Israeli soldiers have raided the office of Youth Against Settlements four times since the organization in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron posted a video to YouTube two weeks ago showing Israeli soldier David Adamov cocking his assault rifle at unarmed Palestinian youths.
The video went viral and has since provoked a violent backlash from Israeli soldiers who have mounted social media campaigns expressing their solidarity with Adamov’s actions.
“They are going after everyone who was part of this video,” said 34-year-old Issa Amro, the founder and director of Youth Against Settlements, speaking to me over the phone yesterday from Hebron.
During one of the raids, an Israeli soldier threatened to shoot Amro and declared that Israeli soldiers are in Hebron to protect Jews, not Palestinians. The exchange was caught on video and posted online by Amira Hass of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
Saddam Abu Sneinah, a 20-year-old activist with Youth Against the Settlements who appears in the now famous video being kicked by Adamov, has been subjected to the most brutal harassment of all.
To excuse Adamov’s behavior, the Israeli army falsely claimed that Abu Sneinah was armed with brass knuckles. Youth Against Settlements immediately responded with a second video showing Abu Sneinah armed with nothing more than prayer beads.
Days later, Abu Sneinah was arrested, beaten and tortured. And the attacks didn’t stop there. He has been detained several times since his release and just last night Abu Sneinah’s home was raided, his mother and sisters beaten and his brother arrested in what Amro described as “revenge” for the video.
Times’ false report
Meanwhile, The New York Times refuses to properly correct its reporting after spreading the Israeli army lie that Abu Sneinah was armed with brass knuckles. Amro, who was interviewed by the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, told me he alerted her to the video evidence exposing this as false, but she neglected to mention it in her article.
What follows is a transcript of the phone interview I conducted with Amro, which has been lightly edited for clarity. Based on his account, it is clear that the Palestinians of Hebron are at the mercy of racist and violent Israeli soldiers accountable to no one.
Rania Khalek: Several news outlets report that Israeli soldiers raided the Youth Against Settlements office in Hebron in retaliation for the video. How many times has this happened?
Issa Amro: Israeli soldiers raided our office four times after the video was posted to YouTube. Once on Thursday, 1 May, twice on Friday, 2 May, and again on Saturday.
The first time they came to see who filmed the video and they threatened us that next time they will not be silent about provoking the soldiers by filming them.
They asked who filmed it. I told them I was the one who filmed it, which is not true. I said this to protect the other activists who are not well-experienced in defending themselves from the soldiers. The soldier did not believe me. He said, “No, it was someone else.” So I took the commander aside and I told him, “Listen, now we have a better camera, which is an HD camera filming you from above,” because we have a CCTV system.
And he was afraid, so they started to leave. When they were going out the commander told me, exactly, “We will not be silent about you provoking the soldiers. We will shoot you directly.” I told him, “Wait, wait. I want to film you saying that.” But he refused to repeat it in front of the camera.
The day after, on Friday morning, two soldiers and two settlers came to our center. One of the settlers claimed that someone threw stones from the center. I told her, “Okay. What time? Tell me because I want to check the CCTV system to see who did it.”
Then she started saying, “No, I don’t remember. I don’t see.” I told her, “You said that it was five minutes ago and now you don’t remember? Please leave, you and the soldiers.” The soldiers start shouting and yelling at me not to talk to them in this way. Then the soldier told me directly that they are there to protect the Jews not the Palestinians. I was telling him, “No, you are here to protect me as well as the Jews. I am your responsibility.”
Then one of them told me that he doesn’t protect a son of a bitch. I told him, “If I am a son of a bitch, then you are what?” He told me, “I am waiting for you to say it so I can shoot you.”
Then, that night, Israeli soldiers invaded our center and the surrounding neighborhood for training.
Yesh Din [Hebrew for “there is law”], an Israeli legal advocacy organization, found that soldiers by law aren’t allowed to train in inhabited areas.
But unfortunately soldiers came to have a training to scare us and to give us a hard time. Imagine that you are in the middle of something and you see soldiers pointing their guns at you.
They raided the office from three directions and pointed the guns at us, then they left outside in our yard and into the neighborhood, which is three or four meters from our center, shouting “fire, fire, fire!” Because we have experience with this, we knew that it was a training. But it was still so scary.
On Saturday morning the same soldiers came to the entrance of our center and one of them gave the signal [slashing-throat gesture] for slaughtering someone.
RK: What is the purpose of these raids?
IA: It’s not about destroying. It’s not about invasion. It’s about scaring the people who filmed and published the video. It’s about showing unity with the soldiers of the Nahal Brigade [of which Adamov is a member] and to show that they are heroes in front of the Israeli public.
The Israeli public gives them false motivation to be the best soldier who misbehaves and has a very bad reputation. The solidarity campaign to support the soldier encourages other soldiers do whatever they like and be aggressive as they want.
RK: Have Israeli soldiers targeted you outside of the Youth Against Settlements office?
IA: From time to time, they detain us at the checkpoints. Last Friday I was attacked by the soldiers when I was filming protests in Hebron, a solidarity protest for the hunger strikers. One of them threatened that he will shoot me if I have a camera. If you go to our YouTube channel you see video of this [author’s note: see the video at the top of this post].
I have a lot of false arrests. My lawyer now is suing the Israeli government for misbehaving and arresting me many times without any reason.
RK: The Israeli army claimed that Saddam Abu Sneinah was armed with brass knuckles. But Youth Against the Settlements released a video showing that he was holding prayer beads. Are Israeli soldiers threatening Saddam as well?
IA: Saddam was detained. Then he was released and went home. Then he came back and unfortunately he came during the soldier’s action after the soldier cocked his gun to attack the other kid in the white T-shirt who is 15-years-old. So the soldier targeted Saddam and slapped and kicked him. It was very obvious to the soldier that Saddam didn’t have anything dangerous in his hand.
Saddam was released that day; he was not rearrested. Then they arrested him three days after the video was posted. The video was filmed on Sunday, 27 April and Saddam was arrested on Wednesday.
In his arrest he was beaten badly. They kept beating him until he fainted. Then he was kept handcuffed and blindfolded on the concrete floor for all the night. They kept him until Thursday night. He was held for 24 hours and they had to take him to the hospital. There they released him. Then they detained him again. Then they released him. They are detaining him whenever they see him.
But it is not just Saddam. They are going after everyone who as part of this video.
[The call ended abruptly here. When I reconnected with Issa thirty minutes later, he had news to share about Sadam.]
IA: Something happened just now. The Israeli soldiers invaded Saddam’s house. They attacked his sisters and his mother and arrested his thirty-year-old brother. When Saddam called me, he was crying and I could hear a lot of screaming and shouting inside the house. It is revenge for the video.
RK: Youth Against Settlements have been filming soldiers in Hebron for a while now. Have they always been this aggressive toward you?
IA: The soldiers are less aggressive in the area of the cameras. Saddam’s house is outside our target area where we film all the time.
RK: Without the cameras, what do you think would happen?
IA: In the past many Palestinians were shot and killed by the soldiers and the soldiers would put a fruit knife near them and claim that they tried to attack them. A camera is the most trusted witness and the best protection tool in Hebron.
RK: Israeli soldiers staunchly defended the soldier in the video you posted when they wrongly believed he had been punished for cocking his gun at unarmed Palestinians. What do you think that means about the state of mind of these soldiers?
IA: First of all, they don’t punish soldiers who are violent to Palestinians. On many other occasions, soldiers attacked Palestinians and humiliated them, but they were not punished. What happened tonight to Saddam’s family is one of the best examples. His family was attacked and beaten up and the soldiers will not be punished at all. This is the normal situation.
The video embarrassed the army. What embarrassed them more is that many people showed their support, which means that soldiers are getting more and more support from the Israeli public these days to become more wild.
When we published the video we thought that the Israelis will be ashamed and embarrassed about their soldiers. We saw something different. The soldier got solidarity and support from the Israeli public and soldiers, which means that they want more and more violence towards the Palestinians. This shows that the external plans for peace negotiations is going in the wrong direction by putting high pressure on the Palestinians and not putting high pressure on the Israeli government to end the occupation.
RK: Do you think Israeli society is becoming more extreme?
IA: Yes. It is so extreme, so fanatic. A lot of comments on the video are against us, calling to kill and smash our heads in the future. It is a really, really sick environment.
In Hebron, the Israeli soldiers and settlers are working hard to displace the Palestinians from the old city of Hebron. There is continuous harassment and frequent attacks by the soldiers and by the settlers towards the Palestinians to make their life under occupation impossible, to force them to leave on their own.
It’s getting worse and worse.
RK: The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, interviewed you about the video, yet she still repeated the Israeli army’s claim that Saddam was armed with brass knuckles. Did you tell her about the second video that showed him holding prayer beads?
IA: I explained to her exactly what I told you now. I speak in the same language all the time. But unfortunately she chose a small part of my speech and she didn’t mention that the Palestinian didn’t have anything dangerous and that it was not brass knuckles, it was beads. She didn’t mention that the soldier is violent and the soldiers are violent in general. I mentioned to her even Breaking the Silence, what the ex-Israeli soldiers say about accountability toward the misbehaving soldiers.
I mentioned to her the reality in Hebron. I mentioned to her that the soldier was not in a dangerous position, that it was the soldier who provoked the Palestinians and attacked them and accused them and humiliated them.
In the end she reported it as a confrontation and that the soldier was reacting to aggressive provocation from Palestinians.
But it’s about occupation. There’s something wrong because of the occupation, not because of the confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis.
We are not talking about Tel Aviv. We are talking about Hebron, where the governments agreed to a two-state solution and this is a part of Palestine, not Israel. She didn’t talk about that at all.
Ynet, Haaretz and other Israeli media talked about the story in a different way than The New York Times. No one was defending the soldier or showing that he was in a bad position except The New York Times and Israeli right-wing websites.
But this did not surprise me.
The New York Times wrote a fake story once about the settlers having good relations with a sheikh who represents many Palestinians in Hebron. It is known that he is a bad person and he doesn’t represent Palestinians. He’s not even a sheikh [religious leader]. It’s a completely fake story not related to the truth at all. It was about showing settlers and Palestinians in Hebron coexisting in peace, which is not true. It was written by the same person [Jodi Rudoren].
RK: You continue to film in spite of the death threats from Israeli soldiers. Why?
IA: I believe in my right to defend my people. I consider myself a human rights defender. I believe in human rights and the Palestinian cause and I think that we can make a change. If we all as Palestinians get scared, we will lose our future and we will be displaced from what is left of our land.
RK: Are there any avenues for accountability?
IA: We file complaints against the Israeli army with the help of Yesh Din. But there is no accountability for Israeli soldier misconduct and violations of international law. We file complaints just to show we are trying within the Israeli system to punish the law violators. But it doesn’t work. It’s just a recording for history, nothing more.