During the 1967 war Israel seized additional territories including the West Bank of the River Jordan and the Gaza Strip on the edge of the Mediterranean. It has now controlled these two areas for nearly twenty years. Some idea of what life is like for the Palestinians in what has become known as the occupied territories’ is given in vivid descriptions in Noam Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle.  Some extracts are reproduced here:
The religious settlers in the West Bank, operating freely with army support, take pride in creating a pogrom-like atmosphere among the Arabs, who must be trained not to “raise their heads”, this being the only way to treat Arabs, who “adore power” and will live in peace with the Jews only when “we show him that we are strong”. How? “We enter a village, shoot a bit at windows, warn the villagers and return to the settlement. We don’t kidnap people, but it can happen that we catch a boy who had been throwing stones, take him back with us, beat him a bit and give him over to the Army to finish the job.” The same West Bank settler also explains how official investigators act to protect Jews who shoot to hit and kill (including firing at children) ...
The settlers are quite open about the measures they take towards Arabs and the justification for them, which they find in the religious law and the writings of the sages. In the journal of the religious West Bank settlers we find, for example, an article with the heading “Those among us who call for a humanistic attitude towards our [Arab] neighbours are reading the Halacha [religious law] selectively and are avoiding specific commandments”. The scholarly author cites passages from the Talmud explaining that God is sorry he created the Ishmaelites, and that Gentiles are “a people like a donkey”. The law concerning “conquered” peoples is explicit, he argues, quoting Maimonides on how they must “serve” their Jewish conquerors and be “degraded and low” and “must not raise their heads in Israel but must be conquered beneath their hand ... with complete submission.” Only then may the conquerors treat them in a humane manner.
“There is no relation,” he claims, “between the law of Israel [Torat Yisrael] and the atheistic modern humanism,” citing again Maimonides, who holds “that in a divinely-commanded war [milhemet mitzvah] one must destroy, kill and eliminate men, women and children” (the rabbinate has defined the Lebanon war as such a war). “The eternal principles do not change“, and “there is no place for any ‘humanistic’ considerations“’ We return to a further examination of this phenomenon, which has its counterparts throughout the Middle East region.
A recent device for protecting settlers who attack Arabs is to transfer all investigation of the illegal use of arms by settlers from police to the military. Settlers simply refuse to cooperate with police, who do not “dare question or arrest Jewish suspects”, even one “seen on television shooting directly into a crowd of demonstrating Arabs while soldiers stood behind him and were holding their fire” (the head of the district council of a Jewish settlement near Ramallah, in this case).
When Palestinians are beaten or detained by settlers, Arab policemen are afraid to intervene. “Palestinian lawyers say: the settlements are so formidable that the Arab police and courts never dare to serve a summons or make a search, leaving settlers beyond the law when it comes to conflicts with Arabs.” The general character of the occupation is indicated by an incident in an Arab village in March 1982. Four settlers claimed that a stone was thrown at their car in this village. They fired “into the air”, shooting one boy in the arm. Another boy was kidnapped, beaten, locked in the trunk of the car, taken to a Jewish settlement and locked in a room where he was beaten “on and off during most of the day”, then taken to the military government compound in Ramallah, where the boy was held while the settlers went on their way.
A standard bit of black humour in the occupied territories is that Arabs should stop flying and begin walking on the ground so they won’t be shot so often when settlers fire into the air.
Children and teenagers are often the main victims, since they are generally the ones involved in protests and demonstrations. Danny Tsidkoni reports from Gaza that informants in an Arab village told him that several very young children threw stones at a car driven by armed settlers, who broke the leg of one boy and the hand of one girl in “retaliation”. A soldier reports that 30 12-13 year-old children were lined up facing a wall with their hands up for five hours in Hebron one very cold night, kicked if they moved. He justified the punishment because they are not “all innocent lambs as they look now, with their hands up and their eyes asking pity ... They burn and they throw stones and participate in demonstrations, and they are not less harmful than their parents.”
The aged are also not spared. “For five days an elderly Arab woman has lain unconscious in a Jerusalem hospital after being brutally beaten in the small flat in which she lives with her husband in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.” She was attacked by religious Jews from a nearby Yeshiva (religious school) while her 85-year-old husband was praying in the Al Aqsa mosque. He heard that Jewish settlers had killed his wife, rushed home, but could not enter his apartment because, he said, “the Jews were on the roof of our building hurling bricks and bottles”.
An Arab youth who tried to save the woman was also brutally beaten, and lies next door in the hospital. He “identifies his attackers as the Jewish zealots from the Yeshiva”. They “scarcely bothered to deny the attack”. When questioned about it, “an American zealot blandly talked of the need to cleanse the area of ‘terrorists’.”
The group “is known to the police as ‘the blessing of Abraham’, a Yeshiva comprised mostly of European and American-born Jews who have returned to their faith with a burning desire to reclaim land lost to the Arabs”. Several years ago they established the Yeshiva in an old Arab area; eighteen Arab families had since moved out, and this couple was the only one remaining as the “Jewish zealots” sought “to ‘redeem’ property that had once been inhabited by Jews as long ago as the 16th century“. The couple had rejected cash offers which were followed by threats of violence; “there is no doubt that those threats were carried out this week.”
The police arrested a few of the Jewish extremists but they are to be charged only with “riotous behaviour”. “The assault on Mrs Mayalleh and the fact that she and her husband are now homeless seemed to be accepted as a fait accompli by the police,” which is typical of the “indulgent attitude by authorities”. “The vicious attack scarcely rated a mention in the local press.”
The extensive reports of torture by Arab prisoners have generally been dismissed in the us, just as little notice is taken of reports of Palestinian refugees, or in general, of the travail and concerns of the Palestinians. Reports by prisoners or refugees of course have to be carefully evaluated; in particular, the conditions of transmission must be carefully considered, as well as the fact that they may have a stake in exaggerating or falsifying, or in suppressing the truth out of fear of their interrogators or guards. But surely such reports should be taken seriously. These remarks are truisms, characteristically disregarded in two cases: where refugees or prisoners have a tale to tell that is useful for ideological or propaganda purposes (e.g. atrocity reports about some enemy), in which case all caution is thrown to the winds; or where their stories reflect badly on some revered state, in which case they are disregarded.
In the case of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, particular care has been taken to ensure that little is known here [in the US], though it has become more difficult over the years to meet this requirement. One interesting example was the unusually careful study conducted by the London Sunday Times Insight team which, after a lengthy investigation, found evidence of torture so widespread and systematic that “it appears to be sanctioned at some level as deliberate police”, perhaps “to persuade Arabs in occupied territories that it is least painful to behave passively”. The study was offered to the New York Times and Washington Post but rejected for publication and barely reported.
A study by the Swiss League for the Rights of Man (June 1977), presenting similar material, received no notice here. The same is true of the reports of torture by Israeli journalists. Various Israeli rebuttals were published though not, to my knowledge, the devastating Sunday Times response.
Amnesty International, incidentally, is not very popular in Israel, at least since it published a rather mild and understated report on treatment of suspects and prisoners in 1979. An editorial in Ha’aretz, entitled Amnesty is at it again, commented that the organisation had “turned itself into a tool of Arab propaganda by publishing the document”, criticising among other things its reliance on the “distorted and malicious report” in the London Sunday Times.
The left-wing Mapam journal took a different tack. An editorial observed the “Experience tells us that it is extremely difficult to effectively defend oneself against terrorists or even ordinary criminals without bringing great pressure to bear on the suspects, in order to eventually bring them to trial at all,” and recommended that “constant vigilance” be exercised to determine that there are no “excesses” in the use of the required “great pressure”.
1. Chomsky, pp.123-32.
Last updated on 4.8.2001