I remember my first school patrol with CPT Palestine very well. Winter 2019, around 7:10 am, a settler parked his car nearby and approached us. He didn’t know I was Palestinian, and he put his phone into my face just like he did with my teammates, filming me while smirking, “Why are you here? To support the terrorist?” he asked. I laughed, and in my head I thought, I am the terrorist. I know that soldiers would not intervene if he attacked me. So I asked my teammates to step back and walk away from the situation.
While monitoring the checkpoints near the schools in the H2 area of Hebron/Al Khalil, you’ll begin to notice the dynamic when a settler approaches the Israeli soldiers. It feels like it’s their duty to prove to the settlers their loyalty. Settlers observe soldiers’ actions and evaluate them.
In a conversation that CPT had with Gilad, a former Israeli soldier, he confirmed that “in every settlement there is someone like Ofer, some of these settlements are playing the role of the government. They orient soldiers and incite them and encourage them to attack Palestinians and how important their role is to protect them from Arabs. They’re told that Arabs want to kill us, kick us out, so as a soldier you must be tough and mean to them.”
On a daily basis, Ofer Ohana comes by the checkpoints in H2 of Hebron/Al Khalil, mainly Salaymeh Checkpoint (160) around 7:20am. He gets out of his car at the military gate and pulls out his phone, while checking if the children are gathering down the street. Sometimes he provokes the children when they gather, and they throw stones or yell at him. He starts filming them, then approaches the soldiers inside the checkpoint and talks to them. A few minutes later, soldiers start coming out from the checkpoint. Teargas, stun grenades, arrest, detention—or all of them together—will follow. On 19 September, CPT observed Ofer giving the soldiers instructions on how to act towards observers and towards the children.
On 20 December, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) arrested three minors around 11 years old in front of their school, claiming they were throwing stones at the checkpoint.
CPT attempted to approach the children to ask them their names, to document what happened and share the information with families and other human rights organizations. The Israeli soldiers harassed us and took our phones to delete everything we filmed. They did not allow us to get close to the children. However, after the soldiers took the children to the checkpoint and beat them, Israeli settler Ofer Ohana was permitted to approach the children, interrogate and threaten them, and take photos of them before they were transferred to the military vehicle.
When settlers attack, the Israeli forces rarely intervene and almost never arrest Israeli settlers. But if Palestinians tried to defend themselves from these attacks, the Palestinians would be beaten and most likely arrested by the occupation forces within a matter of seconds.
A recent B’Tselem report confirms this observation. The settler violence and state violence are one, where “the military avoids confronting violent settlers as a matter of policy, although soldiers have the authority and duty to detain and arrest them. As a rule, the military prefers to remove Palestinians from their own farmland or pastureland rather than confront settlers, using various tactics such as issuing closed military zone orders that apply to Palestinians only, or firing tear gas, stun grenades, rubber-coated metal bullets and even live rounds.”
Not only that, soldiers participate regularly in settler attacks by conducting joint attacks against Palestinians and properties.
This is the modus operandi of the occupation. We do not expect to see benevolence from the occupation, instead, I’ve heard so many times that we must “see the face of God in your enemy.” I didn’t know what this meant until I served with CPT. It’s confusing when you see “nice” soldiers, and being a good guy at the checkpoint doesn’t deny how horrible the occupation is. But I genuinely feel empathy, even without trying. But, the curiosity in me wanted to know, why soldiers won’t stop the settlers from intervening in their duty? Gilad tried to give us some explanation:
“After 1967, right-wing parties have increased in Israel, and due to the judicial belief of having lots of children, the demography of Israel is going towards the right. Some of the soldiers are settlers themselves so they support and agree with settlers over anything and have no problem with what they are doing. If they are not settlers, they probably believe in the concept of “the land is ours” and they believe they have to protect the settlers and support them.”
But what if the soldier is not part of this vision? Gilad continues, “serving in the Israeli military for any Israeli over 18 years old is a compulsory service for three years. Their location changes every 3-4 months, and it’s clear, their job is to protect a specific settlement. Why would an 18-year-old soldier get into a fight with a settler who is fully supported by his community? If a soldier disagrees or negotiates something he will be called a traitor.”
Israelis who refuse to serve in the IOF must provide the courts with documents proving their inability to serve. If their claims are rejected, they face prison for approximately 10 months and they lose many privileges. However, there are several Israeli citizens who refuse compulsory service, among them the Arab Druze who were also forced to serve in the IOF throughout history. URFOD is a Palestinian campaign within the Palestinian Druze community in the 48 areas (what is called now Israel). URFOD was founded in 2014, calling on young people to “REFUSE, your people will protect you,” to encourage conscripts to refuse to contribute to the occupation.
In conclusion, there is no benevolent side to the occupation; settlers are becoming more powerful with the government’s support. Soldiers have no power over them and Palestinian rights get lost every second of the occupation. We call for freedom from the occupation, both for Palestinians living under unbelievable oppression as well as freedom of choice for people who choose not to serve in the occupation army. This is a form of allyship we are looking for.