Sunday morning, an 18-year-old Palestinian man stabbed a soldier in what is officially called “Border Police” in English at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem, critically injuring him. The Border Police soldier then shot the Palestinian man. Both are in critical condition, and the soldier has regained consciousness after surgery.
Commonly referred to in Hebrew as “Magav,” Border Police does not function as a civilian police force. Magav operates throughout the West Bank as well as Israel, taking part in repressive military operations and extrajudicial assassinations. They work alongside Israeli soldiers and have similar responsibilities in attacks on Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps. Magav originated as a colonial Frontier Corps in the Israeli military, tasked with patrolling Israel’s ever-changing borders, and was eventually put under the command of the Israeli National Police. For anyone who has witnessed these attacks, the difference between military and Magav is semantic.
Immediately, suburban Maryland native and Jewish Agency Spokesman Avi Mayer sent out a series of tweets, each one referring to the Magav soldier a “policeman.”
As I tweeted, hasbara (the Hebrew word for explaining, but means propaganda in practical terms) peddlers like Avi Mayer use the term “policeman” to conflate the role of Magav with that of a civilian police force, thereby erasing Magav’s as enforcers of Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Gaza Strip prior to the 2005 disengagement.
Avi Mayer lashed out at my observation, accusing me of being a “Hamas approved propagandist,” as he has repeatedly done because of my journalism in the Gaza Strip.
Mayer accused me of attempting to conflate “soldier” with “policeman” in order to justify the attack.
By erasing the soldier’s role as an enforcer of occupation and casting him as a mere policeman, Mayer’s accusation was a sort of projection.
Mayer’s ploy was roundly criticized. Times of Israel writer Judah Ben Gross tweeted at Avi Mayer, “They wear uniforms, carry M-16s and are considered para-military. It’s not crazy for people to confuse the two.”
Ynetnews, the online version of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely-read publication, called the Border Policeman a “soldier” as well. Avi Mayer did not publicly accuse Ynetnews of being Hamas-approved propagandists.
Monday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a public statement on the attack, saying, “On behalf of all Israelis, tell this fighter he is a great hero.” I informed Avi Mayer, but he has not responded.
While police forces continue to militarize – in part thanks to tactics and weaponry provided by Israel – police are not considered legitimate military targets under international law.
Israel’s conflation of military and civilian targets
The Israeli military, however, has a policy of treating civilian police force as military targets. The opening airstrikes in Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009 killed 240 police officers, including many cadets as they took part in graduation ceremonies.
Last summer during Operation Protective Edge, Israel bombed the home of Gaza police chief Tayseer Al-Batsh, killing 18 and injuring 45, most of whom were family members. Numerous other police buildings were bombed as well.