and guarding Israeli settlers." These soldiers, who were barely adults, were given complete control of the Palestinians' lives in the city.
The six 'former' soldiers describe their "mission" in a studio setting based on the “duties defined in their military guidebook”; the Israeli settlers in al-Khalil are “guarded and protected” using a variety of strategies, whilst making the lives of Palestinian civilians unbearable.
Looking back, the soldiers recall their confusion, embarrassment, and hatred.
They told their atrocities onscreen in a renewed perspective of the severity of the situation on the ground in al-Khalil, which amounts to a crime against humanity; a crime of apartheid and persecution.
“Your only mission is to guard and protect the Israeli settlers in Hebron [al-Khalil].”
With the Israeli soldiers making it clear that their mission was to protect and guard the Israeli settlers, by all means, it becomes clear that the increasing and aggravating Israeli settlers’ violence against Palestinians is done with the explicit support of the Israeli occupation authorities. Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers are ordered to turn a blind eye and even guard the perpetrators.
Settlers' violence against Palestinians includes damaging private property, stone-throwing, and physical violence, as well as attacks on activists and journalists.
Such attacks have become increasingly common in recent years, and they are carried out with impunity.
One of the Israeli soldiers testified that a security coordinator from among the Israeli settlers is the one who would give them orders, not their military command. In many cases, Israeli occupation soldiers provide the perpetrators with escort and backup. But, when the Israeli soldiers don’t join the attack, “the illegal settlers can turn against the soldiers, thus becoming their enemies”, according to the soldiers’ confessions.
"If you shoot a Palestinian, you get a pizza and a coffee from the settlers;" this is by far one of the most disturbing elements in the “mission”. The settlers’ 'affection' can turn into hatred if settlers are prohibited from conducting extreme assaults against Palestinians. At this point, the once cherished soldiers turn into “traitors" and "Nazis”.
“A sterile route free of Palestinians”
“A sterile route is a route that is free of Palestinians.”
In a racist comment, one of the 'former' Israeli soldiers affirms that there are routes that are "sterilized of Palestinians."
Israeli occupation forces in al-Khalil forbid Palestinians from walking on large sections of what was before the occupation the city's main thoroughfare, as part of the Israeli army's policy of making those areas "sterile" of Palestinians.
On his account, the Coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders Group Imad Abu Shamsieh told Al Mayadeen English that the Israeli occupation has placed more than one hundred checkpoints with metal and electrical gates, surveillance cameras, reinforced concrete barriers, and inspection outposts in the "sterile" routes.
He also divulged that around 525 Palestinian shops have been completely closed in 2000 due to an Israeli occupation’s military court decision.
Furthermore, Abu Shamsieh tersely stated that Palestinian vehicles, including ambulances, have been banned from the "H2 area" since October 2000.
The human rights activist went on to say that “the Israeli occupation forces impede local and international journalists from entering the H2 area and sterile routes. Simultaneously, I, along with a group of Palestinians in al-Khalil, decided to document the Israeli war crimes which occur on daily basis targeting Palestinian men, women, and children.”
“Since 2010, we started to film the Israeli occupation’s atrocities against Palestinians under the initiative 'Capturing Occupation Camera Project in Palestine.'"
“We are a group of around 30 young Palestinian volunteers exposing and documenting human rights and international law violations in Palestine,” Abu Shamsieh told Al Mayadeen English.
One of the Israeli soldiers boldly stated that the strip searches' official aim is “to stop and search every Palestinian,” but implicitly, the searches are actually aimed at humiliating the Palestinians, with no legal justifications whatsoever.
“When you frisk someone you pick out on the street, it requires touching the person," one soldier said.
A group of Palestinian men may be targeted for strip searches just because they might have Hollywood's stereotypical racist image of “terrorists” in the mind of the occupier. The searches are not performed to find guns, but to humiliate the Palestinians or create “friction” among them.
“The idea is to bring the friction to them, so that they’ll keep their heads down.”
Because of the proximity of the Israeli settlements in the city, Palestinians are surrounded by a large military presence and are randomly subjected to routine and offensive searches, harassments, and beatings.
“The idea of the patrol is to patrol.”
The 'former' Israeli soldiers attested that they walked around Palestinians’ houses, storming them whenever they felt like it.
“Ok, soldiers again.”
Field Palestinian Researcher Manal al-Jaabari from al-Khalil told Al Mayadeen English that Palestinian children in al-Harika, a district in al-Khalil, are exposed to Israeli terrorism on a daily basis.
“In al-Harika, which is adjacent to “Kiryat Arba”, the Israeli occupation forces break into Palestinian houses whenever a stone is thrown at the fence, and children are interrogated inside their homes. Sometimes the Israeli soldiers drag them to the streets and place them in front of the surveillance cameras,” she added.
The young researcher emotionally states that the Israeli soldiers incite young Israeli settlers at Jaber Neighborhood to assault Palestinian children their age.
The Israeli occupation forces claim that they are hit by stones to arrest or detain Palestinian children for hours, al-Jaabari confirmed to Al Mayadeen English.
“Many children in the vicinity of schools, particularly in the southern area near checkpoints, are arrested and detained for long periods. They are sometimes beaten or insulted and left hungry and thirsty before being handed over to the al-Khalil Coordination and Liaison Office if they are under the age of 13."
Above this age, they are arrested and subjected to an investigation at the Israeli occupation’s police station, then they are transferred to an Israeli court or they are fined at least one thousand shekels before being released.
At checkpoints, it's all about "eeny, meeny, miny, moe”
While Israeli checkpoints impede the daily life of Palestinians in the city, the 'former' Israeli soldiers confess that a checkpoint is a kind of roadblock.
“You spread tire spikes, stop the cars, and cause a huge traffic.”
“Sometimes it’s for no reason.”
It is just one episode, and what has been documented by the Palestinian Human Rights Defenders Group is far more tragic.
Abu Shamsieh told Al Mayadeen English that his camera caught the cold-blooded execution of martyr Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in 2016 at one of the Israeli occupation’s checkpoints.
The human rights defender affirmed that al-Sharif’s case is only one of many Israeli war crimes.
He also disclosed to Al Mayadeen English that Israeli settlers have regularly run over Palestinian children as young as five.
Abu Shamsieh affirmed that he was subjected to acts of harassment, restrictions on his freedom of movement, abductions, long periods of arbitrary detention usually under administrative detention orders, and illegal searches of his home and office, not to mention death threats.
Detentions: “Everyone’s a suspect”
According to the soldiers’ confessions, every Palestinian is a suspect, and the detention process includes putting any Palestinian “in a post with a soldier and then keep them hanging."
The 'former' soldiers testify that Israeli soldiers blindfold and handcuff the Palestinians who had been arrested randomly.
Like all Palestinian cities and villages, al-Khalil too witnesses random arrests of Palestinians on a daily basis, including children as young as 10.
Israeli occupation forces' violent repression of protests has also involved the arrest and detention of Palestinian demonstrators.
Another 'Mission': Targeting Journalists
On his part, a field Palestinian journalist from al-Khalil Sari Jaradat told Al Mayadeen English that the Israeli occupation forces deliberately prevent Palestinian and international journalists from covering the current events in order to hide their daily crimes that affect all aspects of life in the city.
“About a week ago, an occupation officer told me: 'if you get shot by our bullets, we will not bear any responsibility.'”
“They had a prior intention of targeting me in order to prevent me from doing my job, and I sustained a total of five injuries from live bullets while covering their crimes, not to mention the dozens of detentions, arrests, coverage prevention, and obstruction of movement," Jaradat added.
Jaradat commented on the Blue Wolf program and the installation of face-scanning cameras in al-Khalil, saying that these cameras will lead to the suppression of freedom most notably the freedom of the press, which is already limited.
“The Israeli occupation soldiers will enact any laws they desire to prevent Palestinian journalists from carrying out their work,” he added.
The systematic oppression of Palestinians has been partially mirrored in the “Mission" and utterly manifested in the heartfelt testimonies of Sari, Imad, and Manal. Yet, what is happening in Palestine, and most notably in al-Khalil, cannot be documented or summed up in a film, a chapter, or a shot.