Cruelty, when viewed in the abstract, can lose its power.
What I mean by this is that looking at how and why cruelty is inflicted on innocents – often with innocent and impoverished malice – tends to elicit a different, more visceral response than reading about how and why cruelty is inflicted on innocents on the dry side.
This column will, I suspect, be an example of that phenomenon. Here’s another one.
Late last year, a 104-page report was published – the key product of the cooperation of several Israeli human rights groups that took almost three years to complete.
Based on interviews with numerous Palestinian victims and Israeli perpetrators, the study – entitled Life Exposed – documented in clinical, disturbing detail how the violent practice of “house invasions” in the occupied West Bank had and still is profound. psychological and other lasting consequences for the children, women and men whose homes are suddenly invaded in the early morning hours.
I was reading the post at the time. I read accounts of the report. But I did not write about the report, and I suppose reporting by others would be sufficient. I was wrong. I had to.
In retrospect, I was not moved to write a column because the horrific violations and injustices that the report writers exposed – however shocking – were largely recorded in my mind and not my heart.
There was an emotional distance between me and the disturbing facts set out on page after page of Life Exposed.
I reckon that the authors of the report, in compiling their study, wrestled with this well-known chasm – how to pierce readers’ hearts and minds not only to draw attention to the inhumanity they exposed not, but to encourage them to raise their voices to challenge, to denounce and against the routine, thugs desecration of houses – and of course the people who live in them – in occupied Palestine.
I was reminded of my unfortunate failure earlier this week, a video of another house invasion on another Palestinian family trying to survive Israel’s relentless occupation has been widely shared on social media, and, as far as I can understand, only broadcast by a few news organizations that are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
The short, filthy video confirms every word of the long, comprehensive report. The cruelty perpetrated by Israeli “soldiers” on vivid, furious display penetrates the heart, soul and mind.
While the video is part of a library of images – silent and moving – that recorded the outrageous acts committed by an occupying army against Palestinian children and women, there is a particularly sinister quality to which we are obliged to to behold.
The house raid took place on the evening of September 3 in Hebron. A pack of heavily armed Israeli soldiers pushes them away to the once quiet house.
One of the Palestinian women holding up a cellphone tells the intruders that she works for B’tselem – an Israeli-based human rights group. The Israeli invaders were untouched.
One intruder orders the children, who usually wear T-shirts and look surprised, to gather in a room. The children, many of whom slept, filed in. One girl waves to the camera. Another wipe from tears. Others stand dumbfounded with arms crossed. There are, according to my score, a total of 16 children, including a baby, who are being held by another Palestinian woman. They look at the camera like a herd of lambs in a cage.
An intruder claims the house invasion was caused by rock throwing. This is probably a convenient manufacture. As Life Exposed makes clear – referring to the testimony of Israeli soldiers – house raids are carried out arbitrarily, without a court-issued search warrant. One of the explicit goals is to traumatize, to entrench fear and insecurity in the already broken lives of Palestinian children.
An intruder takes out his cell phone to take a photo of the trapped, confused children. A Palestinian speaks English and protests, “Do you like it when soldiers come and take pictures of your children?”
The intruder remains quiet and complacent. He knows that as he swings a gun, he exercises the power – the power of violence and intimidation.
Then the true nature of the intruder’s abominable cruelty reveals itself. It is a mixture of fierce arrogance and a casual, enjoyable impulse to humiliate and humiliate Palestinian children in the presence of their worried family members.
With a smile, he tells the kids to say “cheese.”
It is a stagnant, breathtaking moment that should shock anyone with a conscience.
But this Israeli invader’s cruelty is borne out of a lasting sense of superiority and impunity. The invader knows, based on the weapon and nationality he carries, that he can do whatever he wants to those Palestinian children and his superiors and most Israelis will defend his deliberate cruelty, if not applaud.
Yet, in a display of gripping resistance, the Palestinian mothers shout, “No.”
Of the children, too young to understand the soldier’s contempt for their home and descent, compels him. Once again, a Palestinian mother shouts, “No.”
“They want to,” said the smiling intruder, before asking the children to say “cheese” again. This time, loudly, his indisputable rule not only over these Palestinian families and their home, but also their fate.
Too many Israelis and their apologists abroad can never, will never, admit that the soldiers who invaded that Palestinian house in September, and thousands of other houses that were invaded before and in the future, are guilty of the cruelty that the rest of we can see.
Instead, they have blamed Palestinian children and will blame them for the blatant malice inflicted on them by Israeli soldiers, which, despite the evidence gathered even by Israeli human rights groups, escapes any sanction for their crimes.
And these are crimes, with a series of indelible consequences for the generations of Palestinian families who have had to endure it – whether Israelis and their apologists abroad will admit the truth or not.
The house raids inflicted deep psychological damage on Palestinian families. Children become especially depressed, anxious, scared. Whatever sense of stability or privacy they have enjoyed at home, is immediately replaced by constant worry and fear of the inevitability of more shocking violence.
Paralyzed by premonition, children lose interest in school, retreat into silence or become irritated and grumpy, unable to cope with the unpredictability that is now a defining aspect of their turbulent lives.
Think about this amazing finding“While lifelong prevalence of PTSD in children worldwide ranges from 6.8% to 12.2%, it is estimated at 34.1% –50.4% among Palestinian children living in the West Bank.”
The pursuit of security has little to do with Israeli soldiers carrying out house raids. The overarching intention is to condition Palestinians to respect for Israeli authority through repeated and sudden attacks on the center of Palestinian life – the home.
That these assaults are premeditated while Palestinian homes are resting and children are sleeping is an unmistakable echo of the cold modus operandi of other racist regimes that have practiced apartheid on persecuted and imprisoned people.
To deny this is to deny history.
In June, Israel allegedly curtailed the use of “mapping” – a large part of the reason for its raids – in a reluctant response to the Life Exposed report.
The perverse goal of “mapping” is to create a photographic record of the layout of looted Palestinian homes in the West Bank, and, perhaps more importantly, of all their occupants, including infants and children for so-called “operational” purposes – which is a euphemism for terrorizing Palestinians.
Clearly, that promise was a lie.
That lucky soldier took a photo of 16 children in a house he and his assault rifle invaders raided as a horrible souvenir and, adding to Israel’s catalog of Palestinian children, “mapped it in visible and invisible ways” “and injured.
I’m sure he and other callous Israelis are proud.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.