Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Borders, Walls, and Border Patrols. Generally Bad Ideas.

The Separation Wall which creates a barrier between the West Bank and Israel (but also annexes large portions of Palestinian territory) is not completed on the southern border of the West Bank. Therefore, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) heavily patrols the area to prohibit Palestinians from crossing the border. Palestinians from the South Hebron hills use the southern border as their conduit to find work in Israel. Jobs in Israel and much more abundant and much better paying than the few that are available in Palestine. It's necessary for many families to cross the border to find work in order to provide for their children.

It seems the new IDF policy in the South Hebron hills is to set fire to cars which are caught trying to cross the border.

When the IDF spots a car full of workers, one of two things will happen: 1) the workers will abandon the car to avoid arrest or detention 2) the workers will stay with the car and the IDF will force the workers out of the car, often confiscating IDs and dishing out beatings (which has very recently been documented by B'tselem). Once the workers are out of the car, the IDF has been vandalizing vehicles: cutting electrical wires, puncturing tires, or pushing cars off the road.

See this testimony from a man involved in one of the recent torchings:

"Suddenly, an army Hummer jeep pulled up [...]. I stopped and stayed in the car with the four workers. Three soldiers got out of the jeep and one of them asked for our ID cards. He checked [the ID numbers] with someone on the two-way radio and wrote our names down on a page. Then he gave us back the ID cards and told us to continue on foot.

We walked about 50 meters away and waited, hoping that the jeep would leave and we could go back to the car. I saw the three soldiers break the rear window. One soldier open the engine hood, sprayed something flammable on the spare tire and set fire to it. The tire caught fire and exploded, and then the fire went out. The soldiers punctured all the tires on the car and broke the front window. It lasted about forty minutes. Then they got into the jeep and left."
From time to time At-Tuwani is a hotspot for this madness because At-Tuwani is the conduit to the south. Workers must pass through At-Tuwani coming or going from work in Israel, if they are crossing on the southern border. Today I caught a glimpse of this madness.

Villagers started yelling that the IDF was in the village and was searching a car. When I got to the car the license plate was gone (it had been removed by the Israeli soldiers), the soldiers had opened all the doors and the trunk and were searching through the belongings. I got the story from one of the villagers that the man was driving south to try to enter Israel for work. The army had cut him off so he turned back towards the north to evade trouble. The hummer chased him and he ended up ditching his car in At-Tuwani with the soldiers on his tail. He had ran and hid in someone's house. 2 of the 4 soldiers proceeded to get in the Palestinian man's car and drive off. I demanded to know why they were driving off with someone else's car, to which they responded, "I cannot speak with you."

One of the men suggested that the soldiers were driving to a more isolated area, without cameras and angry people, to set fire to the car. This caused a bit of a panic and 30 men from the village started running after the car. Some men blocked the path of the hummer (with 2 remaining soldiers) while the rest of the men chased the Palestinian car being driven by Israeli soldiers. After a few hundred meters the soldiers exited the vehicle. It seemed to me that the soldiers were rethinking their plan. There was a brief argument between them after they exited the vehicle. They then walked back to the hummer and left the scene.

Setting fire to cars, vandalizing cars, beating up grown men to within an inch of their life; this must be the work of the 'most moral army in the world.' It simply must.

Oh and by the way. Borders suck. This is what happens to people who are poor and need to get enough money to feed to their kids. For wanting to feed your kids you get your jaw broken or your car torched. Borders and walls...not so clever.