Sunday

26th May 2019

Feature

EU warned on danger to Israel of occupation tactics

  • Palestinian detainee with Israeli soldiers in Hebron: One of the photos in Breaking The Silence's EU parliament exhibition (Photo: breakingthesilence.org.il)

Twenty-five years after a massacre of Palestinians in the West Bank, former Israeli soldiers say the occupation and efforts to legitimise it are putting Israel at risk.

That was the message of a photo exhibition at the European Parliament put on by Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BTS) in Brussels this week.

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  • Israeli soldier on patrol in West Bank (Photo: breakingthesilence.org.il)

The project marked the anniversary, on Monday (25 February), of the Goldstein Massacre in Hebron in the occupied Palestinian territories in 1994.

Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler, opened fire on Palestinian worshippers outside a mosque killing 29 people, including children.

The killings prompted Palestinian reprisals and an Israeli crackdown, which led to the segregation of Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank's most populous city.

The segregation continues today, depriving Palestinian residents of the right to use the city centre, while allowing Jewish settlers to extend their properties there.

"If Goldtsein was alive today and saw the mission that we had as soldiers, he'd be happy and he'd think he'd won and we're not willing to agree to a reality like that," Dean Issacharoff, a former Israeli officer who served in Hebron and who is now the spokesman of BTS, told EUobserver.

"Today, we have the most right-wing government in Israel's history," he said.

"They're trying to annex the [occupied] territories and in order to do that they need international legitimacy. What we're trying to do is to stop that legitimacy and the international agreement-in-silence for the occupation to continue," he added, referring to the BTS exhibition in the EU assembly.

Settler graffiti (Photo: breakingthesilence.org.il)

Issacharoff joined the Israeli army in 2011 because, he said: "I came from a family of Holocaust survivors ... I wanted to protect my family, my country, and my people".

But his mission in Hebron, which saw him and his fellow soldiers systematically harass and assault innocent civilians opened his eyes to the reality of the occupation, he said.

"If you need to control a large group of people with a small amount of soldiers, then you need to do it using violence and intimidation," he said.

"You're not trying to pick out 'good Arabs' and 'bad Arabs' ... everyone is a target, including women and children," he said.

He recalled one incident in 2013 in south Hebron when his unit chased a group of Palestinians who had approached a separation barrier.

"One of them was hiding behind a bush. Then one of my commanders ran up and gave him this running kick, and he flew up in the air, and what came down was a 12-year old boy, and he was crying and I had to handcuff him and I remember my commander shouting at this scared kid and I swore to myself I'd never be like that," Issacharoff told EUobserver.

But one year later, Issacharoff found himself "screaming" at a "terrified" child whom he had arrested for throwing stones and "afterwards, I understood I wasn't the commander I'd promised myself I'd be".

Palestinian detainees in Hebron curfew (Photo: breakingthesilence.org.il)

Creating victims

The occupation endangered Israel by fuelling hatred, he noted.

"I created a lot more victims with the tactics we used and I wouldn't be surprised if those victims wanted to hurt me one day," he said.

It endangered Israeli democracy because many ordinary Israelis in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv had no idea what their soldiers were doing in places like Hebron and because right-wing politicians were trying to shut down NGOs such as BTS which tried to inform them, he added.

BTS has faced accusations of "treason" and attempts to blacklist its members from visiting schools.

"What we see is shrinking space for democracy in Israel - it's shrinking because of the occupation and the efforts to preserve it," Issacharoff said.

"You have this disconnect between a country that wants to be democratic and that wants to control millions of people with its army and we're constantly paying the price on the democratic side," he noted.

The Israeli government was also endangering Jewish people by making alliances with antisemitic politicians in Europe, while bandying around false accusations of antisemitism against its critics, the BTS spokesman added.

Issacharoff spoke after a visit to Israel, last week, of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and other central European leaders.

Orban's government has demonised Jewish philanthropist George Soros in a campaign evoking antisemitic tropes on global conspiracies.

But Orban also opened a new Hungarian diplomatic mission in Jerusalem in support of last year's move by US president Donald Trump to move the American embassy there, despite the fact the city is meant to be shared by Israelis and Palestinians under international accords.

"[Israeli prime minister] Bibi Netanyahu is connecting to an international wave of anti-democratic, anti-liberal, and anti-human rights sentiment," Issacharoff said.

"What we're seeing is the prime minister of Israel, the country that in its founding was supposed to be a shelter for anybody who was persecuted for being a Jew, shaking hands with and hugging the most antisemitic leaders in Europe today in order to support the occupation," he said.

Israeli soldier poses with prisoner (Photo: breakingthesilence.org.il)

Connecting to hate

"As a grandson of a Holocaust survivor ... I'm horrified because to peddle with antisemites so cynically in order to oppress millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza is mind-bogglingly immoral," he added.

At the same time, the attempt to label left-wing critics of the occupation as antisemites masked the fact that right-wing antisemitism was far more dangerous, Issacharoff said.

"Trying to create this false symmetry between antisemitism on the left and on the right endangers us as Jews. While there is antisemitism on the left, these aren't the people walking into synagogues and shooting people, as we saw in Pittsburgh in the US, or spraying swastikas on Jewish graves, as we saw in France," he said.

The Pittsburgh incident in October last year saw Robert Bowers, a far-right extremist, murder 11 people.

Extremists also vandalised graves in Quatzenheim, in eastern France, in February.

Trump visited Pittsburgh shortly afterward and denounced the killings as "pure evil".

But his visit was criticised by Jewish groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on grounds that the US president's xenophobic rhetoric and his public sympathy for white supremacists had created a climate in which antisemitic crimes rose sharply.

"The numerous statements he [Trump] has made, calling himself a 'nationalist,' crowds at his rallies chanting threats against George Soros - it's all connected," the ACLU's Cecilia Wang said at the time.

"If we're not fighting antisemitism in places where it's uncomfortable for us politically, then we're endangering Jews," Issacharoff said.

Settler with anti-Arab sticker on rifle (Photo: breakingthesilence.org.il)

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