(Source: The New York Times)
Viral video of a senior Israeli Army officer striking a Danish man in the facewith a rifle on Saturday in the West Bank, during a mass bicycle ride challenging restrictions on the use of certain roads by Palestinians, has drawn attention to an increasingly acrimonious struggle between the government of Israel and European rights activists who travel to the region.
As my colleague Isabel Kershner reported, on Sunday, Israel blocked scores of pro-Palestinian campaigners from flying to the country — to take part in what activists called a “flytilla,” in reference to the flotillas of boats that have challenged Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza in recent years. In addition to deploying hundreds of police officers to Ben-Gurion International Airport, Israel’s government prepared to meet the threat of activism by tourists with sarcasm, in the form of a letter to be handed to them on arrival, suggesting that they should travel to Syria or Iran instead.
Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Israel’s prime minister, posted a copy of the sardonic letter, to be handed to any activists who made it to Israel, on Twitter.
After video of the jarring use of force by Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, the deputy commander of the army’s Jordan Valley brigade, spread online and in the Israeli media over the weekend, the senior officer was suspended. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the soldier’s actions as a blot on the record of the Israel Defense Forces, saying, “this conduct is unbecoming of the IDF and of Israel.”
A spokesman for the military, who also condemned the use of force, claimed that the video posted online by the Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement was misleading because it did not show violence by Palestinian and foreign activists that took place at about the same time. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Dane who was struck, Andreas Ias, called that claim “a complete lie.” The activists cycling through the Jordan Valley, he said, “just wanted to enjoy the bike tour and the view.”
Yedioth Ahronot, an Israeli newspaper, reported that Lt. Col. Eisner admitted later, “I should not have flung my weapon like that,” but also complained that the video was edited to make him look bad.
Lt. Col. Eisner claims that some of the protesters started attacking him with sticks which caused one of his fingers to break. He also suffered a major injury in his wrist which required a cast. “The weapon was the only thing I had in my hands. The whole thing lasted 60 seconds, we prevented them from getting on the road and they boarded the bus. Obviously, they didn’t show the part where they attacked us with sticks in the video.”
The officer also expressed regret that the military had not filmed the entire confrontation, but, later on Monday, the 20-year-old Danish activist told my colleague Isabel Kershner later that the I.D.F. was filming and still had not provided any documentation of violence by protesters.
A female Dutch activist told The Times that Colonel Eisner had also hit her and a Palestinian woman in the face, and a Palestinian man in the back, with his rifle. An Israeli news blog, +972, published a photograph of the officer swinging his rifle at a man’s back.
The video and the letter came to light the same weekend that an Israeli blogger, Dimi Reider, reported that Israeli immigrations officials asked a Swedish woman to sign a pledge promising not to get in touch with any pro-Palestinian organizations during her stay in Jerusalem. An copy of the document the woman was compelled to sign in exchange for a visa, called an “Obligation Form,” provided to Mr. Reider, who writes for +972.
The text, in somewhat broken English, reads: “I undertake that I can’t be a member of any pro-Palestinian Organizations and not be in contact with any other Members of any pro-Palestinian Organizations, as well I will not participate in any pro-Palestinian activities. I understand that if I will get caught doing even one of these things, all relevant legal actions will be taken against me, Including deportation and refusal of entry into Israel.”
The woman, Anna Pgereld, told +972 that she has “been in East Jerusalem on and off for six months now, visiting friends.” On her way back from a short tip to Egypt, Ms. Pgereld said: “I was invited into an office and was questioned about my religion, if I had contact with any religious organizations here, what I do during the day, how much money I have got to spend and where I got it, what I do in Sweden and so on. Then we had to wait again, not knowing what would happen. After 4 hours and 20 minutes, I was asked to sign this contract.”
The beating of the Danish activist comes as a young Belgian photographer, Jan Beddegenoodts, is attempting to raise money online to complete a documentary he made recently about the experience of some international activists and journalists who make extended trips to the region. The online trailer for his documentary, “The Taste of Freedom,” shows that Mr. Beddegenoodts, 24, recorded footage at both Palestinian protests and Israeli raves.
In a description of his project on the “crowdfunding” Web site Indiegogo, Mr. Beddegenoodts writes:
“The Taste of Freedom” reflects the state of mind that comes naturally when you get shot by rubber bullets in the morning and rave like there is no tomorrow at night. I feel deeply connected with the Palestinian protesters who are non-violently demonstrating for more freedom. Protest after protest the Israeli army gives them a brutal response. A few hours and kilometres later, I am in Israel, surrounded by beautiful souls in one of the most unique rave scenes in the world.
Two completely different dimensions, but they have one thing in common: a search for the taste of freedom. Protesting for the basic needs of freedom or raving to find freedom in their mind.
Laughing and loving, raving and dancing but a part of the conflict never dies.
In an e-mail to The Lede, Mr. Beddegenoodts explained that he recently spent two months in Jerusalem and six months in the West Bank, mainly working on a documentary about the protest movement in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, outside Ramallah. A trailer for that documentary, “We Are Nabi Saleh,” is can be found on YouTube.
Israel’s apparent frustration in response to the efforts of foreign activists, many of them young Europeans, can perhaps be explained by the importance the country places on economic and cultural ties to Europe. The Israeli government’s decision to defend its occupation of the West Bank by arguing that it has a better human rights record than Syria or Iran brings to mind remarks made on this subject by the late British historian Tony Judt, who told The London Review of Books in 2010:
Israel wants two things more than anything else in the world. The first is American aid. This it has. As long as it continues to get American aid without conditions it can do stupid things for a very long time, damaging Palestinians and damaging Israel without running any risk. However, the second thing Israel wants is an economic relationship with Europe as a way to escape from the Middle East. The joke is that Jews spent a hundred years desperately trying to have a state in the Middle East. Now they spend all their time trying to get out of the Middle East. They don’t want to be there economically, culturally or politically – they don’t feel part of it and don’t want to be part of it. They want to be part of Europe and therefore it is here that the EU has enormous leverage. If the EU said: ‘So long as you break international laws, you can’t have the privileges of partial economic membership, you can’t have internal trading rights, you can’t be part of the EU market,’ this would be a huge issue in Israel, second only to losing American military aid.
(Source: The New York Times)