In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.
An Israeli settler we met, who recognised the need for a viable Palestinian state, still couldn’t imagine either most settlers being relocated (for economic reasons), nor that the settlements could be in that Palestinian state. The reason for the latter? In his opinion, there’d be a bloodbath. The basis of that? We were told of a young settler murdered in her bed – a tragic story passed on fearfully.
Just the day before we had heard the consequences of such fears. We had been taken through just what it takes to ensure settlers sleep easy in their bed. We had met with Military Court Watch, who are a small group of lawyers who focus on the experience of Palestinian children in Israeli courts. We heard that in order for settlers to sleep at night, their Palestinian neighbours do not get to.
Following the Six Day War of 1967, military law was imposed by the Israeli authorities in the occupied territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. International law permits such establishment of military courts to prosecute civilians in limited and temporary circumstances of military occupation. Over 50 years later, any definition of “temporary” is stretched beyond breaking point.
A further breach of international law comes with the settlement of Israeli citizens within that occupied territory, with 640,000 Israelis now settled in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Those settlements combine with the military court system to devastating effect for Palestinian civilians living close to any settlements – including children.
While an occupying military force should have a duty of care to the occupied people, the presence of settlers means that, instead, the Israeli military have been given the task of keeping small numbers of settlers safe from large numbers of people whose land they are occupying. Gerard Horton of Military Court Watch outlined what the Israeli military must do to achieve that:
No act of resistance can be ignored. The most common act is stone throwing, the most common perpetrators are children. So if stones are thrown, it will be assumed that young males from the nearest Palestinian village are responsible.
There may be intelligence suggesting who to arrest – but there is also an element of collective punishment in any response, which keeps Palestinian communities destabilised.
Arrests are nearly always carried out at night – this will find people at home and avoids riots, and is hugely intimidating. Soldiers will enter bedrooms either very loudly, or disconcertingly quietly. Everyone will be gathered in the living room, a noisy and scary combination for all parties. A detainee will be zip-tied – and blindfolded with no security justification. Minimal, if any, information will be provided about where they’re being taken.
Then a detainee – remember, this is often a child aged 12-17 – will be taken somewhere, perhaps with a few hours left waiting and wondering. Eventually they will be interrogated, with rights to silence and legal representation ignored.
The first time a detainee will meet a lawyer will be in a military court. The advice is nearly always to plead guilty, rather than spend 6 months on bail then be found guilty anyway. For stone-throwing, they will be sentenced to 4-6 months in jail, their parents fined, and a suspended sentence will hang over them for another 5 years.
And when a child comes home from detention, they are angry, isolated, rebellious, distrustful. You have a child whose sleep is disturbed and who has missed so much school they may well drop out.
Even if a family is not directly affected by a detention out of a night raid, a whole community’s sleep is disrupted, whole villages live with the uncertainty. One village experienced 16 night raids in the month of May, when their young people were sitting exams.
So the sleep of settlers comes at a very high price. It comes at a very high price for the Palestinian children who grow up with disrupted sleep, and experience arrest and detention. It comes at a very high price for Palestinian communities who live life on the edge, traumatised generation after generation. It comes at a very high price for the young Israelis serving in the military, who are brutalised by their role in these scenarios (see https://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/ for some of their testimonies.)
And I think it comes at a high price for the international community, including all of us, when international law is ignored and set aside in this context.
All this, to allow a few to get a good night’s sleep, at the expense of the many whose land they have occupied.
See http://www.militarycourtwatch.org for more information
Rev Jenny Adams
Minister of Duffus, Spynie & Hopeman Church