A photo has been circling around the web in the last three days of an Israeli soldier holding a Palestinian child in a headlock. I stumbled across the video of the entire encounter. The video was posted on Facebook and it began playing without my consent (you know that annoying feature where your newsfeed suddenly comes alive?). I couldn’t look away.
There, a soldier grabs a young child, tightens him in a headlock and the kid is screaming. His arm is broken. Someone starts yelling that the soldier is strangling him. He can’t breathe. I had a flashback of Eric Garner saying the same words as he fell to the ground as a police officer of the NYPD choked him.
A crowd of protesters and women begin to surround the soldier. Grandmothers surround him and try to wrestle the child free. The women hit him; their fists balled seemingly more in anger and frustration than an ability to cause harm. A young girl emerges. He hits back violently. He slams the kid against a rock. I cringed. A crowd of photographers also emerges; a Palestinian flag crests over one of the hills. The soldier is alone in this crowd. One of the women snags the soldier’s facemask. Suddenly, this soldier becomes a person. Until that moment, he had been this anonymous, terrifying figure with a giant gun, eyes peering out of holes cut in a balaclava wearing army fatigues. But then, this monstrous man suddenly transformed into a boy. And you see that he is surrounded by a large crowd of people seething with hate and fear trying to rescue their own child. His fear and insecurity is palpable as well. Other soldiers arrive, they separate the soldier from the crowd, and as they walk away they throw a tear-gas bomb, like magicians pulling a disappearing act in a cloud of smoke. Over 3,000,000 people have watched the video.
In less than 3 minutes, it captured everything that is wrong with the occupation.
Occupation corrupts the occupiers as much as it destroys the dignity and future of the occupied. This video captures that. This situation is not limited to only a struggle of good versus evil, right versus wrong. It’s not just the Israeli who transformed from David into Goliath and that the Palestinian child is throwing stones at him. It is all wrapped up in a system of injustice that compromises the very morals of the people within it. Anshel Pfeffer writes in this article in Ha'aretz about the incident and calls out that the reason this soldier is wearing a mask is due to shame. No one wants to return home to their family on the weekend and see videos posted of themselves "manhandling women and children on Youtube."
The occupation is not just soldier versus Palestinian--it is boy against child. It is the women and a village that through weekly non-violent protests attempt to draw attention to their plight. It is the international and local activists and news media that flock to the hills and surround the two actors. It is the whole situation of multiple players, institutions, narratives, motives, tactics, strategies, and politics that taint the reality.
Yet, even with all these cooks in the kitchen and all complexities and nuances aside, this whole ordeal is chilling. I can’t breathe.
I’ve walked those hills and those rocks. I’ve seen the white buildings of the settlement Halamish that is right next door. The entire affair happened in Nabi-Saleh, a well-known spot of resistance to the occupation and weekly confrontations. The video is produced by Bilal Tamimi, of the Tamimi family, protagonists on the stage of anti-occupation protests. (I wrote a post in April about my conversation with Manel Tamimi in her home.) We sat in her living room where the centerpiece of the coffee table was a collection of rubber bullets. I’ve heard firsthand the frustration, the desperation, the fear, the hate, and strangely, the hope that one-day, this will all change. Maybe a video like this will help.
Photos taken while on a tour of the West Bank with Extend (a different take on Birthright trips) in January 2015. Click on an individual photo to see it larger.
You can see the full video here: