What are Israel’s priorities in time of natural disaster?

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Despite Israel’s international call for aid to help fight the raging wildfires in the north of the country, the Israeli army had plenty of extra soldiers to suppress the weekly unarmed demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, Ni’ilin and Bil’in. Instead of diverting all available resources to suppressing the fire, the government continued to devote resources to suppressing Palestinian non-violence in the West Bank. Even American neoconservative pundits have taken note of Israel’s reckless policy of resource management as displayed with the wildfire crisis. How long will the international community support these reckless decisions by the Israeli government? Why would the Israeli government make the decision to provoke unarmed Palestinian demonstrations with the negligent use of rubber bullets and tear gas at a time of national crises?

In Nabi Saleh, the army used an excessive amount of tear gas to suppress the weekly demonstration which resulted, ironically, in a number of brush fires throughout the village, including one in the community graveyard. The residents of Nabi Saleh have been holding regular demonstrations against the creeping confiscation of their lands by the adjacent Jewish-only settlement of Halamish since December 2009. Protest sparked after settlers, abated by the army, forcefully took over a natural spring belonging to the village.

Nabi Saleh Cover in a Cloud of Tear Gas. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

Nabi Saleh Under a Cloud of Tear Gas. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

As the demonstration began on Friday, two members of the village’s popular committee were pepper-sprayed in the face by a Border Police officer while they peacefully marched past a line of soldiers blocking access to the village’s spring, which has been off limits for almost one year to the village. The army was able to break up the non-violent protest march using tear gas and sealed off all entry and exit points to Nabi Saleh making it virtually impossible for Israeli and international supporters from joining the demonstration. Despite the checkpoints, a number of Israeli supporters were able to join.

Brushfire in Nabi Saleh Graveyard Started By Tear Gas Canisters. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

Brushfire in Nabi Saleh Graveyard Started By Tear Gas Canisters. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

The army continued its use of massive amounts of tear gas to suppress the demonstration often firing tear gas canisters directly at civilian houses and community centers. The army also used rubber coated steel bullets shooting two demonstrators directly. One demonstrator was hit in the head, resulting in a condensed fracture to the skull that required surgery.

Over the past weeks, the army has increased its use of violent crowd control measures which have included the use of undercover special forces, rubber coated steel bullets, live bullets and high velocity tear gas canisters. The negligent use of tear gas resulted in a number of small brushfires throughout the village including one in the community graveyard. The demonstration lasted until after sundown as Israeli soldiers continued to fire tear gas directly at demonstrators with the occasional incursion into the heart of the village.

Across the West Bank, demonstrations took place against the occupation and the Israeli Separation wall. In Ni’ilin, the demonstration took place under the banner “The Intifada Continues, No Peace with the Occupation.”

Demostrators at the Gate of the Wall in Ni'ilin. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

Demostrators at the Gate of the Wall in Ni’ilin. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

The weekly demonstration against the the Separation Wall in Ni’ilin took place Friday afternoon with a smaller than normal group of Palestinians and a handful of Israeli supporters. Demonstrators placed the banner on the gate of the wall and banged against the gate with stones to catch the attention of Israeli soldiers on the other side of the wall. Within minutes, the army responded with a volley of tear gas which covered the entire area of the protest.

Bil’in’s weekly protest was attacked with tear-gas and rubber-coated bullets after demonstrators managed to open the gate in the Wall. Participants chanted slogans calling for national unity and the removal of the occupation, the Wall and of all settlements. As Palestinian flags were raised, protesters demanded freedom for all political prisoners, as they held posters of local imprisoned organizers, Adeeb and Abdallah Abu Rahmah.

Demostrator Seen in a Cloud of Tear Gas in Ni'ilin. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

Demostrator Seen in a Cloud of Tear Gas in Ni’ilin. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

Parts of the demonstration reached the barrier that separates the village from half of its land, where soldiers were waiting on the other side. Some protesters managed to open the gate leading to yet another fence, and were then met with tear-gas fired by the soldiers. The gas that lingered in the air forced the majority of the crowd to disperse, and small-scale clashes began between the soldiers and local youth provoked by the attack.

At that point, soldiers escalated their use of violence, shooting several rounds of rubber-coated bullets at the youth. The army continued to fire tear-gas, rubber-coated bullets and concussion grenades towards the crowd, which dispersed and gathered again despite the clouds of gas. The demonstration continued for about 2 hours with no injuries reported.

The level of violent repression of the weekly demonstrations in the West Bank this week reflects the misguided use of Israeli resources. Israel has asked the international community for help fighting one of the worst natural disasters in its short history while devoting precious resources to crush unarmed and largely non-violent demonstrations across the West Bank. Clearly, Israel feels as though the international community will come to its aid regardless of any its illegal actions in the West Bank. This reckless attitude is unsustainable and will ultimately lead Israel down a path of being ill prepared to handle natural disasters in the future. Furthermore, the fact that Israel was shooting Palestinians at point blank range with rubber bullets resulting in one serious head injury in Nabi Saleh reflects a certain attitude among Israeli military strategists. While the international community is paying attention to the Carmel fire, there is little attention payed to Israel’s violent actions against unarmed Palestinians.

Recently, Israel demonstrated this formula when it destroyed a mosque in the Jordan Valley on Thanksgiving day.  Israel’s priority remains the control of the Palestinians and its actions on Friday in suppressing the unarmed demonstrations across the West Bank in a extremely violent fashion while a natural disaster was unfolding in the North confirm that control is priority.

This post originally appeared on +972.

About Joseph Dana

Joseph Dana is a writer and journalist based in the West Bank. His work has appeared in The Nation, Le Monde Diplomatique, London Review of Books, The National (UAE), Monocle, Al Jazeera English, The Forward, and The Mail & Guardian among other international publications. Dana is an associate producer of Just Vision's new documentary Home Front: Portraits from Shiekh Jarrah. Before devoting himself full time to journalism, Dana studied Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Central European University in Budapest.

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