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The story behind the viral ‘apartheid’ photo

Recently, a photograph made waves for its depiction of the disparities in the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian minors.

This is what happened to the boys in the photo, with a strange twist involving an Israeli soldier lost in a Palestinian village.

 

By Avi Blecherman (translated by Hadas Leonov)

The following story is going to make your jaw drop, as it demonstrates the absurdity of this place, a reality beyond any imagination — especially if you are a Palestinian.

This is a story about a family in Jerusalem who encounters the police 3times in the span of a few days. Each encounter is its own adventure.

You probably remember the powerful photo shared across social media outlets from a few weeks back. Well, not the exact one, but rather its twin that was sold to one of the big news agencies.

This one is very close to the original:

A. (right) is arrested by Border Police, while the Jewish boy who accused A. of assaulting him, Jerusalem's Old City, July 25, 2015. (photo: Mahmoud Illean)

It was taken a few Sundays ago during Tisha B’Av (a Jewish day of fasting which commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem) in the Muslim Quarter market not far from Damascus Gate.

In the photo we see a Palestinian teen being arrested by two Israeli Border Police officers, looking nervous as his hands are folded behind his back.

To his left is a Jewish boy, most likely a resident of the Muslim Quarter. A policeman accompanies him, only that the former gently puts his hand on the boy’s shoulder, as if he is strolling with his younger brother. He is even suppressing a tiny smile.

In the original photo the Jewish boy is seen talking to the policeman, and it is clear he feels comfortable with him.

One might guess that the reason they are there together is related to something that happened a moment earlier, though it is impossible to know from the photo.

The difference in body language between the two boys — and between them and the policemen — is well pronounced, giving the photo its power. They illustrate better than any description what occupation and apartheid look like: a regime based on total separation between two groups that are treated in a very different manner by the government.

But this post will describe what the photo doesn’t reveal, including the sequence of events that occurred before and after it was taken. The story that I bring here relies on the testimony by both the Palestinian teen who was arrested, as well as that of his father.

The father, Muhammed, told me:

 

My son A,, who is 14.5 years old, traveled from our village, Issawiya, to the market in the Old City. Our friends have a shop there and he went to visit them. My son says a settler boy passed by him, the same one who appears in the photo next to him.

Nothing happened between them, and yet that boy went to the cops and complained that my son had hit him. He accused at 7 Palestinian children — among them my son — and they were immediately arrested.

People who witnessed what happened saw my son being dragged on the ground through the market and then taken to the police station.

At the station, the father says, the seven boys were lowered to the floor and made to sit on their knees while their hands were cuffed.

 

Anyone who lifted his head up for a moment was hit. My son said the policemen hit them in their stomach, head, back and legs.

They tried to scare them while the boys attempted to explain they didn’t do anything and that the settler boy made the whole thing up. But nobody listened to them. They were cursed and beaten.

No one called us or contacted a lawyer. They were simply beaten because that boy complained.

The entire story became known to us when the photos from the arrest spread in the social media. When I saw it I simply went mad, I ran to the police.

When I got there, they had already released them after they found out that the boy lied. The police just threw the boys out and denied any claim that they had hit them. Ever since my son is constantly anxious.

He is still a boy, a good boy. Think about what this does to a child who is arrested and beaten just like that. But look at him, he tells all the people who came to visit him that he is alright and that he’s lucky.

Think of all the Palestinians who are arrested and sit in jail without being released after a few hours like he was.

Jerusalem Police responded to the claims as follows:

 

Due to the officers’ suspicion that the minor was involved in a violent incident, he was taken to the nearby police station. Even prior to the arrival of the policemen with the minor to the police station, it was made clear that he was most likely not involved in the incident and was therefore immediately released. Meanwhile, the police are acting to locate those who were involved in the incident.

‘Get me an officer!’

The story was supposed to end here, but the next morning brought about an absurd plot twist.

Muhammed and his family live in the village of Issawiya in East Jerusalem, adjacent to Mount Scopus and the French Hill.

While still with his son and family at home, while everyone was trying to go back to their normal routine following the arrest, the phone rang. A friend from the village called Muhammed to come outside to look at something odd: an IDF soldier in uniform walking alone through Issawiya without a weapon, as if he fell out of the sky.

“I asked the friend whether he belongs to the Border Police or city police, because that is what we typically see here. But he just answered ‘No, he’s a real soldier — come and see.’”

 

I went outside and saw a soldier in a navy uniform who looked completely lost. I approached him with a few other people, and he looked a bit stressed. I asked him how he got here, and whether he knew he was in a Palestinian village. He said: ‘I accidentally got off the bus here, the app indicated that it’s here.’ I told him not to worry, and come to my car so that I could drive him to the gas station at the entrance to the village.

WATCH: Muhammed and the soldier in the cab. (Courtesy of Channel 10′s Hatzinor, Hebrew only)

During their trip, Muhammed did two things.

First he called the police and told them he picked up a soldier that wound up in the village, that the soldier is being safely transported to the exit of Issawiya where they are welcome to pick him up.

Second, he started shooting a video just in case, for whatever blame they may try to put on him.

Muhammed was incarcerated for many years because he participated in the First Intifada. Today he is active in the struggle against land expropriation and home demolitions in East Jerusalem, taking a nonviolent approach to fighting the occupation, while maintaining contact with many left-wing Israeli activists.

“You have to understand the reality here,” he tells me, “the police here are looking to blame us for anything. And with my past, if the police see me me, they’ll detain me, they will want to get my car off the road and give me a report. They hassle me about every little thing.”

When they arrived at the gas station, the police who were summoned there had yet to arrive. In the video, Muhammed is seen telling the embarrassed soldier: “I don’t think your government worries about you too much, you must be from the Mizrahim (Jews of Arab descent) — an Iraqi or Yemenite.

“Look, they did not even ask about you. If they were worried, the policemen would have come here straight away!”

Then he is heard speaking in Arabic to someone: “A soldier entered Issawiya by mistake and nobody is asking about him. We asked for an officer to come to pick him up and nobody is coming. It must be because he’s a Jew of Arab descent, otherwise they would have recruited the Americans and French to come here too.”

After a while, a police car arrived to pick up the soldier.

One of the Border Police officers approached the soldier and said to him: “You know this is a racist village, a village of murderers, you are lucky you weren’t killed,” as Muhammed sat right next to them. When Muhammed protested, the policeman answered him rudely, threatened him and demanded that he get out of there. That moment was documented as well.

Muhammed became upset. “Why do you treat me with such racism?” he asked, “If something would have happened to him, all of the Israeli police would be here, but we brought him here safely. Look at how we behave and how you behave.” Then the police officer in charge came and apologized. “Leave him, he’s just a kid,” he said about the young policeman.

“It is not like there weren’t people from the village who told me that I should leave him there, and let him go to hell. Some of them did not like what I did, but this is really not our culture. You see him without a weapon, scared, alone, with nobody around him. He’s a human being. No one knows more about this feeling than I.”

Avi Blecherman is an Israeli activist and journalist.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is a blogger.This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he/she is a blogger. Read it here.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

“You see him without a weapon, scared, alone, with nobody around him. He’s a human being. No one knows more about this feeling than I.”

Recently, a photograph made waves for its apparent depiction of the disparities in the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian minors.
This is what happened to the boys…

Ten Years to grow an Olive Tree: Israel destroyed 500,000 Palestinian trees since 2001…

Some 80,000 Palestinians families depend on the annual olive harvest for their livelihoods. This year alone, settlers, with the backing of the army, have destroyed or damaged thousands of olive trees, threatening both a major source of income and an age-old agricultural custom.

Dry shrubs and a mishmash of makeshift tarpaulin shelters cover parts of this parched valley in the South Hebron Hills.

The carcass of a car rests in the bottom of a cistern. According to Breaking the Silence, (an organization of veteran combatants that works to expose to the Israeli public to the realities of the occupation), the rusty car had been placed there by local settlers in order to contaminate collected rainwater with rust.

Alon Aviram published under “The war on the Palestinian olive harvest“:

This is the village of Susya al-Qadima. There is an absence of local infrastructure, as Israeli civil authorities repeatedly deny building permits, and the entire village has been issued pending demolition orders. Unlike the much younger neighboring Jewish settlement of Susya, it doesn’t get much more arid and inaccessible in the West Bank than here.

Last Saturday, Israeli Border Police declared an area belonging to Susya al-Qadima a closed military zone, effective immediately. An officer waved papers at us and stated that he was legally warranted to force everyone out of the valley. We noticed that the orders were outdated, unsigned, and dictated that only Israelis were prohibited from entering the specified site. This did not stop the temporary expulsion of Palestinian locals.

An activist beside me from Taayush, (an Israeli and Palestinian organization which uses non-violent direct action to try to end the occupation), was detained as he argued against the authority’s actions. He was handcuffed and marched to the army pillbox overlooking the valley.

The Border Police prohibited locals from farming their own land, manhandled us, and threatened anyone who remained in the area with arrest. Instead of harvesting, the families gathered outside the closed military zone, overlooking their unpicked olive grove from a distance. Just another day in the South Hebron Hills.

Year after year, West Bank farmers experience multiple types of restrictions and physical attacks.

In the first week of this year’s olive harvest, more than 870 olive trees were vandalized or destroyed by settlers, according to the United Nations. Hundreds more are reported to have since been damaged or destroyed across the West Bank.

A total of some 7,500 olive trees belonging to Palestinians were destroyed or damaged by settlers between January and mid October 2012, according to a recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Since 2001, half a million olive trees have reportedly been uprooted in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (West Bank). It takes an average of ten years before newly planted olive trees can begin producing fruit. Consequently, the ramifications of this widespread vandalism are felt long-term.

The olive industry in the Occupied Palestinian Territories supports 80,000 families, and accounts for 14% of the OPT economy’s agricultural income. The inability of farmers to cultivate or harvest their crops due to security-related pretexts or the physical destruction of trees undermines the fragile Palestinian economy and makes arable subsistence for communities less feasible.

With water shortages, restrictions to land access, and the expropriation of land by settlements and the separation barrier, total agricultural output has been seriously damaged. The proportion of GDP earned from agriculture fell from 28 percent to 5.6 percent in the past 20 years.

The Israeli army has rejected claims that it has neglected its legal obligation under international law as the occupying power to protect Palestinian civilians and property. It has repeatedly stated that it works to protect Palestinians and their crops during harvest.

“The army, the Civil Administration and other relevant organizations are taking every possible effort to secure the olive harvest,” Israeli army spokesman Eytan Buchman told The Media Line. Facts on the ground and in the courts suggest otherwise.

The Israeli NGO Yesh Din has reported that out of the 162 complaints they have lodged about settler attacks on Palestinian trees since 2005, only one suspect has been indicted. The recurrent high levels of violence directed at both Palestinian farmers and their crops is indicative of a pervasive culture of impunity; perpetrators have reason to believe that the Israeli state will not charge them.

The destruction of olive trees is not only economically burdensome for the West Bank economy and its people, but also represents an affront symbolically and culturally. The age-old Palestinian family tradition of harvesting olives and maintaining the trees for the next generations is desecrated annually.

While the olive tree has become a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness, the Israeli occupation has in turn become characterized by its destruction.

Later that same day, a Jeep full of soldiers waited alongside us as we picked olives in another grove not too far from Susya. Under the tree, a middle-aged man shook his head as he looked at the soldiers. He pointed at the olive trees and explained which ones are owned by and depended on by which families. “They planted so we can eat, and we must plant so they can eat,” he explained.

This old way of life is alien to the average city dweller but it is a vital lifeline for many people in the West Bank. Due to Israeli political policy, which seems intent on unofficially annexing Area C of the West Bank, in which Susya is located, this means of subsistence is fast disappearing.

Alon Aviram is graduate of Sussex University with a degree in international relations, and is currently an intern with +972 Magazine.

Related:
WATCH: Olive trees destroyed by settlers in South Hebron Hills
Photos: Three arrested as settlers, soldiers disrupt Hebron olive harvest


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