Danish protester: 'No one would care if a Palestinian was hit with a rifle'

Read More

  • News
  • 338 views
  • 0 comments
  • 14:45 - 21 April 2012

(Alresalah.ps) -- Without the video, all Andreas Ias would have to show for his weekend bicycle ride in the Jordan valley would be two stitches and a slightly swollen lower lip – plus a hardening anger about the treatment by Israeli soldiers of Palestinians.

But a few seconds of footage uploaded to YouTube catapulted the 20-year-old Danish activist into the media spotlight, drew statements from the Israeli prime minister, president and chief of staff, led to the disciplining of an Israeli army officer, and prompted debate over the use of video cameras as a weapon of modern warfare.

Nevertheless, Ias – not his real name – is dismayed that in the aftermath of him being struck in the face with a soldier's rifle, so little attention has focused on what he describes as the routine aggression, harassment and displacement suffered by Palestinian villagers in the area.

"It has been framed in the media as the 'Danish incident', as though this is not how the IDF normally act," he said, swathed in a red keffiyeh in a Ramallah cafe. "But what happened to me is nothing compared to the systematic violence carried out on Palestinians. This is not a single incident, it's what we see every day. But it's very difficult to move the focus from me to the issues of the Palestinian struggle in the West Bank."

While volunteering for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the West Bank over the past six weeks, Ias says he has witnessed "a process of ethnic cleansing that has been going on since the start of the occupation".

"I've seen people whose homes have been demolished in the middle of the night by dozens of soldiers, people who are left with nothing. I've seen Bedouin villages without running water or electricity next to Israeli settlements with total control over water resources. I've seen people denied their basic human rights and any hope for the future. You can't experience that without it changing you."

Last Saturday, a group of 150-200 Palestinians and international activists set off on a bicycle ride through the Jordan valley to visit villages in an act of solidarity. As they reached route 90, the main road running north to south through the valley, they found their way blocked by the Israel Defence Forces.

According to Ias, the soldiers said the cyclists could not proceed "for security reasons". There was a standoff. "We were very peaceful, singing songs, clapping hands. It was a good, empowering experience, people were happy," he said.

But as one of the organisers moved forward, Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner, the deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade who was in charge of the operation, removed his rifle. "He obviously wanted us to move back, but he didn't say anything."

According to Ias's account, a Dutch activist was pushed to the ground and a Palestinian man was struck from behind. Then Eisner slammed the base of his rifle into Ias's face. "I fell to the ground. I was surprised and disoriented. I didn't feel any pain until later."

Eisner, who was forbidden to speak directly to the media, gave a different version of events to colleagues and friends. He said the activists were armed with sticks and were violent, and that one had hit him, breaking a finger. But, he added, "these stories do not interest the chief of staff or my commander. We know the history of these anarchists. They came with sticks and broke my hand – but no one will tell and film that."

He said his actions were necessary. "It was a two-minute confrontation so, yes, it's true that some pictures look bad, but I used a weapon in a [non-lethal] manner and I did not put anyone's life in danger."

Eisner – who was seen in the video wearing a type of kippah associated with the national-religious settler movement – and his colleagues claimed that the clip uploaded to YouTube was edited to distort the incident and cut out violence by the activists. Ias rejects this, saying the organisers have offered to hand over the unedited footage to the Israeli media to prove there was "no aggression, no attempt to violence, not a single stone picked up".

The military, which routinely films such incidents, mainly for intelligence-gathering, has not produced any footage.

Ias was taken to hospital in Jericho for treatment, later rejoined the activists, and "went home feeling it was just another incident in a lot of incidents I have seen in the past few weeks. I didn't expect it to have any consequences at all."

But the video was picked up and broadcast by Israeli television on Sunday – the same day the Israeli authorities launched a big security operation to prevent hundreds of international activists landing at Ben Gurion airport to attend a week of solidarity actions in the West Bank.

By Monday, the video had appeared on countless news websites and the story was running in papers round the world. The prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the president, Shimon Peres, and the military's chief of staff, Benny Gantz, all made statements saying Eisner's actions were unacceptable and in breach of Israeli military standards of conduct.

On Wednesday, Eisner was dismissed from his post for two years although he has been allowed to remain in the army.

"The incident that took place in the Jordan river valley is extremely serious and in absolute contradiction with [IDF] ethics," an army spokesman said. "There are different bodies, some of them anarchists and belligerent war instigators, disparaging our soldiers to create a buzz in the media, but we must maintain IDF ethics and avoid getting dragged into a provocation."

Eisner told colleagues: "I did not expect this to be the decision. I thought they accepted my version of events and understood it. They showed me the door out. I need to digest the decision and then plan my future."

He said he did not "accept this as a moral failure in any way [but] it could have been a professional mistake to use a weapon in front of the cameras".

Ias is taking legal advice on the possibility of a civil suit against the officer.

After finishing high school in Aarhus, the young Dane worked in factories and hotels to save money for his trip to the West Bank. He arrived in mid-February, and will leave in three weeks when his tourist visa expires. He attended a two-day workshop in Ramallah to learn about his legal rights as an international activist, non-violent protest and Palestinian culture. He did not plan to spend any time in Israel.

"The ISM differs from other international solidarity groups in that we are willing to try to actively oppose the occupation, rather than just monitor it," Ias said. "We will use our bodies to intervene, to challenge. So if we see soldiers trying to grab Palestinians at a demo, we will hold on to them to make the arrest difficult."

But, he added: "I've not been presented with one single incident of ISM members being violent. I've not seen any statements espousing terrorism. The ISM is founded on principles of non-violence."

He said the international community had a duty to intervene when wrong was being done. "The colour of my skin and my nationality gives me great privileges. We have to use that to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians."

The Israeli government rejects the image of the ISM as peace activists. "They parade themselves as a non-violent movement but they refuse to condemn suicide bombings or attacks by Palestinians on innocent civilians," said the government spokesman Mark Regev. "They educate their members in an aggressively anti-Israel position. They never criticise human rights abuses on the Palestinian side."

This, Regev stressed, did not justify the actions of the Israeli soldier.

The incident triggered wide debate in Israel about activism and the power of the camera. B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, has been giving cameras to Palestinians for several years, encouraging them to document the behaviour of Israeli soldiers. The IDF has trained around 100 combat soldiers to use video cameras, partly to identify protesters, partly to counter what they see as activist propaganda, and sometimes to use in internal investigations.

Many commentators have pointed out that the IDF would not have taken action over the incident had it not been filmed and broadcast round the world. But, Ias said, his nationality and skin colour contributed to the attention. "The global media wouldn't care at all if a Palestinian had been hit in the face with a rifle."

 The Guardian

Comments

Be the first commenter

Post a comment