Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya (R) holds a press conference over the precautions against coronavirus (Covid-19) in Gaza City, Gaza on 14 March 2020
By Dr Adnan Abu Amer
Once the first infections with the coronavirus were announced in the Gaza Strip, Hamas showed intense political engagement by making contacts with several countries to provide aid to the strip. The movement’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, contacted the emir of Qatar, the Turkish president and the Iranian foreign minister, while he called on the king of Saudi Arabia to release Hamas’ detainees in the kingdom’s prisons for fear of contracting the virus.
Immediately after this announcement was made, Haniyeh started working on developing high-level contacts with some of the leaders of the region, requesting humanitarian assistance to Palestinians inside and outside of Gaza.
Haniyeh announced in a press statement the allocation of half a million dollars to support the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon to face the pandemic, then contacted the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to show solidarity with the Iranian people who are suffering from an intense outbreak of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the movement’s leader called on Iran to provide the Palestinian people with the necessary medical materials to confront the spread of the virus.
Later, Haniyeh called for King Salman Bin Abdulaziz to release Hamas detainees, held in the kingdom’s prisons since April 2019, over health concerns following the propagation of the pandemic; though no link has been established between Haniyeh’s request from Saudi Arabia and the detection of two cases of infection with the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip.
Haniyeh confirmed in a statement that the two leaders expressed their willingness to help the Palestinian people to face the spread of the virus, by pumping the necessary funds and resources, even though the content of the two phone conversations was announced from the movement’s part only – i.e. neither the Qatari ruler nor the Turkish president issued official statements about the discussions they had with the Palestinian official.
Hamas spokespersons emphasised that since the detection of the first infections with the virus in Gaza, Hamas has moved to combat the spread of COVID-19 out of a high sense of national responsibility, and the movement’s wide presence in the Palestinian streets. Hamas has helped the government agencies in the Gaza Strip to equip the locations where the infected people will be quarantined, in addition to undertaking the political and diplomatic initiative to communicate with Qatar, Turkey, Iran and Egypt in order to ensure the continuity of bilateral trade movement with Gaza to avoid a food crisis. On the other hand, the movement has also requested from Saudi Arabia to release the Palestinian detainees, including the sick and the elderly, while the PA is falling short of helping Gaza, even with the spread of the pandemic.
Immediately after Hamas started contacting the aforementioned countries, the Qatar News Agency announced that Qatar provided $150 million to support the Gaza Strip to combat the pandemic, over a period of six months, to help alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people. Thus, Haniyeh thanked the emir of Qatar, considering this financial aid as an extension of the long-standing Qatari position toward the Palestinians.
The Qatari ambassador to the Palestinian territories, Mohammed Al-Emadi, who heads the Qatari Committee for Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, also started providing assistance to hundreds of Palestinians in the quarantine centres in the strip, including the distribution of meals, electrical appliances, blankets, pillows and mattresses, as well as securing the necessary quantities of fuel to provide electricity to the centres, in cooperation with the ministries of social development and health in Gaza.
The Hamas-managed ministries in the strip, and not the movement itself, have sought through recent contacts to support the medical capabilities in Gaza, as it has conducted direct coordination with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the PA, especially the ministries of health and social development. Nonetheless, these government bodies, which have established indirect coordination with Israel to receive the necessary requirements to confront the virus, succeeded in providing laboratory testing equipment, sterilisation supplies and medical devices.
By pumping funds to help Gaza confront COVID-19, Qatar has chosen the only available option to cooperate with Hamas, within the limits of what is permitted by Israel and internationally. Since Israel is concerned about the outbreak of the epidemic in Gaza, it will not allow the situation to deteriorate there, and therefore the occupation authorities will facilitate the provision of preventive measures to aid the strip confront the spread of the virus.
While the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip revealed that the medical teams provided 1,420 hosts in the quarantine centres with necessary medical care, the health system in Gaza is struggling amid the shortage of 39 per cent of basic medications, 23 per cent of medical materials, and 60 per cent of laboratory supplies and blood banks, in addition to the severe lack of virus test kits.
Admittedly, Gaza’s Ministry of Health has revealed only several individual cases of the coronavirus so far. However, the increasing number of people in quarantine comes due to fear of being infected through existing cases, whether from the two people who have been examined, or from Palestinian travellers returning from abroad through the Rafah crossing, in the south with Egypt, and the Beit Hanoun (Erez) border crossing.
The promises to help in fighting the coronavirus that the government entities in Gaza received from some countries, have not yet been fulfilled. Government entities are making efforts along with international bodies to purchase the necessary equipment to limit the spread of the pandemic, especially respirators, implantable cardioverter defibrillators and intensive care units.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza has a severe shortage of these materials, and it needs 100 respirators, costing $30,000 each, but the problem is that these devices are decreasing globally due to the high demand for them. As for the PA, it does not coordinate with the ministry, and Gaza did not receive anything from all the aid and grants that the PA received to deal with the pandemic.
Hamas announced that Turkey is prepared to provide Gaza with medical assistance to confront COVID-19, especially the opening of the Turkish-Palestinian Al-Sadaka Hospital in Gaza, which began construction in 2011, and was completed in 2017 but has not yet been opened, with no reason given. However, the Islamic University of Gaza announced hours earlier that it has been allowed to use the hospital in cases of emergency due to the coronavirus. The hospital, with all its capabilities and equipment, will be placed at the disposal of the Ministry of Health in Gaza, as it possesses high-level capabilities and equipment.
The Turkish hospital in Gaza can accommodate two hundred beds, and it consists of several buildings. It is equipped with the latest devices, appropriate medical mattresses and the best equipment for the different types of radiology departments, operating room facilities, intensive care and various other forms of equipment.
Hamas clearly wants to use its foreign relations to provide humanitarian and health assistance to confront the coronavirus in Gaza, especially with its friends Iran, Turkey and Qatar, and to provide financial support for the relief of Palestinians who have been economically affected by the pandemic. Qatar and Turkey responded to Hamas’ humanitarian and health demands to confront COVID-19 in Gaza. As for Iran, Hamas obviously understands its worsening crisis due to the spread of the pandemic in the country.
Regarding its detainees in Saudi prisons, Hamas fears that the coronavirus pandemic will reach them, and it may have wanted to play on the emotional tendencies, influence the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and ask some mediators to convince it to release them.
Later, the leader of the Houthis in Yemen, Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, announced his willingness to release a Saudi captive pilot with four officers and soldiers, in exchange for Hamas detainees. Hamas has issued an important statement on this initiative, and confirmed its follow-up with interest, appreciating the spirit of fraternity and sympathy for the Palestinian people, and supporting its resistance. It also expressed its thanks for this interest and initiative, reiterating its continuous demand to Saudi Arabia of the urgent need to release all Palestinian detainees from the kingdom’s prisons.
The emergence of the coronavirus in Gaza came at a time when Haniyeh was outside of it, which gave Hamas a wide margin to move along with other countries, especially with its efforts to employ its political relations to support the humanitarian and health sectors. The spread of the coronavirus in many countries across the globe is unfavourable to Hamas, because it has problems that distract it from supporting Gaza.
Although the PA opposes Turkish, Iranian and Qatari relations with Hamas, it may turn a blind eye to them, especially at this stage, because these countries may help Gaza, and absolve the PA of its humanitarian and health responsibilities towards the strip which fears the spread of the coronavirus, especially as Hamas accuses the PA of ignoring Gaza.
Israeli occupation blocked Palestinian workers at their workplaces to serve Israeli community. When Palestinian worker admitted to hospital over normal flu, Israeli police kidnapped him and dropped him off Israeli military checkpoint in West Bank
By Motasem A Dalloul
Israeli occupation excludes Palestinians from the safety measures take against the spread of the coronavirus. Israel protected Israeli prisoners and rejected to take same measures for Palestinian prisoners.
The coronavirus Covid-19 has spread around the world, with 615,757 confirmed cases and 28,231 deaths according to an updating dashboard run by the World Health Organisation. The Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said that it is “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity” of the virus.
This severity has pushed many countries to put hostilities aside and work together against the virus. Strict measures have been imposed to curb its spread and protect humanity: large gatherings have been banned; schools and universities have been closed; congregational prayers in places of worship have been suspended; and some countries have even released prisoners.
In Israel, however, the response to the virus has simply emphasised its officially-sanctioned racism. For example, on 20 March, the Times of Israel reported that Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan had decided to release 500 Israeli prisoners into house arrest in an effort to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak in the country’s prisons.
Erdan apparently accepted the recommendation of acting Israel Prison Service chief Asher Vaknin.
Not a single one of the 5,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel — including 180 children, 43 women and 430 detained with neither charge nor trial —is being released, though, not even those with critical health conditions.
According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club (PPC), at least four Palestinian prisoners held by Israel has tested positive for coronavirus. However, the Israeli occupation authorities deny this. The PPC pointed to the restrictions imposed by Israel on reporting news from its prisons, so it is in any case unlikely to make such an admission.
Rights group Addameer noted that the Israel Prison Service has banned visits to Palestinian prisoners by family members and lawyers since the outbreak of the virus instead of providing them with hygiene and cleaning materials essential to curb its spread. No other measures appear to have been implemented to protect the prisoners.
“Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centres constantly suffer from clear medical negligence,” explained Addameer. The situation has not changed since the outbreak of the virus. “Despite the fact that prisons are overcrowded and rooms, cells and sections are small, and lack proper ventilation, the IPS is yet to make clear preventive procedures… The prisons lack sterilisers, cleaning materials, and medications such as antibiotics and necessary nutrition.”
Last Thursday, the Palestinian prisoners threatened to launch a hunger strike if measures to protect them against the virus are not implemented. The occupation authorities did nothing for them, prompting them to begin gradual protest action.
The second evidence of Israel’s inherent racism is the inhumane treatment of a Palestinian worker who was thought by Israelis to have contracted coronavirus when he came down with flu-like symptoms. A video on social media showed him being dumped at Israel’s Sira/Maccabim military checkpoint near the occupied West Bank city of Nablus.
The man spoke to Palestinian and Israeli journalists about the incident. He explained that he had suffered from fever and his condition developed to a normal flu. His employer took him to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, where he was tested for the coronavirus, but before the result was known, police officers arrived, handcuffed him and took him to the checkpoint where he was dumped; he then collapsed.
While the occupation authorities ordered Israeli employees to stay at home, they decided to block thousands of Palestinian workers in their work places regardless of the measures being taken against the spread of the coronavirus. When a Palestinian worker was thought to have contracted the virus, the Israelis dealt with him with neither compassion nor mercy. Such words are not in Israeli vocabulary when it comes to dealing with Palestinians.
Other incidents have occurred over the past few weeks, but these two suffice to illustrate Israeli racism.
To conclude, take note of the words of UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Palestine, Michael Lynk, who voiced his concerns about Israel’s racism when he observed that the official Israeli publications to increase awareness about the disease were issued “exclusively in Hebrew”.
“This serious imbalance is apparently being addressed after protests, but it highlights the importance of ensuring equality of treatment,” stressed Lynk. “The legal duty, anchored in Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, requires that Israel, the occupying power, must ensure that all the necessary preventive means available to it are utilised to ‘combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.’”
Yet again, and to the surprise of nobody, least of all the Palestinians, the Israelis are simply ignoring international laws and conventions. And, as usual, the effects could be deadly for the people of occupied Palestine.
It was around 11 am when people at the Beit Sira checkpoint, near Nablus, began to gather around the 29-year-old Malik Ghanem. Coughing, with fever and unable to stand, the young Palestinian was left there by the occupation police, who had brought him all the way from his workplace in Tel Aviv. “I got very tired, earlier at work” recalls Ghanem, “my Israelí employer refused to take me to the hospital, so I had to pay 400 shekels for an ambulance. After a quick check at the entrance, I was taken by the police to the checkpoint”.
Ghanem was suspected to be infected with COVID-19, so the occupation authorities suspended his work permit. “The occupation police officers told me, as they pushed me away from their vehicle at the checkpoint, that there was no place for me in any quarantine center in Israel”, tells Ghanem, who was later found not to be infected by a coronavirus, but rather having regular flu that augmented his chronic suffering of a liver problem.
The face of a crippled statehood
In the last weeks, Palestine has unusually made it to the media reports as an independent country, but not for the right reasons. In the midst of the world’s attention turned to the spread of coronavirus, Palestine has been identified for the number of infection cases in the Palestinian Authority territories (84 at the moment of writing this article). Palestine has also been reported in various media outlets as having taken strict measures against the pandemic. The director of the local WHO office, Dr. Gerald Rockenschaub, even congratulated the Palestinian government, in a public video, for its performance in facing the spread of the new disease. However, this coverage of Palestine through the coronavirus crisis hides a reality that looks very different.
The Palestinian government has ordered to close shops, suspend all classes and limited movement out of the country through the bridge crossing point to Jordan, the only exit for Palestinians in the West Bank. Eventually, it even decreed a general curfew last Sunday, in all Palestinian cities. The first curfew in all of Palestine’s history not to be imposed by an occupation authority.
However, despite all these measures and all this display of the characteristics of a state in action, the Palestinian government doesn’t have the means to face the crisis independently from the occupation state. Palestine has no control over its own borders, neither it does over movement between its cities and towns, or even over the capacities of its own health system. The Israelí occupation does.
The case of Malk Ghanem sheds light on one of the most obvious aspects of this dependency. Like Ghanbem, over 200.000 Palestinian workers, cross daily to the other of the green line and back. Like him they are all vulnerable to infection and like him, they are completely unprotected and exposed to be left at a checkpoint, without providing necessary care.
Muhannad Mansour, 26 years old, is one of them. Mansour and his mother work at an Israeli restaurant in Western Jerusalem as kitchen staff; “We are paid per hour” he explains, “when we don’t show up, we’re not paid”.
Until last week, Mansour went regularly to his work in Jerusalem. Then, after the coronavirus disease started spreading among Israelis, the occupation authorities limited work permits only to workers under 50 years old. Eventually, the occupation authorities made it compulsory for those who do cross into the 1948 territories to stay and sleep at their workplace. Only then, did Mansour and his mother stop going to work. “We have to take care of my younger siblings and I have another job in Ramallah. Sleeping at work is just not a choice”.
But for many others, it is the only choice. Mansour’s uncle, Jeries Kawaneh, works as a guard in a hotel in East Jerusalem, which is also isolated from the West Bank. He, on the other hand, preferred to stay at work indefinitely. His wife Hunaida says that “his work in Jerusalem is our only source of income. This is why he regularly stays for several days there. The difference now is that we don’t know when he is going to be able to come home”.
Nasser Damaj, spokesperson of the General Union of Palestine’s Workers explains that “there is simply no possible way to examine every single worker”. Damaj clarifies that “the Palestinian authority can not ask the workers not to go to work across the green line, because most of them have no alternative”. In fact, the first Palestinian to die from coronavirus, last Thursday. Was a woman in her fifties who got the virus from her son, who got it while working on the other side of the green line. As Damaj puts it “The structural dependency of the Palestinian economy makes this particular phenomenon inevitable. It is a small reflection of a larger reality; The occupation makes Palestine in general vulnerable and at the mercy of Israelí measures”.
This vulnerability is complemented by the occupation’s segregation regime. For instance, Jeries Kawaneh, who has been sleeping at his workplace, has been examined once by the Israeli health authorities, who have conducted general checkings on workplaces and was found not to be infected. But in case he was infected, he would have suffered the same fate as Malik Ghanem, being left at some checkpoint without any medical care.
This is because Kawaneh and Ghanem, just like all the Palestinian workers inside the green line, are not covered by the Israelí health insurance, unlike Israelí workers. If they are transferred to an Israelí hospital, they would have to pay for their treatment, unless their employer does, which is totally optional.
Damaj highlights that “Israelí workers all contribute with a percentage of their salaries to a health fund, from which Palestinian workers can not benefit”. This makes hiring Palestinians altogether less expensive and less risky. According to Damaj, “A Palestinian worker receives, on average, 30% of what an Israeli worker is paid”. Despite these conditions, for many Palestinian workers, taking the risk of working inside the green line is the only way of making a living for their families. “We fear that some workers would prefer not to report themselves to the Palestinian health authorities, if they feel sick, by fear of losing their jobs across the green line”, points out Nasser Damaj.
In normal times, when a Palestinian in an Israeli working place needs emergency treatment, or when any Palestinian needs advanced medical treatment, unavailable in Palestinian hospitals, the Palestinian health ministry would request a transfer to Israelí hospitals. This means that the occupation army would issue a special passing permit for the patient and the Palestinian health insurance would have to pay the Israeli hospital.
Dr, Nabil Zawahra from the Palestinian health ministry explains that “such transfers are impossible currently because the Israeli health system is focused on facing the coronavirus spread among Israelis, which has exceeded 1900 cases. There is no possible way they will make room for Palestinian patients”.
Dr. Zawahrah points out, however, that for several months, the Palestinian government has been prioritizing to make medical transfers to Jordan and reduce dependency on the Israelí system”. But even in that case, the patient needs approval from the occupation authorities, who control borders, to travel for treatment.
From a wider perspective, Palestinians who live in the West Bank have fewer chances of staying protected from COVID-19 infection, especially if they depend economically on working inside the green line. They have less chances of receiving proper medical care, especially if they show symptoms while being in an Israeli workplace. Finally, if they are properly diagnosed and hospitalized within the Palestinian health system, but their conditions deteriorate to the point they need to be transferred out of Palestine for treatment, they still depend on Israelí permission.
This was the darkest face of the coronavirus crisis in Palestine, until the first nine cases of infection were confirmed, last week, in the Gaza Strip. Now the disease is threatening to expand among 2 million Palestinians, trapped in one of the most densely populated places on earth, with less than 15 hospitals on their disposal, largely lacking medicine and equipment due to the Israeli blockade and not allowed to leave.
These conditions make an eventual scenario of a generalized epidemic simply catastrophic, which has pushed the Palestinian authority to take drastic measures in order to prevent the spread of the virus. In the view of the initial success of these measures in containing the disease, the Israeli government has released 120 million shekels to the Palestinian authority. It is the Palestinian customs money that Israel has retained for months. This highlights even further the Palestinian dependency on the occupying power, which considers the Palestinian authority to have a role of contention, for the sake of maintaining stability. Never allowing it to grow independent enough to provide its citizens with alternatives to the Israelí health services, Israeli jobs and Israeli control in general.
During the early days of Covid-19 lockdowns, a variety of social media posts from Gaza, such as the one above, appeared from the blockaded Gaza Strip. Ranging from satire to “schadenfreude,” as Zainah El-Haroun observes, these dispatches emerged from a population under Israeli-enforced confinement. For years Gazans have lived this way, so the irony is not lost on them that the borders they have fought to open might now contribute to denying entry to the virus.
Referring to the abundance of “black humor,” Dpha al-Sadi, a 28-year-old school teacher, informed Middle East Eye that “almost every Palestinian in Gaza has gone through a life-changing experience during Israel’s military attacks or due to the suffocating life conditions in the Strip,” so it seems “normal” to her that their response would be sardonic.
Are world-wide lockdowns similar at all to that suffered by Gazans for many years? The short answer, as Nada Elia notes, is “no.” While the rest of the world is living with insecurity, “social distancing,” “sheltering in place,” and shortages of necessary goods, there are no accompanying bombs, white phosphorous, or snipers shooting from across a border fence.
What other lessons are to be learned from Palestine and/or the current pandemic crisis? In a recent article, Jonathan Cook lists several takeaways from the virus. Most importantly, Cook declares, we have always been “bound together” in a “miraculous web of life on our planet,” not islands in a stream. Moreover, Cook continues, contrary to popular opinion, Western capitalist societies are not “the most efficient ways of organizing ourselves,” a fallacy “laid bare” by the current crisis.
Yet another Facebook meme, involves a takeoff on crisis hotlines: To all quarantined Israelis who are “restless in isolation. Not sure how to cope” — please call the following hotline to reach “highly- experienced, Gazan enclosure experts”— “1-800-266-KARMA.”
The message here is clear: Due to years of Israeli-imposed suffering, Gazans can weather any storm, including potential confinement inflicted this time by an epidemic. Beware, though, those who enforced the human-imposed isolation, for that crime might backfire in time.
Indeed, there is a certain amount of blowback, karmic justice from various political actions mostly on the part of the United States. For example, Keyvan Shafiei relates that since the outbreak of the pandemic, there have been 14,000 reported coronavirus cases in Iran, leading to a death toll of approximately 900.
The situation is a direct result partly of economically punitive measures, imposed by the U.S. and its allies, that have stymied the flow of basic humanitarian and medical goods into Iran. Because the pandemic is “a crisis without borders,” Shafiei claims, concerned citizens within the United States should lobby Congress to lift the brutal sanctions on Iran and other countries so that innocent people do not pay the price for our country’s politics.
Moreover, as Kathy Kelly explains, as conditions worsen in Iran, Afghans are returning to their country, thereby weakening Afghanistan’s already battered health care and food distribution systems. Not only will Afghans suffer, as they have been doing for decades, but U.S. troops stationed there will also be at risk to themselves and others if they are ordered home.
Cuba, also a target long-time target of U.S. sanctions, appears to be leading the battle against the pandemic. According to Alan Macleod, it has been partnering with China since 2003 to produce an antiviral drug, Interferon Alpha 2b, that boosts the human immune system to fight the disease. Like Palestinians, who are admired for their sumoud (steadfastness) in the face of adversity, Cuba developed its own pharmaceutical industry because of U.S. restrictions.
There is a danger in romanticizing resilience, both in Palestine and in Cuba, because no one should be expected to stay strong without ever breaking down, especially children who are often denied a childhood in this way.
Nevertheless, there is much to be learned from steadfastness that is founded on cooperation rather than the “notion of rugged individualism” that Tess Taylor explains has led Americans to this brink. “We are all linked. There really are no islands. There really are no gates,” Taylor says, a lesson that Americans might (or might not) learn.
While Sol Henrik Bockelie relates that Cuban medical students are conducting door-to-door community screenings for the virus, Americans have been slow to recognize what Taylor calls our “wider fault lines” that were indeed pre-pandemic. “Because we’ve tolerated a mediocre, partial, inefficient and expensive healthcare system,” she explains, “we’ve veered towards an economics that allows some people to stockpile and privatize” their right to services, while others are left without, wondering, for example, what has happened to the toilet paper.
“COVID-19 isn’t an individual problem,” declares members of The Red Nation (TRN), an Indigenous activist group based in New Mexico but spreading throughout the country. “How we respond must be collective, with human dignity and love. We urge people to share both materially and emotionally with those who are more vulnerable. Just as regular people have responded to crises in the past, we must reach deep beyond what capitalism has forced us to become and come together, physically distant but socially united.”
“By building the collective capacity to fight back—and win,” concludes TRN, all will “weather the uncertainty and danger as comrades and relatives” in a shared struggle.
If Covid-19 is but the first wave of novel diseases that climate change has wrought, what lessons can be learned in the aftermath? Listening to colonized people—in Palestine, in the Americas, and around the world—who have been on the front lines for decades provides some answers. “Now is the time for us to organize and build power,” writes TRN:
“In this time of great danger, we need human solidarity — the politics of love, not the politics of hate. We must respond with our hearts and all of our humanity, not just to stop the most catastrophic effects of COVID-19, but to end this inhumane and criminal capitalist system once and for all.”
Is Gaza really “the safest place in the world,” as Tayssir Balbissi shared on Twitter? Because of the blockade, travel difficulties and isolation, it is hard for the coronavirus to cross its boundaries. Those same circumstances, though, in reality, represent a “medieval siege,” writes Nada Elia, that has gone on for 13 years, “with no relief in sight.”
From adversity, Gazans have developed what Ramzy Baroud calls the “essence of being Palestinian,” perhaps illustrated best in the “collective psychology” behind the Great Return March. During the weekly protests, carried on for nearly two years, Baroud attests that “hundreds of thousands of besieged people” took their place as agents of their own future, a stance that will serve them well in these times.
Despite their isolation, Palestinians also understand the value of solidarity beyond their borders. In Bethlehem, where the Coronavirus is most concentrated, Palestinian soldiers raised Italian flags in a show of sympathy with beleaguered Italy reeling under the impact of the virus. Perhaps this is the most important takeaway from the pandemic.
After 9/ 11, America received the sympathy of the world but soon squandered it by invading other countries on the pretext of fighting terror. While the American government turned its country’s suffering into vengeance, other people, no less besieged but who have dealt with adversity more creatively and collectively, are faring better, a takeaway that remains to be seen Americans will ever learn.
When Muhammad al-Amoudi was shot during the Great March of Return protests in April 2018, little did the 27-year-old foresee how it would affect the rest of his life.
But the bone-shattering bullet that traveled through one foot before lodging in the other, also marked the beginning of the unlikeliest of love stories that eventually resulted in the construction worker’s marriage to a young Moroccan woman.
Such developments are unlikely, but not unheard of. Over the past few years despite all the obstacles and hardships, it has become something of a phenomenon for young foreigners to seek out Gaza as their destination and home.
Gaza’s ministry of interior registered more than 3,000 entry permits and other documents for foreign and expatriate visitors in 2019. According to ministry statistics seen by The Electronic Intifada, more than 500 are residency requests, either temporary or longer term, for those settled in Gaza.
These foreigners include people like Mahjouba Qanoun, who was watching the news far away in Casablanca, Morocco, when Muhammad’s injury was caught on camera.
Mahjouba, 26, was an office administrator at a private school when she saw Muhammad being stretchered off a field in Gaza, flashing a victory sign to the cameras.
She has closely followed the news from Palestine since she was 11, she told The Electronic Intifada. Since then, and like many people in Morocco, she had dreamed of visiting.
Social media provided another way for her to keep track of Palestinian news, so when she saw Muhammad wounded on the screen it did not take her long to track him down on Facebook.
At first, she was concerned about his condition, checking regularly with him about his rehabilitation. But soon their conversations became more intimate and feelings began to develop. In November 2018, he proposed. She accepted.
Dreams of Gaza
In March last year, Mahjouba went to Cairo where she presented a letter from the Moroccan foreign ministry affirming her intention to marry in Gaza. This allowed her to travel through Sinai. She and Muhammad were married on 9 March 2019 in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip where they now live.
Palestine is hugely popular in Morocco, where the Palestinian struggle, as it is in so many Arab countries, is seen as a common cause. Moroccans will even tell someone who angrily confronts another to “go liberate Palestine,” according to Mahjouba, as a way to tell them that there are more worthy ways for them to expend their anger.
Still, many of her friends opposed the move, wondering how she would live under occupation and in such difficult conditions. Mahjouba did not worry about the dangers.
“Many think Gaza is a place of fear,” she said. “But there are beautiful mosques, art and science here. These are people who love to live, for their children and for peace.”
Nevertheless, and for all that she has been paying attention, she was caught unaware of some vital matters. She did not realize how separated the Gaza Strip is from the West Bank. She fully expected hardships, but did not realize how sociable Palestinians in Gaza can be in spite of the numerous challenges they face.
She welcomed Gaza’s religious spirit and said the only danger she feels is from Israeli bombings.
Muhammad, who has not been able to work since his injury, is happy but concerned for his new wife.
“She is fearful when she hears the sounds of Israeli bombings. She is experiencing electricity and water shortages for the first time.”
But, he said, she has accepted these conditions and acclimatized well. She has also, he said, helped him as he tries to overcome an injury that kept him at home for six months and is still causing him pain.
Muhammad is awaiting Palestinian Authority financial assistance to have an operation in Egypt.
A life of steadfastness
Mahjouba is not the only woman who traveled from North Africa to live in Gaza. Amina Radi, 26, arrived in mid-October last year to marry Ehab Hamid, 28, a mechanic from Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.
She left her job as a French teacher in a primary school in Bejaia province in northern Algeria after meeting Ehab online at the beginning of 2019. They decided to marry and she agreed to come and live in Gaza for what she already understood, she told The Electronic Intifada, would be “a life of steadfastness.”
Like Mahjouba, Amina has felt a strong connection to Palestine since she was a child. Partly, this connection is religious attachment, she said, referencing the centrality of Palestine in Islam.
And part of the connection is historical. Algeria, which fought off French colonial shackles to secure independence in the early 1960s, has long been a strong supporter of Palestinian rights to freedom and self-determination.
When Amina first set foot in Gaza, she dropped to her knees, kissed the land and cried, she told The Electronic Intifada.
“It was a great feeling.”
Having spent several months there now, she said, the Palestinians of Gaza, with their ability to remain steadfast under the toughest of circumstances, have only grown in her estimation.
“People have adjusted themselves to the simplest and most basic necessities of life. Even as the ambulances hurry and funerals are held during the day, before sunset you will hear the sounds of wedding celebrations.”
Also like Mahjouba, Amina’s family and friends were against her move, mostly fearing for her safety. She tries to assure them, but mostly she is just happy to be in Gaza.
“I tell people every day how close-knit the community in Gaza is and how much people care, for each other and for outsiders like me. People here love me because I am Algerian.”
And she’s not the only one. Amina has two new Algerian friends who both traveled to Gaza last year to marry: Fatima Bou Qalqal, 27, from Msila Province, northern Algeria, and Nawal Bou Abdulkarim, 30, from Algiers, the capital.
They both now live in Gaza City.
From Syria with love
Lina Sbaih’s situation is a little different. Lina, 26, met her Syrian husband in Gaza.
Anas Qaterji came to work in Gaza in 2013 purely because an opportunity presented itself. His family’s restaurant in Aleppo was destroyed during that country’s ongoing conflict and he had managed to escape to Egypt, where he was offered a job at a restaurant in Gaza by someone he met.
The 32-year-old has since worked in several eateries and hotels in Gaza, until he opened his own restaurant in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip three years ago.
The restaurant is called Jar al-Qalaa (The Castle) 2, a reference to his family’s restaurant of the same name.
Anas’ was a journey from fire to fire. Just a year after he arrived in Gaza, Israel launched its 2014 offensive that killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority of them civilians.
Despite this, he said, and the hardships he has to contend with, he loves life in Gaza. This is especially so in the refugee camp where, he said, the sense of community reminds him of Aleppo.
“Gaza is a loving community. I lived in the city and the camp. I found the camp residents are close to the customs and traditions of Aleppo,” he told The Electronic Intifada.
He and Lina married in 2018. They had met in another restaurant where Anas, according to Lina, had “boldly asked” for her address to seek permission from her family to marry.
“It was a strange thing to do, but it turned out to be the most beautiful event in my life,” said Lina, who now is a homemaker. “I’ve found my happiness with him.”
Said Anas: “Here we live with joy whatever the difficulties and even at times of war.”
When we look at the behaviour of Israel’s regime and its supporters, it has some similarities to the cognitive bias what is called the Dunning-Kruger effect after professors David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who did pioneer work on it in 1999 while at the Cornell University.
The Dunning-Kruger effect describes people who perform poorly in a particular subject and are often incapable of recognizing their own limits. Popularized, it’s often given the form “Incompetent people who think themselves competent”.
These subjects think they perform better than they do, they underestimate the capabilities and performance of others, which altogether gives them a sense of false self-confidence, which strengthens their belief in themselves and this leads them to make more mistakes.
This doesn’t mean that the people to whom the Dunning-Kruger effect refers to have low intelligence; their behaviour might be, but they themselves are not, ‘stupid’. Everyone has weaknesses they are incapable of noticing or admitting, and thus taking into account, which causes problems to them and others.
If you think you are doing better than you are, if you think others are doing worse than they are, then you will end up overestimating your own current situation and what you can achieve in future. The seeds of your future failure are sown by your inability to construct a realistic view of your current situation and your own ability to handle it.
DUNNING-KREGER EFFECT AND ISRAEL
We propose that the Dunning-Kreger effect can be applied to look at the behaviour of the leaders of Israel’s regime, which itself might be considered a kind of gestalt, and its supporters.
The current drive to annexation and permanent Apartheid by Israel’s regime shows many symptoms of the Dunning-Kruger effect. All words of warning are pushed aside, whether external or internal, and a vision of permanent 21st century Apartheid is seen as sustainabe and without real challenges.
As Israel has gotten away with war crimes and human rights violations for soon 72 years, all the time protected by shifting superpower backing, this has bred a belief that all the ‘successes’ in ethnic cleansing, occupation and land-theft are down to Israel’s superiority over Palestinians and its other neighbours.
To the Israeli elite and most of its majority population, Israel’s success is not down to super-power backing, 150 billion dollars in aid from the US alone and political protection in international areas by US and other allies, but instead it’s down to Israel just being better in everything because of its own, superior nature. Israel is not only more powerful, but its populace and leaders more intelligent and capable.
This is combined in the Israeli psyche with the idea that past success can only lead to more success, and that failures on the part of Israel’s oppressed victims – with the odds stacked against them – can only lead to more failures and defeat on their part. The past is a map of the future, and all the warning Cassandras can be dismissed.
This, identifying a false pattern or a pattern that can’t be sustained endlessly, is also connected to the Dunning-Kruger effect, strengthening the person’s false belief in their own competence. This mentally locks them into a behaviour which in the end can be self-destructive.
Incompetence backed by overwhelming brutality can seem like success for a long period of time, especially when the incompetent brute will be protected from consequences of (and thus finding out) their own incompetence by powerful backers. In this case, the current iteration of those backers, the Trump administration, is itself a troupe full of persons exemplifying the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Can you now see how Israel’s behaviour brings to mind the people that Dunning-Kruger effect describes? Israel overestimates the stremgth of its own current situation and its ability to sustain the current reality of oppression and segregation, while it underestimates the Palestinians and the possibility of change in the attitudes and behavour of rest of the world.
As a Zionist society Israel has successfully convinced itself that the only thing ever needed is more of the same: Occupation, illegal colony building and segregation.
THE DUSTBIN OF HISTORY
Israel is little different from a sheltered, at best a mediocre progeny of a wealthy, powerful family, whose protective relatives ease his way in the world while obstructing those who stand on his way. He will end up seeing himself as an eminently successful person, who has earned his station thanks to his superiority to those who he has pushed aside.
He will believe that before him awaits only more success, and that nothing, and no one can stand on his way. This sets him apart from the truly competent people who tend to underestimate themselves and overestimate others’ capabilities. As a human being he will look like Donald Trump or Jared Kushner, and as a political entity like Israel.
But what happens when the protective shell around him, constructed by his powerful protectors, fails? What happens when he has to face the challenges unaided, just depending on his own real, and not exaggerated, abilities?
The Dunning-Kruger effect proposes that the more people learn about their real circumstances, the better they eventually are responding to the challenges they face. Israel has been able to avoid this collision with facts, but eventually the moment comes when the Potemkin’s Facades erected with the help of the ‘West’ will fall away.
Then the reality bites in, and the person or state has to rapidly come into terms with the reality around them and adjust to it – or face the dustbin of history. Nothing indicates that Israel is capable of the former.
Israeli soldiers take aim as they lie prone over an earth barrier along the border with the Gaza strip in the kibbutz of Nahal Oz on March 30, 2018, as Palestinians demonstrate on the other side commemorating Land Day
By Gideon Levy
They’re the best of our boys. One is a “musician from a good high school,” another a “boy scout” who majored in theater.” They’re the snipers who have shot thousands of unarmed protesters along the Gaza border fence.
In the Gaza Strip there are 8,000 permanently disabled young men as a result of the snipers’ actions. Some are leg amputees, and the shooters are very proud of that. None of the snipers interviewed for Hilo Glazer’s frightening story in Haaretz (March 6) has any regrets. If they are feeling at all apologetic it’s because they didn’t spill more blood. One was mocked in his battalion with “here comes the killer.” They all act like murderers. If their actions don’t show it – more than 200 dead as a result of them – then their statements prove that these young men have lost their moral compass. They are lost. They will go on to study, to have careers and to raise families – and will never recover from their blindness. They disabled their victims physically, but their own disabilities are more severe. Their souls were completely twisted. They will never again be moral individuals. They are a danger to society. They lost their humanity, if they ever had it, on the shooting berms facing the Gaza Strip. They are the sons of our friends and the friends of our sons, the young people from the apartment across the hall. Look how they talk.
The soldiers’ talk we once knew – the collection of testimonies on the Six-Day War published in English as “The Seventh Day” – turned into the talk of butchers. Perhaps that’s for the best – we have spared ourselves some hypocrisy – but it’s hard not to be shocked at the depths to which we have sunk. They recalled the number of knees they shot. “I brought in seven-eight knees in one day. Within a few hours, I almost broke his record.” “He got around 28 knees.” They shot at unarmed young men and women who were trying in vain to struggle for their freedom, an issue that couldn’t be more just. “The regular scenario is supposed to be that you hit, break a bone – in the best case, break the kneecap – within a minute an ambulance comes to evacuate him, and after a week he gets a disability pension.”
Not enough for you? “The objective is to cause the inciter minimal damage, so he will stop doing what he’s doing. So I, at least, would try to aim at a fattier place, in the muscle region.” Still not enough? “If you mistakenly hit the main artery of the thigh instead of the ankle, then either you intended to make a mistake or you shouldn’t be a sniper. There are snipers, not many, who ‘choose’ to make mistakes.”
They knew who they were facing. They don’t even refer to their victims as “terrorists,” only “inciters.” One compared them to members of a youth movement.
“Even if you don’t know their precise ‘ranks,’ you can tell by the charisma who the group leader is.”
They chose their victims by their charisma, with a sniper’s precision. Their “leadership aura” has destined young men to a life of disability in the cage that is Gaza. But that was not enough. They become bloodthirsty as only young incited people can be. They wanted more blood, not just blood, a child’s blood. Not just a child’s blood, but in front of his family.
As a Palestinian Christian living and serving on both sides of the Separation Wall, I live with the people on the ground. Being a native of Jerusalem has given me the advantage of understanding how Jerusalem residents think, and serving in the West Bank for many years has given me an understanding how West Bankers think. On both sides of the wall, sadly, Palestinians continue to drown in an atmosphere of uncertainty, unfulfilled promises and crushed hopes.
Deal after deal and agreement after agreement has made our people dull and suspicious of anything that is proposed. If we look back at the former peace treaties and proposed partition plans, the losers have always been the Palestinians. We have never gained from any of these plans, only lost more. For example, the partition plan under the United Nations shrunk the Palestinian portion of land to about 43% of our homeland, though the number of Arabs at the time was almost twice that of Jews. In succeeding wars and peace accords, we lost even more land, resources and rights. Through the years that followed, we were given proposals such as Oslo and Camp David, both of which—from our perspective—required greater compromise on our part without making equal requirements from the Israelis. We feel that international peace plans have generally always been biased towards Israel, but none moreso than the latest plan from the White House.
Now, we have been offered a deal from the Trump Administration which the president calls “The Deal of the Century.” This plan is basically asking for another huge compromise from the Palestinians; allowing Israel to annex about 30% of the West Bank (which is in itself only 22% of our original homeland) and pushing us increasingly into the margins. Trump’s plan cuts all throughout the Palestinian territories, making it look like Swiss cheese—with the disconnected “holes in the cheese” being Palestine. The non-contiguous land will be connected by tunnels and “safe roads” which will be controlled mainly by Israel. It is a future of more checkpoints and closures, our freedom micromanaged by another people.
I am sure that aspects of the “peace plan” are more complex than what I have mentioned so far. I am also willing to acknowledge that from some points of view the plan might offer a few positive things for the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, a few economic proposals do not to do much to alleviate the larger loss, subjugation and humiliation that this plan imposes upon us.
Taken as a whole, the plan reminds me of a verse uttered through the prophet Micah:
“Woe to those who scheme iniquity, who work out evil on their beds! When morning comes, they do it, for it is in the power of their hands. They covet fields and then seize them, and houses, and take them away. They rob a man and his house, a man and his inheritance” (Micah 2:1-2).
Having a plan without the involvement of the people who have lived in the land for centuries is not a plan at all — it’s a setup. It is an ironic plan that was disrespectfully imposed on us without even asking us of our own opinions.
My friends, when President Trump announced the plan were there any Palestinian leaders with him on stage? Did he make a statement that this is what the Israelis and the Palestinian leaders have agreed upon? No! To us, this plan was nothing more than a scheme cooked up by two leaders who are facing their own political pressures: one with a trial over corruption and another who wants to make a business deal.
We are concerned that this matter will continue to deteriorate the already-precarious situation here. Among other things, it will inflict a greater sense of hopelessness upon our people. And unless something changes, it will continue to facilitate the depletion of Christian citizens from Palestine.
Many people may not know this, but most of the lands that were confiscated around the Bethlehem Governate—which includes three major Palestinian cities, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala—have a majority of Palestinian Christians living in them. This so-called “peace plan” will increase the loss of these Palestinian Christian lands. How can it be expected of us that we would agree to a plan that will only inflict pain, loss and suffering on our own people? Under these circumstances, incentive for younger Palestinian Christians to remain here continues to decrease.
In conclusion, the whole situation requires prayer. Here are a few points:
Pray for the peace of God to come upon the Palestinian people in a new way, since clearly no man is able to deliver that.
Pray that there will be an international intervention that will halt all of these absurd plans that are being projected upon us.
Pray for the Palestinian church not to lose hope; but rather the opposite. Pray that we will become a beacon of hope for our people.
Pray for the leaders of Israel and Palestine to find a way to come together with mutual respect and create our own peace agreement.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds a press conference on Trump’s so called peace plan in Ramallah, West Bank on 28 January 2020
By Asa Winstanley
Some of Israel’s most successful strategies are simply its intransigence and extremism.
Even those of us opposed to Israeli war crimes – apartheid and occupation – should be honest enough to recognise the strengths of the enemy. It is only by knowing your enemy that you can work to defeat it.
Refusing to take “yes” for an answer has been vital in the survival of the Zionist movement.
Every time I see Israeli officials and propagandists condemn the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a dictatorship, I think of this. The PA does almost everything within its power to help and protect the Israeli state, and yet it is never enough for the occupation. Israel refuses the take the PA’s “yes” for an answer.
“When will you stop pushing for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes?” “Yes, we will,” answers the PA, in the person of the corrupt puppet, Mahmoud Abbas. The long-expired president of the PA, some years ago, announced that he would relinquish his right to return to his home in what is now present-day Israel.
In 1948, when he was a young boy, Abbas and his family were forced out of their home in the Palestinian city of Safed. This was part of the “Nakba”, the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias.
But, in 2012, Abbas stated that he should only be able to “visit” Safed, and not to live there.
It was a shocking statement to many Palestinians, but nothing really new for Israel’s collaborationist PA. The right of return of all refugees to return to their homes after a war is inalienable, and enshrined in international law. No matter what Abbas’s individual desires are, Palestinian refugees have the right to return.
Yet, as usual, Israel determinedly and stubbornly refused to take Abbas’s “yes” for an answer. The attempted relinquishment of the right of return by Abbas was not enough. Israel insisted on complete and total surrender, demanding a return to “negotiations” before they would even allow Abbas to visit his home town.
As a more recent Israeli election poster put it: “Peace is only made with defeated enemies.” The billboard featured Abbas on his knees wearing a blindfold.
Israel has correctly recognised that Abbas’s abrogation of his right to return is all but useless, as long as the Palestinian people as a whole continue their century-long refusal to accept that they are a defeated people, and their 72-year-long demand for the right to return to their homes in Palestine.
Internationally, too, Israel in its propaganda, black-ops, lobbying and diplomacy, continuously refuses to accept “yes” for an answer.
The sad state of affairs in the Labour Party since 2015, demonstrates this more than ever.
While he was leader, Jeremy Corbyn very timidly encouraged moves towards a minor shift in Labour Party policy towards something approximating solidarity with the Palestinian people. Thanks more to the Labour grassroots, and to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Labour’s manifesto last year did include a commitment to stop allowing British arms to go to Israel.
Attempting to get them off his back, Corbyn relented time and time again, making more and more concessions. Good left-wing comrades were thrown under the bus – investigated, suspended, disciplined and expelled.
A totally bogus, pro-Israel mis-definition of anti-Semitism (the IHRA’s so-called working definition, which defends Israel even while failing to protect Jews) was imposed on the Labour Party in 2018.
John McDonnell claimed at the time that it would draw a line under the years of smears. Everyone knew he was wrong, but far too many people complied regardless – reluctantly or otherwise.
Every time another concession was made by the leadership, members were told it was this that would finally bring an end to the issue of the smears.
By the end, Corbyn himself seemed changed. It was a very sorry state of affairs. He gave up so much, but won nothing – he was relentlessly and mercilessly smeared as an anti-Semite, regardless of how many times he condemned anti-Semitism, or lied that Labour had a major “problem” with anti-Semitism.
In the end, this was a major factor in his electoral defeat.
Throughout it all, Israel and its British propagandists doggedly refused to accept “yes” for an answer. No matter how many times Corbyn backed down, it was never enough. In fact, each and every concession and apology was pocketed and waved around as if it were proof of the “problem”.
And then, they would demand more and more and more.
From Israel’s perspective, this is the correct position to take.
The left should learn from the enemy and start refusing to back down – to start fighting back. It is only when you stop running, that they will stop chasing you.
I know exactly how many knees I’ve hit, says Eden, who completed his service in the Israel Defense Forces as a sniper in its Golani infantry brigade six months ago. For much of the time, he was stationed along the border with the Gaza Strip. His assignment: to repulse Palestinian demonstrators who approached the fence.
“I kept the casing of every round I fired,” he says. “I have them in my room. So I don’t have to make an estimate – I know: 52 definite hits.”
But there are also “non-definite” hits, right?
“There were incidents when the bullet didn’t stop and also hit the knee of someone behind [the one I aimed at]. Those are mistakes that happen.”
Is 52 a lot?
“I haven’t really thought about it. It’s not hundreds of liquidations like in the movie ‘American Sniper’: We’re talking about knees. I’m not making light of it, I shot a human being, but still …”
Where do you stand in comparison to others who served in your battalion?
“From the point of view of hits, I have the most. In my battalion they would say: ‘Look, here comes the killer.’ When I came back from the field, they would ask, ‘Well, how many today?’ You have to understand that before we showed up, knees were the hardest thing to rack up. There was a story about one sniper who had 11 knees all told, and people thought no on could outdo him. And then I brought in seven-eight knees in one day. Within a few hours, I almost broke his record.”
Seeing is believing
The mass demonstrations on Israel’s border with the Strip border began on Land Day, in March 2018, and continued on a weekly basis until this past January. These ongoing confrontations, in protest of Israel’s siege of Gaza, exacted the lives of 215 demonstrators, while 7,996 were wounded by live ammunition, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Despite the large number of casualties, the grim protests and responses along the fence continued unabated for nearly two years, until it was decided to reduce the frequency to once a month. Yet even in real time, the violent Friday afternoon ritual provoked little public interest in Israel. Similarly, the international condemnations – from allegations of the use of disproportionate force to accusations that Israel was perpetrating massacres – faded like so much froth on the waves.
Shedding light on this very recent slice of history entails talking to snipers: After all, they were the dominant and most significant force in suppressing the demonstrations at the fence. Their targets ranged from young Palestinians who were trying to infiltrate into Israel or who threw Molotov cocktails at soldiers, to prominent, unarmed protesters who were considered to be major inciters. Both categories drew the same response: live ammunition fired at the legs.
Of the dozens of snipers that we approached, six (all of them discharged from the IDF) agreed to be interviewed and to describe what reality looks like through their gun sights. Five are from infantry brigades – two each from Golani and Givati, one from Kfir – plus one from the Duvdevan counter-terrorism unit. The names of all of them have been changed. They are not out to “break the silence” or to atone for their deeds, only to relate what happened from their point of view. In Eden’s case, even the fact that he also killed a protester by mistake doesn’t rattle him. “I believe I was on the right side and that I did the right thing,” he insists, “because if not for us, the terrorists would try to cross the fence. It’s obvious to you that there is a reason that you’re there.”
Eden says he broke the “knee record” in the demonstration that took place on the day the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was inaugurated, on May 14, 2018. He did it jointly: Snipers usually work in pairs – together with a locator, who is also a sniper by training, and whose task is to give his partner precise data (distance from the target, wind direction, etc.).
Eden: “On that day, our pair had the largest number of hits, 42 in all. My locator wasn’t supposed to shoot, but I gave him a break, because we were getting close to the end of our stint, and he didn’t have knees. In the end you want to leave with the feeling that you did something, that you weren’t a sniper during exercises only. So, after I had a few hits, I suggested to him that we switch. He got around 28 knees there, I’d say.”
Eden clearly recalls his first knee. His target was a demonstrator standing on coils of concertina wire about 20 meters away. “In that period [early during the protests], you were allowed to shoot a major inciter only if he was standing still,” he says. “That means, even if he was walking around calmly, shooting was prohibited, so we wouldn’t miss and waste ammunition. In any event, that inciter is on the barbed wire, I’m with the weapon right at the fence, and there’s still no authorization to open fire. At one stage he stands opposite me, looks at me, provokes me, gives me a look of ‘Let’s see you try.’ Then the authorization comes. Standing above me is the battalion commander, to my left is his deputy, to the right the company commander – soldiers all around me, the whole world and their wife are watching me in my first go. Very stressful. I remember the view of the knee in the crosshairs, bursting open.”
“Roy,” who served as a sniper in the Givati Brigade until his discharge a year and a half ago, says the hit he remembers most vividly is the one that drew the largest audience. “There was pressure, because the battalion commander had showed up, and everyone was on our case. There was a Palestinian who looked like he was about 20, who didn’t stop moving around. Pink shirt, gray pants. What they do is run-run-run, and then end up in the concertina wire. He was really good at it. In that situation you can finish him off or hit someone behind him. I clearly remember being worried about missing his leg – and then feeling relief that I made a precise hit.”
Relief is also how Itay, a former Haredi who was a sniper in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion (the ultra-Orthodox equivalent of the Nahal brigade). “I saw a guy who was about to light a Molotov cocktail. In a case like that you don’t do calculations. I got on the radio, described the target and got an ‘authorized.’ The pressure is insane. Everything you learned and trained for is distilled into that moment. You get yourself together, remind yourself to breathe and then, boom. I shot at the knee and he fell. I made sure everything was all right – that I hit the right place.”
Is that sort of confirmation part of the protocol?
Itay: “The directive is to keep watching after shooting to see whether the goal was achieved. You only report a hit after an additional look. To look afterward is the easy part, or more correctly, it’s the part that brings relief. Because in this specific case, the terrorist was less than 100 meters from my buddies, and it could have ended badly.”
And after you look a second time and you see the actual wound, is it still easy?
“You are not meant to see massive bleeding, because in the region of the knee and bones there aren’t a lot of capillaries. If you see blood, that’s not a good sign, because you probably hit too high. The regular scenario is supposed to be that you hit, break a bone – in the best case, break the kneecap – within a minute an ambulance comes to evacuate him, and after a week he gets a disability pension.”
But Shlomi, a sniper from Duvdevan, says hitting the kneecap is also not desirable: “The objective is to cause the inciter minimal damage, so he will stop doing what he’s doing. So I, at least, would try to aim at a fattier place, in the muscle region.”
Can you be that precise?
Shomi: “Yes, because the Ruger [a type of rifle used mainly at demonstrations] is intended for use at 100, 150 meters. From that distance, you see the leg even with the eye, and with a telescopic lens that enlarges to the power of 10, you can actually see the tendons.”
Guys with megaphones
Who is considered a major inciter at these demonstrations? The criteria are quite vague. “A major inciter is a major inciter,” Amir asserts simply. The commander of a Golani sniper squad who saw action during the first wave of disturbances along the fence, he explains that “it’s not so complicated to figure out who’s organizing and firing up [the other protesters]. You identify him, for example, by the fact that he has his back to you and is facing the crowd. In many cases, he’s also holding a megaphone.”
Itay’s impression is that “major inciters are, for example, people who stand around in the back, arranging things. They are not necessarily a target, but to let them know that we see what they’re doing, I would shoot in the air around them. You know, the one who arms others is not a concrete threat to me, at least not directly, but he makes things happen. So to hit him is a problem, but also not to hit him is a problem. That’s why the moment he gets tired of activating others and starts to take an active part in the chaos, he’ll be the first one we hit, because he’s the most important in terms of the group around him. He’s the key to stopping the flare-up.”
He adds, “You don’t hit those who whip up the crowd because of what they’re doing. It doesn’t come from an emotional place of ‘He’s the one who’s causing the uprising, so let’s take him down.’ This isn’t a war, it’s a Friday afternoon D.O. [disruption of order]. The goal is not to take down as many as possible, but to make this thing stop as quickly as possible.”
According to IDF protocol, a minor is not to be classified as a major inciter. According to Eden, “There are borderline ages, and so you don’t go there.”
Is it really possible to tell the difference between a lean man and a well-built teenager, in the heat of a demonstration? “You try to understand according to their body language,” Amir says. “The way he holds the stone, whether it looks like he’s been dragged into the situation or is leading it. These demonstrations are a little like a youth movement, from their point of view. Even if you don’t know their precise ‘ranks,’ you can tell by the charisma who the group leader is.”
Roy maintains that, “in 99.9 percent of the cases, the identification is precise. There are a lot of images of the target, and a lot of crosshairs focused on it. A drone above, lookouts, the sniper, his commanders. It’s not just one, two or even three people who are watching him, so there will be no doubt.”
Shlomi is a little less certain: “Sometimes it really is hard to tell the difference [between minors and adults]. You look at facial features, height, body mass. Clothing is also a certain index. The younger ones are usually wearing T-shirts. But listen, a 16-year-old can cause you harm, too. If he presents a threat, the age parameter is not necessarily relevant.”
Itay agrees: “The goal is not to hit minors, but a Molotov cocktail is a Molotov cocktail, and the bottle doesn’t know whether the person holding it is a man of 20, a teenager of 14 or a kid of 8.”
Amir recalls experiencing a similar dilemma. “For example, there was a boy whose behavior justified a hit, but we estimated that he was 12 and we deliberately didn’t hit him – not only because of how it would look in the media, but because of our own substantive considerations. We decided we would really scare him and we hit the person next to him. It was not urgent for us. He’ll be here the next week, too.”
No ‘shooting and crying’
It’s been 53 years since publication of “The Seventh Day,” a collection of testimonies from soldiers who came from kibbutzim that gave expression to their emotional distress after seeing combat in the Six-Day War. It is a seminal text in the way it depicts Israel as a society of people who “shoot and cry.” More than half a century later, the lament of soldiers returning from the battlefield is still being heard, but at least according to the voices quoted here, their ideological and moral foundations have turned inside out. The soul-searching over the cost in blood has been replaced by criticism of the army’s weakness and the feeling that it is shackling its fighters.
“I’ve seen inciters who got across the fence and I couldn’t do a thing,” Roy says. “They would jump over it and provoke us, and then go back. Of course, you don’t get authorization to shoot them. Why? Because, once they are within Israel proper, they’re not considered hostile if they’re not holding a knife or a rifle. The restraints on us are shameful. You have to understand: Even if there’s a 20-year-old across from me who’s inciting others and setting tires on fire, I only have a second to hit him, otherwise he’ll disappear. But the moment he’s in my sights, I must first inform the company commander, who informs the battalion commander, who speaks to the brigade commander, who speaks with the division commander. There were some ridiculous cases. During that time, the target has already moved or gone into hiding.”
Amir depicts the chain of command in this way: “For every sniper there was a commander at a junior level [a non-com], like me, and also a senior commander – a company commander or a deputy company commander. The superior officer would request authorization to fire from the sector’s brigade commander. He would get on the radio to him and ask: ‘Can I add another knee for this afternoon?’”
The impression gleaned by Daniel, a lone soldier who immigrated from the United States and served in the Givati Brigade, is that the procedures were more flexible than that. “Like everything in the IDF, it wasn’t completely clear, at least not in my time. But in general, you had to request authorization for shooting from your superior officer and he requested authorization from the company commander or the battalion commander. If it worked like it’s supposed to, it could take less than 10 seconds. The commanders were not particularly stingy with shooting authorizations. They would trust you when you said you had identified a justifiable target.”
According to Eden, the threads of the command chain have loosened over time. “If you look back at the first demonstrations, four or five years ago, before the wave of the past two years, you’ll find that it was very hard to get authorization. Back then they said that every knee was a really big deal. In the period when the protests really heated up, it became easier to get a green light. In my time it came from the level of battalion commander or company commander, depending on the situation.”
Did the requirement to get authorization for every sniper shot from the brigade commander have an impact on the number of Palestinian casualties? The data indicate that the number of those killed fell sharply only after the transition to the Ruger, about a year after the weekly disturbances erupted. The Ruger is considered less lethal than other rifles. Eden, a veteran of the Gaza sector, says he used M24 and Barak (HTR-2000) rifles: “With the Barak, if you shoot someone in the knee, you don’t incapacitate him – you detach his leg. He could die from loss of blood.”
Last July, after 16 months of confrontations at the Gaza fence, the IDF revised its guidelines for snipers in an attempt to reduce the number of fatalities. One senior officer explained the changes in a report by the Kan Broadcasting Corporation’s military correspondent, Carmela Menashe: “At first we told them to shoot at the leg. We saw that you could be killed like that, so we told them to shoot below the knee. Afterward, we made the order more precise and instructed them to shoot at the ankle.”
Eden confirms this. “There was a stage when the order really was to aim at the ankle,” he notes. “I didn’t like that change. Believe in your snipers. To me it felt like they were trying to make our life harder for no reason.”
Eden: “Because it’s clear that the surface of the body between the knee and the sole of the foot is much larger than that of the ankle and the sole. It’s the difference between grabbing 40 centimeters [16 inches] and grabbing 10 centimeters.”
Roy, who completed his service before the instructions were updated, says he usually aimed lower in any case. “During my time you were allowed to shoot anywhere from the knee down, but I aimed at the ankle, so as not to hit higher, God forbid, or all hell would break loose. I preferred it that way. I didn’t have pity on the inciters, but that I knew I wouldn’t be backed up by the army. I didn’t want to be a second Elor Azaria [the so-called Hebron shooter, who served a jail term after being convicted of killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant]. I gave less thought to the target and more to myself and my family, so they wouldn’t have to go through the same thing Elor’s family did.”
Amir adds: “If you mistakenly hit the main artery of the thigh instead of the ankle, then either you intended to make a mistake or you shouldn’t be a sniper. There are snipers, not many, who ‘choose’ to make mistakes [and aim higher]. Still, the numbers aren’t high. [In comparison,] there are days when you collect 40 knees in the whole sector. Those are the proportions.”
In Amir’s view, the discussion over where to shoot – thigh, knee or ankle – misses the point. “Let me tell you a story. One day there was a big to-do, real chaos. A soldier of mine wanted to take down a major inciter who met all the criteria. He requested authorization, but the company commander refused, because the guy was too close to an ambulance. The slightest deviation, even if he had just hit the headlight, and there would have been a media report that the IDF shot at an ambulance. My soldier heard the refusal, but fired anyway. He hit the ankle, like you’re supposed to, a precision shot, surgical. So on the one hand he violated an order, but on the other hand he fulfilled his mission.” (The soldier was later disciplined and assigned to menial labor.)
And you understand his thinking?
Amir: “Obviously. For a soldier like that, that shot is his meaning, his self-definition. These are kids of 18, mostly from a pretty poor socioeconomic background. The fact that you put them through a sniper’s course doesn’t mean you turned them into mature, sensible people. On the contrary, you turned them into a machine, you made them think small, you reduced their possibilities of choice, diminished their humanity and their personality. The moment you turn someone into a sniper – that is his essence. So now you want to take that away from him, too? This might sound radical, because I’m a commander, but there’s a place inside me that says, ‘Hey, you disappointed me, true, but you came out a man, you proved that the function [of sniper] works.’”
Amir, who majored in theater in high school and calls himself a “boy scout from the north,” describes another case of deviating from the rules that occurred in his company.
“Even when there is no demonstration and everything seems calm, they rush you to the fence with the patrol when shepherds approach it. You have to understand, these are not innocent shepherds, they work for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in order to drive you crazy. They cross the line to get a response from you. Will you take a vehicle and go threaten him? By the time you get there he’s gone. Will you shoot into the air? He couldn’t care less. And because of that nonsense you don’t sleep and a whole company becomes the shepherd’s puppets,” Amir says.
“One day, one of the noncoms said to me, ‘Enough, we can’t go on like this, let’s take down one of his sheep, it’s worth a few thousand.’ Think about what leads a soldier, a musician from a good high school, the last kind of guy you’d say is out for blood, to get on the radio with the lookout and say, ‘Do you see a sheep, to the north? You’re going to see it fall.’ After that, the shepherd didn’t return. What’s the conclusion? The deterrence worked.”
Amir says that those two incidents must be understood in light of the nature of his battalion’s activity on the Gaza border. “Even before the demonstrations started, we were in an ambush that lasted two months straight,” he relates. “We observed a squad that managed to improvise a bomb and stick it on the fence. There was some sort of defect with it, the device didn’t explode, and we had intelligence that they were coming to pick it up. But it went on and on. Every day they approach it, and even when the squad leader was standing right above the bomb, we didn’t have authorization to shoot. Why? Only because of the media sensitivity. As long as he wasn’t actually holding the device, it was impossible to prove beyond a doubt that he had anything to do with it – so then go figure what kind of narrative Hamas will build around that. Think how frustrating that is for the soldiers. We lay there in the rain for two months and did nothing.”
And the frustration justifies rebelling under other circumstances?
Amir: “No, but that case illustrates the paradox of the rules of engagement. A terrorist who deserves to die is standing opposite me, but because we have to justify ourselves to Haaretz or to the BBC, he gets out of it without a scratch. Cowardice is created that trickles down. So instead you go and take out knees in demonstrations. Not only does that not have an effect, these people also don’t deserve to lose their knees. I really identify with what [former IDF Chief of Staff] Ehud Barak once said – that if he were a Palestinian he would have become a terrorist. It only resonated for me when I was in the territories. You look at small kids crying when you pummel their father, and you say to yourself: Hey, I wouldn’t expect anything else from them.”
Are there snipers who have found it difficult to get on with their life after their discharge? Tuly Flint, a mental health officer in the reserves and a clinical social worker who specializes in trauma, has treated snipers who took part in curbing demonstrations in Gaza during the past two years. Snipers, he says, manifest singular characteristics when it comes to post-traumatic stress.
“If I am one of 30 soldiers who is in the area and fires a volley, I don’t necessarily know that I did the killing,” he says, whereas the sniper knows when he’s hit his target. “The second trait derives from the fact that the sniper is required not to turn his gaze. Through the telescopic lens, he sees the person he’s shooting and the impact of the hit, and that can fixate the picture in his memory.”
Flint describes a sniper from an elite unit who aimed at a demonstrator’s knee but hit too high, and the demonstrator died from loss of blood. “That soldier, a sniper who was very dedicated to his mission, describes watching the demonstrator bleed to death. He can’t forget the man’s screaming not to be left alone. He also remembers vividly the evacuation [of the body], and the women who wept over him. From then on, that’s all he thinks about and all he dreams about. He says, ‘I wasn’t sent to defend the state, I was sent to murder.’ Thoughts of the girlfriend of the person he killed also continue haunting him. The result is that he breaks off with his own girlfriend of two years. ‘I don’t deserve to have one,’ he says.”
Daniel has sharp memories of his buddies after they made an exact hit. “People look sick or shocked. The meaning of it doesn’t hit home at that instant. A second ago I shot someone, and a minute later, I’m eating matza with chocolate? What the hell is going on here?”
He adds: “There are awful, dreadful stories about soldiers who aimed at a demonstrator and hit someone else. I know someone who took aim at one of the leaders of a demonstration, who was standing on a box and urging the people to keep marching ahead. The soldier aimed at his leg, but at the last moment the man moved and the bullet missed him. Instead, he hit a little girl, who was killed on the spot. That soldier is a wreck today. He is being watched 24/7, so he won’t commit suicide.”
Snipers burdened with experiences like that are the minority. For his part, Amir says the kind of feelings most snipers have are completely different, reminiscent of the world of sports. “The arena of the disturbances is like a sports arena, a situation you can sell tickets for,” he says. “Group versus group, with a line down the middle and an audience of fans on both sides. You can totally tell a story of a sports encounter here.”
On the front line, he continues, “are the inciters: They mark the starting line from which people burst out in sprints, alone or in groups. Everything is coordinated and planned in advance. There are these pits in the terrain [for hiding], and this lets them play with us. They can run 100 meters without my being able to take off their foot. They are also skilled at zigzagging. Two of them pop up, they hide, one throws a stone so the other one can move forward. They use diversionary tactics on you. It’s a kind of game, you know.”
What is the purpose of the game?
Amir: “To get points. If they succeeded in putting the flag on the fence, that’s worth a point. A booby-trapped flag is a point. Throwing back a smoke grenade is a point. Even just touching the wall, I mean the fence, is a point. There’s a battle going on here, but it’s not certain when it will be decided, no one has a clue how you win the cup, but in the meantime both sides continue to play the game.”
A game for the record. The forces aren’t exactly equally matched.
“True. And we’re not even using a quarter of the force we could wield.”
In other words, we could beat them by a knockout, but we prefer to win on points?
“We’re not even winning on points. After some time there, in a debriefing, I said: ‘Let me just once take down a kid of 16, even 14, but not with a bullet in the leg – let me blow his head open in front of his whole family and his whole village. Let him spurt blood. And then maybe for a month I won’t have to take off another 20 knees.’ That is shocking mathematics on the brink of the unimaginable – but when you don’t use your capabilities it’s not clear what you’re trying to do there. You ask me what my mission was? Walla, it’s hard for me answer you. What was considered a success from my point of view? Even the number of knees I took out wasn’t dependent on me, it derived from the number of ‘ducks’ that chose to cross the line.”
But to kill a kid at random? Do you really think that’s the solution?
“Obviously, we shouldn’t liquidate kids. I was saying that to make a point: that if you kill one you might be sparing 20 others. If you were to take me back to that two-month stakeout and let me act, I would have taken down that son of a bitch who was standing above the bomb, even if it meant that he would come to me in my dreams afterward. The reality today, that there are five to 10 people who will be invalids their entire lives, to whom my name is connected somehow, is also shit. And not only in the sense that it is or is not weighing on my heart. Think about it: There’s a whole generation of children there who won’t be able to play soccer.”
It seems that the presence of children at demonstrations stirs the most powerful emotional response among the snipers.
“One day there was a girl, I think she was probably 7, who was holding a Hamas flag and she just ran toward us,” Shlomi from Duvdevan says. “I made sure through the lens that there was nothing suspicious on her, that her blouse wasn’t sticking out, that there was no sign of wires or bombs, and we shouted to deter her. Fortunately, she got scared and ran away. It was clear to me that I wouldn’t shoot even if she had crossed the line, but I remember thinking: I really hope she doesn’t keep going.”
Daniel: “From the guard post, you observe a Hamasnik, his face is opposite you, and you think to yourself: I really hope he does something, so I can shoot him. But with demonstrators, the picture gets complicated, because lots of them are only teenagers. They’re thin, they’re small, you don’t feel threatened by them. You need to remind yourself that what they’re doing is dangerous.”
Like some of the other interviewees, Daniel emphasizes the soldiers’ anger at the parents. “A mother who brings her child to a demonstration like that is a terrible mother,” he says.
Amir says he can understand the children: “They make a living from it, and I don’t have to tell you how bad the economic situation is in Gaza. But their parents I don’t understand. What are you dragging him there for? Send them to sneak [into Israel] secretly and work in construction, topple the Hamas government, whatever, just not this.”
Roy, who identifies himself as right-wing, agrees that “it’s not them we need to be fighting, but Hamas, the terrorists, the ones who organize the buses to bring people and toss them a few dollars so they’ll burn tires. I pity them [the children], they really are unfortunate. They remind me of the kids in the neighborhood who play with firecrackers. I was like those kids, too, so in that sense I identify with them.”
But while expressing objections to wholesale shooting, Itay, from Netzah Yehudah, still thinks that the number of Palestinians wounded by live fire at the border over almost two years actually demonstrates that the soldiers were not trigger-happy. “Every Friday there are thousands of demonstrators,” he notes, “and if you multiply that number by 52 and then double it, you’ll get to hundreds of thousands of people. Out of them, 8,000 is a tiny fraction.”
He adds, however, that “the power you have when someone comes into your sights, the knowledge that it depends on you whether he will be able to walk or not, is frightening. From my perspective, it is not intoxicating power. I don’t like it, but it’s impossible to ignore it. It’s there all the time. After my discharge, I realized that it’s something I didn’t want to feel anymore. So I went right into university straight off and not into some security job that I could have landed because of my combat background.”
‘It’s your destiny’
Not everyone succeeds in restraining his feeling of intoxication. A video clip that circulated in 2018 showed a Palestinian approaching the fence and being shot by a sniper, as the soldiers celebrated the direct hit with shouts of “Right on!” and “What a fab clip!” Roy says the soldiers’ response there attests to a lack of professionalism and too much enthusiasm, although he saw nothing similar in his squad.
“On the other hand, I think it’s human,” he says. “When you have a certain goal, even if you are shooting arrows at a target, obviously there’s joy at the hit. The soldiers’ mistake was in their behavior. Let them laugh somewhere in the back, but don’t make a clip of it. There’s such a thing as appearances, too.”
Amir, too, distinguishes between personal satisfaction and public manifestations that don’t look good on film. “The snipers in the squad we replaced were legends. They were IDF champions and they had two or three super-cool Xs [on their rifles] from manning the line in Gaza. We heard the story about the Xs, and we wanted them, too. It’s your profession, your destiny, the essence of your being from the moment you get up until you go to sleep. Obviously you want to display your capabilities.”
Do you have to celebrate? Isn’t there some other way?
Amir: “No. Take the most baboonish guy you know – and that’s what the IDF does, transforms kids into baboons – and try to stop him from telling about his first time. It’s chaos there, everyone is shooting, making hits – you expect that he won’t open a bottle of champagne? He has fulfilled himself just now, it’s a rare moment. Actually, the more he does it, the more indifferent he’ll become. He will no longer be especially happy, or sad. He’ll just be.”
The army comments
The IDF Spokesman’s Office provided this statement to Haaretz: “The operational response to the violent disturbances and the hostile terrorist activity with which the IDF has been coping since March 2018, is adapted appropriately to the threat posed by these incidents, amid an effort to reduce as far as possible the injury to those causing the disorder, as well as the use of live ammunition. For the past two years, the operational response has been influenced by the intensity of the events, by changes in the violence of those disrupting the order, by the smoke they have spread and so on.
“In light of the change that has occurred in the nature of the disturbances, it was decided to equip the forces also with the Ruger bullet, which causes less damage. As to the use of M24 rifles, we note that this is a standard sniper’s rifle. In general, within the framework of the events in question, use was not made of the Barak sniper’s rifle. We have been made aware of exceptional, specific use of the latter, which was reported and investigated. The findings were conveyed to the military advocate general’s unit for further examination.
“The statements attributed to a senior officer concerning the rules of engagement do not reflect IDF operational policy. The officer intended to explain that when there were reports of unintentional shooting injuries that were not below the knee, the sector commanders decided to toughen the rules of engagement in certain circumstances, and to instruct the snipers to aim for the ankle.
“As to the case in which a fighter fired at a major disrupter, even though he did not receive authorization from his superior officer, the shooting was done in accordance with the rules of engagement with the exception of this deviation. The case was dealt with at the command level and was not passed on to the military advocate general’s unit for handling.
“Similarly, in the case where improper shooting at a sheep took place, that incident was dealt with at the command level and was not sent to the military advocate general’s unit for handling. The company’s deputy commander was tried for breaching military discipline and sentenced to seven days’ detention.”