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

on 24 Comments

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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24 Responses

  1. occupyresist
    December 5, 2010, 4:56 pm

    Q: What are Israel’s priorities in time of natural disaster?
    A: Never waste the opportunity to take advantage of a major distraction.

    • Citizen
      December 5, 2010, 5:52 pm

      I would guess as they’ve prepared their attack on Iran (assuming the USA will aid them; a reasonalbe assumption especially if a pretextual incident can be set in place over there or over here, or both–the one here could be very minor but asap blown up to ride the larger pretext over there–for solidarity its us and Israel against the fanatic hordes of fanatical muslims) they’ve also put a partner plan in place to get rid of some more Palestinians while the world watches the fireworks over Iran. I mean, they once set up the Egyptians, right? Lavon Affair, if memory serves.

  2. Kathleen
    December 5, 2010, 5:08 pm

    “creeping confiscation of their lands ”

    It’s called stealing. Why is it that we use such politically correct words for STEALING?

    Would have liked to see more of the small children starting to run away. These kids are in training

    • Citizen
      December 5, 2010, 5:54 pm

      The magic of allliteration? How about stealing soil and h2o a go go?

  3. justicewillprevail
    December 5, 2010, 5:22 pm

    Just remind me which part of being ‘the only democracy in the region’ applies to the use of violence against peaceful protestors, their imprisonment, the callous disregard for human rights and the use of force against children (by the most moral army in the world)?

  4. Potsherd2
    December 5, 2010, 5:46 pm

    If I’m allowed to comment this time –

    At the same time this is going on, the PA was sending forces to aid in the firefighting. I’m surprised the IDF didn’t shoot them all dead at the border as infiltrators.

    • Citizen
      December 5, 2010, 5:57 pm

      Yep, that’s right Potsy. The PA are now “good guys.” Except Abbas is talking (at last) about folding up the PA if the settlements keep up. Where would Israel get its kapos? What dummy could be given a chair at the piece table? (ha)

    • eljay
      December 5, 2010, 6:07 pm

      >> At the same time this is going on, the PA was sending forces to aid in the firefighting.

      I heard about this on the news tonight. It’s wonderful to hear, and it only makes more sickening the claims by hateful Zio-supremacist “humanists” that Palestinians want nothing more than to “kill Jews”.

      • Bumblebye
        December 5, 2010, 7:12 pm

        I heard this news on the bbc yesterday, but oddly enough it’s not on their website, nor anywhere in the Gauardian. Did find this on Maan:

        link to maannews.net

        The bbc was quoting Abbas as saying neighbors should help one another.

      • Bumblebye
        December 5, 2010, 7:45 pm

        Just for fun, also found Obama’s double:

        link to guardian.co.uk

      • Sumud
        December 5, 2010, 11:29 pm

        Of course his double is a muslim, so expect the idiot quarter of the US population that believes BO to be a secret muslim to make hay with this..

      • Avi
        December 5, 2010, 7:43 pm

        eljay December 5, 2010 at 6:07 pm

        >> At the same time this is going on, the PA was sending forces to aid in the firefighting.

        I heard about this on the news tonight. It’s wonderful to hear, and it only makes more sickening the claims by hateful Zio-supremacist “humanists” that Palestinians want nothing more than to “kill Jews”.

        It’s never too late. Yasser Arafat who’s long been dead is till hated among many of Israel’s avid defenders, especially the ignorant ones in the US.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    December 5, 2010, 7:18 pm

    RE: “Despite Israel’s international call for aid to help fight the raging wildfires…the Israeli army had plenty of extra soldiers to suppress the weekly unarmed demonstrations…” – Joseph Dana
    MORE KINDLING FOR THE TINDERBOX: “GOD-TV evangelical Christian channel funds Israeli ethnic cleansing” ~ By Neve Gordon, Redress, 12/04/10
    Neve Gordon looks at how an evangelical Christian TV channel with a viewership of nearly half a billion people, including 20 million in the USA and 14 million in Britain, is funding a project to ethnically cleanse Israels Bedouin citizens from their ancestral land.

    (excerpts)…Despite the fact that it was the seventh demolition since last July, this time the destruction of the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib in the Israeli Negev was different…
    …I know this for a fact because right next to the demolished homes, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) put up a big sign that reads: “GOD-TV FOREST, a generous donation by God-TV made 1,000,000 tree saplings available to be planted in the land of Israel and also provided for the creation of water projects throughout the Negev.” GOD-TV justifies this contribution by citing the book of Isaiah: “I will turn the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into springs.”
    The JNF’s objective, however, is not altruistic, but rather to plant a pine or eucalyptus forest on the desert land so that the Bedouins cannot return to their ancestral homes. The practice of planting forests in an attempt to Judaize more territory is by no means new. Right after Israel’s establishment in 1948, the JNF planted millions of trees to cover up the remains of Palestinian villages that had been destroyed during or after the war. The objective was to help ensure that the 750,000 Palestinian residents who either fled or were expelled during the war would never return to their villages and to suppress the fact that they had been the rightful owners of the land before the State of Israel was created…

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to redress.cc

  6. tree
    December 5, 2010, 7:53 pm

    I’ve read about the fire in the Israeli papers and apparently Israel has something like only one sixth the number of firefighters per capita of most advanced industrialized nations. I also read that there was a long delay between the reporting of the fire and the arrival of fire fighters. The fire started outside the Israeli-Arab village of Isfiya, which has a population of 25,000. According to another commenter over at Richard Silverstein’s blog, Isfiya has not a single fire truck dedicated to serve it, which is one reason why it took the authorities so long to begin fighting the fire, which in turn led to it being the major catastrophe it was, instead of just being another small brush fire.

    • Sumud
      December 5, 2010, 11:50 pm

      tree ~ I was really shocked at the incompetence of the Israeli emergency services. It’s more than just not having enough firefighters (I read somewhere they only had 10% of what was required) – it’s about having co-ordinated emergency services and very basic things like evacuation plans. On the day the tragic bus fire occurred Haaretz reported that the army ordered evacuation and the police said no (or vice versa I can’t recall) and the ensuing confusion was one of the factors which led to the bus incident.

      To give you an idea of just how catastrophic the loss of life was:

      • On the day of the bus deaths, the fire was reported as covering 7,000 dunums. This is 7 sq. km. or 1,730 acres. Fatalities: 40 or 41. The fires were described as the worst in Israel’s history.
      • We had bad bushfires in Victoria 2 years ago, not the largest, but the fiercest on record – there were reports of fire fronts travelling as fast as 100km/hr. Emergency services were completely overwhelmed. 4,500 sq. km was burnt out. Thats 1.1 million acres (80% of the West Bank), with fatalities of 173. Had the loss of life in those fires been as bad as this one in Israel (on a fatality/land area basis), 26,000 people would have died.

      You also have similarly huge fires in American, regularly, without such disastrous loss of life. There needs to be a major inquiry in Israel over this. Metaphorically, heads must roll.

      • syvanen
        December 6, 2010, 4:21 am

        You overlook the upside of these fires. This will give the JNF a tremendous boost to its fund raising activities in the US. Wait for the advertisements asking for donations to replant those burned over lands. Also the publicity reinforcing Israeli victimhood. Send more money now.

      • Antidote
        December 6, 2010, 1:13 pm

        I see that as well. Netanyahu has already pushed through the Knesset immediate relief for the evacuated fire victims, some 2.500 shekels per person, just to get them through the immediate future. Sure those people should receive sympathy and help, but the double-standard is painfully obvious. Who rushes to help Palestinians if there olive trees and orchards are deliberately set on fire by settlers, their houses even, or else bulldozed via official orders. Yes, some Israeli and international activists and groups do support them, but it never makes the big headlines around the globe, and it’s business as usual in Israel: self-defense!

        The deaths of the Israeli prison services workers who burned in the bus tragedy on their way to assist with the evacuation of prisoners could possibly have been prevented had Damon prison, long known as one of the worst in the entire ME, been closed, as was demanded frequently, including by Israeli prison services, and most recently this past August, when some of the female political prisoners issued an urgent call for a Red Cross visit. That was completely drowned out by the ‘Free Shalit’ campaign, even though there were some activists trying to draw attention to the inhuman conditions, complete lack of medical car, rodent and insect infestation etc, and the fact that many of the female prisoners are there on detention without charge and trial. Teenagers kidnapped from their homes in Bethlehem were cited as a typical example.

        I don’t know what happened to the evacuated prisoners. There was nothing in the press about that. I don’t want to know how many Israelis think it a shame that one of their own should die en route to transfer Palestinians from one prison to another.

  7. seafoid
    December 6, 2010, 5:22 am

    link to haaretz.com

    The hands that set the forests ablaze, and the state authorities that were negligent in protecting its citizens, have caused more than the deaths of dozens and the loss of homes of thousands: They destroyed another layer of the myth that the State of the Jews is a military-technological superpower that should not be trifled with. In security-related literature this is called “deterrence ability.”

  8. seafoid
    December 6, 2010, 5:24 am

    This is really bad for Israel. It is going to hurt business. Investors and business people might like the idea of Hevron but they are more interested in getting a decent returnallowing for their risk profile. It is not antisemitic to declare that Israel has no earthquake preparedness. Putting on the anti semitism glasses to view the world is useless.

    • Mooser
      December 6, 2010, 12:04 pm

      “…Israel has no earthquake preparedness.”

      Of course not. What’s the use? An earthquake is an Act of God, and God is anti-Semitic.

  9. chet
    December 6, 2010, 1:53 pm

    Richard Silverstein, in his Tikun Olam website, provides a link to a Haaretz article that reports that an flying instructor saw and reported the fire in its tiniest beginning stage to the authorities and that it took them two hours to respond and by then the fire was out of control.

    link to haaretz.com

    What is interesting is that in the multitude of today’s Haaretz articles relating to the fire, no link to this article is provided.

  10. seafoid
    December 6, 2010, 5:27 pm

    I saw an interesting article in an Irish newspaper today. There was a very bad storm a few years ago and a load of sportsmen from a team in another county had an appointment at a benefit concert for a player from an opposing team in a different part of the country . Most of them were farmers and it wasn’t thought they would go to the benefit because the weather was so bad. But they travelled anyway and each car had a chainsaw in the boot in case of any fallen tree en route. Where were the Israeli chainsaws ?

  11. eljay
    December 6, 2010, 5:44 pm

    >> Where were the Israeli chainsaws ?

    Busy cutting down Palestinian olive trees? ;-)

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