The Israeli Army reported that two soldiers were injured as they attacked Palestinian members of the resistance in Gaza (BBC, 2 January 2003). The reality could be far more severe than they admit.
When the Army killed Hamza Abu al-Rubb in Qabatiya, Jenin district, on 26 December 2002, they said the wanted man injured three of their soldiers when he fought back. His wife adds to the account. When the soldiers ordered the family outside, making them remove their warm clothes on that rainy day, they apparently expected Hamza to surrender himself. They were surprised that he came to the door fighting and throwing grenades. He went back inside and got more grenades to pitch at them. The Army killed him but they also took losses. His wife reports that they put at least six dead Israeli soldiers in black plastic body bags in her front yard.
A black flag outside the house of mourning is inscribed with the statement witnessing to the faith, There is no god but God and Muhammad is the prophet of God. The women mourners sitting with the widow have no doubt as to why the Army lightened the news. They know that soldiers who know what really happened will be afraid to come to Jenin, or to the Occupied Territories at all, in spite of their superior might.
Palestinians know that the Israeli soldiers are not all forged in the same furnace. During the Big Invasion in April, they say that some soldiers stayed inside houses “sleeping, and do you know why?” I am asked. I surmise that it is for the same reason some people heard them on the opposite side of their own home’s walls, crying for their mothers and cursing Sharon. For fear. But my interlocutor doesn’t even begin there. He feels it is because they don’t agree with the Occupation and its violence.
But these men also know the determined fierceness of the forces here. Sometimes they coerce a family member to call the wanted man on his mobile phone, whereupon the Army captain surprises him by taking over the conversation, “I just want you to come for a cup of coffee.” He may then tell the man that he will decorate the Camp with his picture, referring to the posters of martyrs on every public wall, and some private ones. His threat may elicit a comment from the wanted man that he has God guarding him. The captain may reply that, while that man stands alone with God, he himself has the entire strength of the mighty Israeli Army behind him.
Hence it is a shock when soldiers are actually killed, even with their powerful rearguard. The Army has to soften the news to keep soldiers coming to enforce the Occupation, and to guard their comrades.
On the first day of Ramadan, a contingent of soldiers were inspecting the lonely cluster of houses remaining in the destroyed area of Jenin Refugee Camp. Several internationals kept observational guard of the soldiers. One soldier, resting on a mound of ochre colored dirt, with his rifle trained on the houses, warned us to keep a distance so we did not get caught in the crossfire.
“What crossfire?” I asked him, and I mentioned the beating they gave a man they had just taken into a jeep. He replied that they never use excessive force unless they need to, and that the situation was more complex than I presented it. We talked about who belongs where as residents waited outside their homes, prevented from breaking their fast at sundown. Still in what looked like a lounging position, the soldier admitted, “I just want to go home.” He sounded more out of place than the residents displaced by the search operation.
A high school student remembers a previous time when her father was imprisoned far from home and says, “I can’t help but think that for everything we suffer, they are suffering too.” I tell her about the times the soldiers and children talked to each other like humans. The next day she reads me a story she has written from the point of view of an Israeli soldier who kills a child and later tells his disagreeing comrade that he feels he has killed one of his own. This Palestinian girl certainly knows the story from the other side, having lost three children in her family.
A group of young men in the Camp agree to a Boal style theatre game where a director shows the present situation as he sees it by placing actors in the appropriate positions like statues. Our director shows the Palestinians handcuffed and the Israeli soldier pointing a rifle at their backs. His next task is to show the scene as he would like to see it. He does so as attention scatters, and I reprimand him for not completing the scene of the ultimate goal, “You left a soldier in the Camp!” Finally he shows me that the Israeli soldier has lowered his gun, and is talking with the Palestinians active in the resistance. Talking with them. Others agree with this resolution. Inside I am surprised and abashed that I am the one who could not comprehend that communication is the desired goal, even with the soldier still armed.
I think back to the morning visit to the house of mourning, where a light breeze ruffled the black flag of Islamic Jihad, and the soft blue sky held fat white clouds preparing to rain on the evil and the good, as the Bible tells it.
Six soldiers killed as they eliminated a fighter resisting the Occupation. Thousands of other Israeli citizens find ways not to serve in the Occupation Army, deeming its goals and methods immoral. Some raise the issue of a soldieris duty to refuse executing an immoral order, an act known as raising a black flag.
Six soldiers might have raised a black flag opposing the Occupation. Instead a black Jihad flag marks the place where they and their opponent fell together. Six soldiers lost in a news blackout.
Dr. Annie C. Higgins specializes in Arabic and Islamic Studies and is currently conducting research in Jenin, Occupied Palestine.