Thursday, November 20, 2014

Harassment and Beyond

The question is, why does Israel constantly create sonic booms over Gaza, rip up olive trees, shut down entrance crossings and go out of its way to frighten children?  The answer is simple; to harass, to make life for the Palestinian as intolerable as possible.

As soon as Israel moved its settlers out in 2005, Palestinians, in Gaza were blasted day and night with sonic booms.  When American made F-16s break through the sound barrier at low altitude, it creates an earth rattling explosion feeling like a mega ton bomb. Windows shatter, walls crack and every object in the house rattles. These “sound bombs”  strike without warning, like a sledge hammer. They cause fear in men, miscarriages in women, and traumatize children. Even teenagers suffer anxiety attacks, experience muscle spasms, nose bleeds, loss of hearing and have difficulty breathing. Three or four times a night, these low level shock waves blast the nervous system , especially of infants and old people.  .  

One Gaza Mother asked:

Why punish all of Gaza’s Palestinians? Is it to make us all so afraid we can’t close our eyes? To make us beg for mercy? To make us want it to stop at any expense?  It is cruel. It is inhumane. It is collective punishment. It is psychological torture in its rawest, most disturbing form. And so the war on Gaza continues. Terror and torture[1]

This kind of intimidation has nothing to do with security, When our president says that Israel has a right to defend itself he chooses to ignore Israel’s sonic boom program which has no purpose other than to harass.  Could you imagine a surgeon operating on a loved one when suddenly… BOOM!  

And, how does the Israeli Defense Force ripping up newly planted olive trees defend Israel?  Since the second intifada in 2000, about 465,000 olive trees have been destroyed by the Israeli military. My friend, Bert Weaver, volunteered to go with a team to the West Bank and re-plant olive trees.  They worked for ten days, planting thousands of little seedlings while the IDF sat on a hill and watched. On the last day of their work, soldiers came down, announced that the field had been confiscated for 24 hours for “security reasons.”  As soon as Bert and his friends got out of the way, bulldozers came in and ripped up ever tree.  Why? The answer is not security.  That may be the excuse, but the real reason is harassment.

Bert wrote, “For our group it was a vivid experience of the gross injustice Palestinians live with every day. It is one thing to hear and read about injustice, but when you experience it first hand it carries a very different weight.”[2]

Another kind of harassment was expressed by Eran Efrats.  Some call him a traitor. Others say he is an enemy of Israel.  I think of him as simple a person of conscience.  He is one of the hundreds of Israeli soldiers who are now called “refusenics”. He refuses to continue serving in the Israeli military because of its record in the occupied territories.

Efrats tells of being ordered to enter a Palestinian home at 2 o’clock in the morning for “mapping”.  Mapping meant to arouse the family, rough them up a bit and draw a floor plan, showing rooms, closets, windows and doors.  This takes a few hours. In the meantime the family stands aside frightened and hoping no harm will come to their children.  When Sergeant Efrats turned his map into his superior officer, he was told to throw it away.  “We have mapped that home a hundred times.”  It was then the Efrats joined an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers working to raise awareness about the daily reality in the Occupied Territories.  He asked, what was the purpose of the mapping?   It was not security. It was harassment.[3]

Worse than having your home “mapped” is having your home destroyed..

Salim Shawamreh applied for a building permit every year for four years at the cost of $5,000 per application and had been turned down every time. So, facing the needs of his expanding family, he built on his own land, without Israel’s permission.  Then it happened. Salim responded to the banging on his door. There stood a Civil Administration inspector with an automatic weapon strapped across his chest looking more like a gangster than a government official, “Is this your house?”
            “Yes,” Salim answered, “It’s my house.”
            “No, now it is our house.”

In the next hour, Salim was beaten, handcuffed and forced to watch his home destroyed.  He had no permit. But, as Jeff Halper says, “Everyone knows that Israel does not give building permits to Palestinians.”[4]  Since 1967, more than 27,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed.  Salim had just joined 160,000 other Palestinians who had seen their home, life investment and dignity stripped from them. 

When a man cannot provide a home for the safety and security of his family, he is emasculated. He looses not only his pride but his sense of worth. When a woman looses her home, she has no context in which to feel like a wife and mother. She either strives to survive on the streets or she bunks in with another family,  where some other women is keeper of the home  By the way, only 2% of homes  demolished are related to punishment for acts against Israel.   All the rest are for stealing land to give to Jews or for no more purpose than pure harassment.

A major form of harassment ignored by the world and supported by the U.S. is the hassle of waiting at crossing gates to enter or leave the Occupied Territories.

Americans going to see Dr. Yassine in Baltimore for medical treatment have no idea that he is not allowed to visit his wife in Gaza.  She has a Palestinian passport. He, on the other hand, born to parents living in a refugee camp in Beirut, is classified simply as a stateless “refugee.” His wife, Leila El-Haddad, can be with her husband only when she can get through the crossing point and visit him in America.  After which, she had to return to Gaza

On November 21, 2006, Leila found herself with her 2 year old son lined up with thousands of penniless Palestinians waiting to cross the Rafah gate. Hoping to get close to the head of the line, she arose predawn, packed her belongings, picked up her son and lined up for the crossing to open.  All day long, she waited, cared for a toddler while fighting to keep her place in line. From 4 AM until sunset, she waits. The gate did not open. So, she rushed back to the overnight ghetto seeking a room for another night. She tries again to enter Gaza the next morning. “It is hard not to believe that Israel “takes pleasure as we languish in uncertainty.”[5]  This went on every day for 15 days. Finally on December 6th, she and her son found themselves among the few who managed to make it through the Rafah crossing. She writes

I think the most disturbing and overwhelming feeling of all is having to come to grips with the realization that your life and how you live that life continue to be controlled wholly and absolutely by an Occupier and that its ability to deny you entry to your own home so abruptly, so arbitrarily, and yet so methodically – largely because of the acquiescence and complicity of the world—has become so accepted… You cannot fly. You cannot fish, you cannot move, you cannot breath, you cannot live. If you meet all these “cannots,” then you know you are from Gaza… Yet, the rest of the world goes on uninterrupted.[6]

Some actions of Israel go far beyond harassment in showing the Palestinians and the world just who has the upper hand.  I would put the killing of Hamas leaders in the category.  On December 14, 2006, Israel’s high court of justice ruled unanimously to legalize assassinations by Israeli forces against Palestinians.  “According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 339 Palestinians have been extra-judicially killed over the past six years, almost half of them bystanders.[7]

One can only imagine how out of control our media and congress would be if Hamas had established a program of targeted killings of 339 Jews in Israel simply because Gaza did not like them.

And sometimes, just sometimes, harassment takes the form of humiliation.  Such as when a ten year old Palestinian girl is taken into a room by herself and ordered by Israeli soldiers, probably female soldiers, to remove her clothes. When she was down to nothing but panties and a tee shirt, she was forced to take them off also as though she could be carrying an automatic gun or grenade beneath her underwear.  The fourth Geneva Convention says, “No child shall be subject to … degrading treatment or punishment.”   It also says, “Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour.”

When an old woman, a holocaust survivor, who had become critical of Israel’s humiliating policies toward those who were not Jews, is taken aside and cavity searched because she is suddenly classified an a terrorist, that is a pure violation of the Geneva Convention’s standards for any civilized nation. Never the less, it gets worse.  

I don’t know what to call it when a young woman, with cerebral palsy, while being strip searched in the Ben Gurion airport before a long flight to the U.S. is forced to give up her maxi pad. According to, that is exactly what happened to Maysoon Zayad  on July 31, 2006. She was not allowed to buy sanitary products as she waited for hours. She said:

Nothing, can be more embarrassing for a woman than to be forced to sit there in a wheelchair and bleed all over herself.”[8]

Add to Israel’s list of harrassments a few things such as building more settlements, cutting off Palestinian freedom to move from one place to another within their own country by an apartheid wall and Jewish only roads, cutting off access to electricity,  water and even education, denying trade by disallowing exports, and denying such imports as medicines, sugar, coffee, shoes, blankets, diapers, toys and the list goes on and on, you will have a nation of frustrated and hopeless people. Over time, someone will pick up any weapon they can find and push back.  A people will endure only so much humiliation and neglect. Then something is bound to happen and it probably will not be good, not for Palestine, nor Israel or the United States.

            Thomas Are
            November 20, 2014.

[1] Laila El-Haddad Gaza Mom  (Just Word Books, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2013) p.96.
[2] From Bert’s written personal report of his trip to the West Bank,  February, 2009.
[3] Lecture delivered by Eran Efrats,  December 17, 2013 at Oakhurst Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia.
[4] The story of  Salim Shawamreh  is found in Jeff  Halper’s book, An Israeli in Palestine,  (Pluto Press, 2012)  in association with The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
[5] Laila El-Haddad, Gaza Mom, (Best World Books, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2013) p. 186.
[6] Ibid.,  p. 188-198.
[7] Ibid.,  p.204
[8] All three of these strip search stories come from a video Behind the Barbed Wire, on what we aren’t being told about Israel-Palestine but need to know, produced by

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