Why Occupation Is Wrong

“Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency.” Anon

Corruption and abuse of power are fairly commonplace in the world. Some examples we hear of, whilst others are conveniently brushed under the carpet.

From the Vatican to Burma and brown paper envelopes corruption goes much further, even the work of Transparency International only scratches the surface.

We can see this particularly when armies and occupation is involved.

Within living memory who can forget the slaughter at Tiananmen Square? Or how the US army acted in Vietnam? In Northern Ireland human rights abuses by the British Army and the RUC are well documented, but they only tell part of the story.

We have yet to hear testimonies from those soldiers involved in the slaughter of civilians in Sri Lanka or the abuses conducted by Syrian forces during the occupation of Lebanon, which ended around 2005.

So it is beneficial to hear the testimonies of Israeli soldiers, however, distressing they are.

They demonstrate, if that point needed reiterating, how destructive an occupation is, to the societies who conduct them and those that suffer under subjugation.

Many sources have noted how corrosive the occupation of the West Bank has been on Israeli society. Israelis themselves debate these issues on a daily basis, something that you don’t see much of in other societies. British brutality, castration and torture during its rule of Kenya is kept tidily within law courts.

Israeli society is divided, but the fact that so many Israelis are involved in pointing out abuses by the IDF and the Israeli government is a healthy one. This type of activity came very late to British society and only then when pressurised by the citizens of Northern Ireland.

It is worthwhile reading these accounts and remembering the longer lasting effects:

“For the past eight years, Breaking the Silence has been taking testimonies from former soldiers who witnessed or participated in human rights abuses in the occupied territories. Most of these accounts deal with “rough justice” administered to minors by soldiers on the ground, often without specific authorisation and without recourse to the military courts. Reading them, however, it’s hard not to recall the Sedley report’s shocked reference to the “belief, which was advanced to us by a military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a ‘potential terrorist'”.

The soldier puts it differently: “We were sort of indifferent. It becomes a kind of habit. Patrols with beatings happened on a daily basis. We were really going at it. It was enough for you to give us a look that we didn’t like, straight in the eye, and you’d be hit on the spot. We got to such a state and were so sick of being there.”

Some time ago, after he had testified to Breaking the Silence, we had interviewed this soldier. As he sat nervously one morning in a quiet Israeli beauty spot, an incongruous location he had chosen to ensure no one knew he was talking, he went through his recollections about the incident – and several others – once again. His account does not match the Palestinian’s in every detail. (Hafez remembers a gun being pressed to his temple, for example, while the soldier recalls that the commander “actually stuck the gun barrel in the kid’s mouth. Literally”.)

Breaking the silence: soldiers’ testimonies

First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade

Salfit 2009

“We took over a school and had to arrest anyone in the village who was between the ages of 17 and 50. When these detainees asked to go to the bathroom, and the soldiers took them there, they beat them to a pulp and cursed them for no reason, and there was nothing that would legitimise hitting them. An Arab was taken to the bathroom to piss, and a soldier slapped him, took him down to the ground while he was shackled and blindfolded. The guy wasn’t rude and did nothing to provoke any hatred or nerves. Just like that, because he is an Arab. He was about 15, hadn’t done a thing.

“In general people at the school were sitting for hours in the sun. They could get water once in a while, but let’s say someone asked for water five times, a soldier could come to him and slap him just like that. I saw many soldiers using their knees to hit them, just out of boredom. Because you’re standing around for 10 hours doing nothing, you’re bored, so you hit them. I know that at the bathroom, there was this ‘demons’ dance’ as it was called. Anyone who brought a Palestinian there – it was catastrophic. Not bleeding beatings – they stayed dry – but still beatings.”
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Free Mahmoud Sarsak

The plight of Mahmoud Sarsak should make us think about what we mean by justice.

Is it right that young Palestinians are locked up, as prisoners, without a trial?

Internment, unlawful combatants, administrative detention or lettre de cachet.

Many countries do it, the UK, the US, Ireland and even France.

Whatever you call it, locking people up without trial has many names and it is wrong.

France 24 explains Mahmoud Sarsak’s difficulties:

“AFP – In 2009, Mahmud Sarsak set out from Gaza to sign on with a West Bank football team, but what he thought was the start of a dream career quickly spiralled into a nightmare.

Three years later, the young athlete is lying in a bed in an Israeli prison clinic after spending more than 80 days without eating in protest at his being held without charge.

With his case drawing more and more attention, the Israel Prison Authority on Monday told AFP that Sarsak had ended his strike.

But the Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoners’ Club denied the claim, as did his family, although his lawyer Mohammed Jabarin admitted Sarsak was “drinking milk” in a move which he said did not amount to breaking the strike.

Sarsak, 25, was born in Gaza and dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. As a teenager, he played several times for the Palestinian national team in Europe and the Middle East, attracting favourable attention from coaches.

So when he set out for the West Bank on July 22, 2009, he felt he had a promising career ahead of him.

But he never even got there.

As he tried to pass the Erez crossing into Israel, Sarsak was arrested and has been held ever since under Israel’s so-called unlawful combatants law, which allows suspects to be held without charge under a procedure similar to administrative detention.

Israeli officials have called Sarsak an “Islamic Jihad terrorist who planned attacks and bombings,” but have not made public any charges or evidence against him.

“They want to kill my Mahmud,” says his mother Umm al-Abed, sitting outside a solidarity tent by International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza City. “Why isn’t the world doing anything?”

FIFA on Tuesday called on the Israeli Football Association to make contact with the relevant Israeli authorities to secure the release of Sarsak and other players it said were being held.

“In a letter to the Israel Football Association, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter expressed today grave concern and worry about the alleged illegal detention of Palestine football players,” a FIFA statement said.

Sarsak began his hunger strike on March 23 as a wave of similar protests swept through the population of Palestinians being held in Israeli jails. “

Habeas Corpus should apply to young Palestinians, Israelis or those locked up by Kings and despots across the Middle East.

B’Tselem Statistics on Administrative Detention.

How Bahrain held its opponents without habeas corpus for weeks and months.