Troops fired tear gas during a curfew in a West Bank village to stop peaceful demonstrations
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent: Friday, 16 September 2011
Israeli troops fired tear gas indiscriminately and sometimes dangerously to enforce a daytime curfew inside a West Bank village to stop Palestinians holding a peaceful demonstration on their own land, a military whistleblower has told The Independent.
The soldier’s insight into the methods of troops comes as the Israeli military prepares for demonstrations predicted when the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submits an application for the recognition of statehood to the UN next week.
The testimony also reinforces a report by the human rights agency B’Tselem which argues that the way Israel deals with protests in the small village of Nabi Saleh is denying the “basic right” to demonstrate in the West Bank. The right to demonstrate is enshrined in international conventions ratified by Israel.
The soldier, a reservist NCO with extensive combat experience, was among more than 20 soldiers sent into the village more than two hours before a planned Friday demonstration in July, to try to quash protests before they began. The protests started in December 2009 after Jewish settlers appropriated a spring on privately-owned Nabi Saleh land.
The reservist, who originally testified to the veterans’ organisation Breaking the Silence, told The Independent that they went into a house in the village and took a position on the roof. “The sun was very hot, but we had to keep our helmets on,” he said. “Then some soldiers start getting bored and start shooting tear gas on people. Every guy who is not in his house or in the mosque is a target.”
He said that 150 rounds of tear gas or stun grenades were fired during the day and one soldier boasted that he had fired a tear gas canister which passed within one centimetre of a resident’s head.
Army rules prohibit firing canisters directly at people because they have caused serious injuries in the past. Another soldier travelling with the whistleblower in a military vehicle out of the village was left with an unfired tear gas canister.
“He should have fired it into an open field but we passed a grocery story with some people outside it with children. After we passed it he just turned round and fired it at them.”
The reservist was given a week’s preparation on the use of stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas. He had been impressed by a four to five -hour visit to the trainees by the Binyamin Brigade Commander Sa’ar Tzur who addressed “issues of ethics and human life, not just on our side but on the other side”.
Some soldiers complained about the strictness of prohibitions – not always honoured, according to the leaders of the weekly Nabi Saleh protests – on the use of live ammunition. But Colonel Tzur “was very strict on the fact that these are the rules and that anyone who breaks them will pay for it”.
But the battalion officer, a religious West Bank settler, was “exactly the opposite,” he added. “At the base there was a mission statement signed by the Brigade Commander which said ‘we need to maintain the fabric of life for the civilian population, Israelis and Palestinians.’ The battalion officer crossed out the word ‘Palestinians’ and all the soldiers around started laughing.”