The above title could compete well with the famous ‘Small earthquake in Chile, not many dead’ for the least attention grabbing headline of the year.
On Thursday last week, we got a call that the Israeli military were in Jayyous and were parked by the small square in the middle of the village. We walked up and found three army jeeps and four soldiers standing beside them. A small crowd of children and youths was beginning to gather. A few of the boys began to throw stones. The army responded with tear gas. No verbal warning, just tear gas canisters fired straight at the children. We were behind the children at a little distance. A canister bounced off the ground on to a car next to me. Used correctly, tear gas canisters should be fired at an angle of 60 degrees otherwise they can cause considerable injury. It is also advised not to fire them in a residential area.
The soldiers then drove off. We caught up with them at the end of the village where we met a very distressed child who said that soldiers had come into his house and asked about his brother. Other than him, there were only women in the house so the army had left. We tried to talk with the soldiers but they said they didn’t speak English. By now a much larger crowd had reached the area.
More stone throwing and more tear gas. We went down a side street at right angles to the action where we could still see the soldiers. I saw soldiers take aim and fire the tear gas horizontally. Then they moved back round the village. About 20 people caught the tear gas and ran coughing and spluttering. Vegetable shops began handing out onions. Sniffing onions mitigates the effects of tear gas.
I got a call from our driver, Abed, that he was on his roof and could see the jeeps parked beside our house and that we should not go there. We joined him and could see the tear gas being fired in several directions – this time at least some of it was being fired correctly and we could see it arc up. After about a dozen canisters had been fired, the soldiers left.
I don’t condone stone throwing; it is a violent act. But it should be obvious that it is an inevitable response to an occupation which has brought such loss, grief and despair to a village like Jayyous. The adrenalin rush is almost a relief. I could feel that myself after two weeks of hearing grindingly depressing stories about people’s lives. Tear gas, without warning, seems a gross over reaction. It is possible that the soldiers were frightened though when they fired the first round there were not many people on the street.
I think of the result of that small incursion. Jayyous is mainly one big long street. The army had stopped their vehicles in the middle, the far end and near the end just by our house. This meant that most of Jayyous had had tear gas. Some people got it in their homes. It is appalling for this to be ‘normal life’ for people who live here. In the street it was not so bad as it disperses quickly outside and by the time we went home it was just a lingering smell.
The army had presumably acquired miles more video footage of stone-throwing children, which they can choose either to use or not, to make arrests on a future occasion. It leaves parents feeling anxious. The children and young men were certainly not contrite. I could hear them later chattering outside our gate. They were in a state of high excitement. They hadn’t had such fun in ages, not since last time.
The trouble with so much of being under military occupation is that you never know what is going on. You are always left guessing. Was this a training exercise? ‘Breaking the Silence’, the Israeli ex- soldiers organisation, had told us that this sometimes happens. One of the soldiers looked quite young but the others were older than the ones we usually see at the agricultural gates. One person I spoke to said that the army were just playing games; another said that they just wanted to let everyone know they were there. If the army had wanted to arrest someone, surely they should go straight to that house and if the person was not there, then leave. Instead they stayed in the village for about three quarters of an hour.
How does this contribute to Israel’s security? At worst it would seem to be deliberate provocation, at best it looks like phenomenally bad policing.
I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt firstname.lastname@example.org for permission. Thank you.