Outrage at Amona

Tzemach Atlas sent me a link last Thursday to his post, The Horses of Amona. This refers, of course, to the horses and other police brutality towards non-violent demonstrators attempting to prevent the dismantling of the settlement at Amona in the West Bank. Regardless of one’s feelings about the politics here, it’s obvious that the police did not approach this with the sensitivity and consideration of the army forces tasked with removing the settlers from Gaza. The police mistreatment of teenage demonstrators caused massive numbers of unnecessary injuries, and tonight one young man remains on life support thanks to Israel’s “finest.”

Let us be clear about the fact that some, perhaps many, demonstrators also engaged in illegal violence. There is a severely injured policeman today, as well, because someone thought it appropriate to drop a cement block off one of the buildings. That individual needs to be arrested and jailed.

The entire crowd cannot be tarred with the broad brush of the cement-thrower. The police, on the other hand, operate under a commander. When they act, they act as a group — and no one can claim that their violence was limited to justified attempts to subdue the violent protesters alone. Unless those individuals whose actions constituted police brutality are arrested, it is entirely fair to say that the police themselves acted outrageously. We can be dan l’kaf zechus, judge them favorably, saying that the Intifada — involving rioters who routinely threw large stones in attempts to kill and injure — taught them to use overwhelming force. But we cannot claim the brutality did not happen, or that it was appropriate.

The behavior of police was outrageous. But some of the reactions surprise me. When people talk about their surprise and distress at the “incomprehensible” violence of Israeli police, my own response is surprise and distress. Why have you not been listening, I ask in my mind, when the charedim were telling you this for decades?

The problem, of course, is that the charedim don’t get coverage when it happens to them, and it is too easy to fall back on the fact (not the assertion, but the fact) that the world press is hopelessly biased when it is the Palestinian Arabs complaining.

When the Charedim talk about Israeli police brutality, they are not wrong. But the press doesn’t listen. This is the same press that captions a picture of trash burning in Kikar Shabbat a “riot.” The story I will recount below is the one that the Jerusalem Post was not interested in hearing at the time. Instead they printed a story in which police commanders claimed that they acted with “maximum restraint.” Phooey.

When the Israelis go into Palestinian areas with deadly force, they are more cautious than any other military. Jenin of 2004, for example, was anything but a massacre — unless they are referring to the thirteen soldiers ambushed when they were cautiously going door to door rather than destroying entire buildings (which is what US forces did soon thereafter in Iraq). But regardless of my opinion that the security wall is necessary, as are police security checks, I have no doubt that the police often make life more difficult than they need to, and are sometimes more brutal than they have any right to be. Now that it is some of the staunchest Zionists facing police batons, the Jewish world is finally learning the truth.

A truth I learned quite a while ago, when I was nearly arrested by Israeli police.

It was Motzei Shabbos, and that day had seen protests on the brand-new Kvish Echad, which then-mayor Teddy Kollek had insisted should be built in such a way as to run directly alongside the charedi neighborhood of Beit Yisrael. It should be noted that in many cases, charedi community activists complained that Kollek seemed to be creating boundaries around charedi neighborhoods with high-traffic roadways, preventing their further growth. Kvish Echad was viewed by the community as merely the latest example, and the community held demonstrations to block the road on Shabbos.

Although the “action” was certainly dying down by evening, I decided to go out with my camera to see if I could get any interesting tourist photographs. As I was learning in the Mir at the time, these demonstrations were within two blocks of my apartment.

Within a block, however, I encountered a group of people rushing a man away from the scene. He had been set upon by police, they told me, as blood ran down his face. Prudence dictated that I should turn home; I, of course, continued on.

It was a cloudy evening, and there really wasn’t much to see. As I approached the end of the block someone ran across the intersection, with a small number of policemen following a moment later — again, a clear signal that this was not a place where the wise would be.

I had barely taken a single shot — and of nothing more than some burning garbage, at that — when a border guard (green outfit, not blue) emerged from the darkness and grabbed me. He hauled me over to his buddies and identified my crime in two words: “hu tzilem” — he took a photograph. [Note that taking a photograph in public spaces is not illegal in a free country; photographs can merely record the illegal activities of others. The frantic reaction of police to a yeshiva bochur with a camera implies that there was a great deal going on that evening that they did not want you to see.]

The first punishment for my “violation” was of the corporal variety — a young member of the troop aimed a kick in my direction. Fortunately, it landed on my thigh. [I could not identify the officer, had I thought to try, because his badge was obscured or missing. This, too, was a violation of police regulations.]

At that point, they took me over to a police vehicle, in which a guard and several unlucky charedi teenagers were already sitting. “Taaleh oto” — get him up there, said the fellow holding me. The response? “Ayn lanu makom; tikach oto l’makom acher” — we have no room, take him elsewhere. I literally came that close to spending the evening in an Israeli jail, for the “crime” of photographing Israeli police in action.

Instead, they had the guard in the van hold my jacket, along with a stern warning not to move. Given the van and its doors surrounding me on three sides and a phalanx of troops on the fourth, it was not difficult to convince me to obey. Said phalanx then surrounded my camera, determining how to remove and confiscate the film before (give them credit for this part) returning it, and sending me home with another stern warning not to come back. This time prudence won out, and, besides, I had a story if not a photo.

But like I said, the Jerusalem Post didn’t want the story. They said so, essentially in those words. And the next day, under a photo of a bloodied yeshiva student, was the fictional tale of “maximum restraint.”

Thanks to home video, that situation is slowly changing for the charedim as well. Last summer, Satmar chassidim were protesting the desecration of ancient graves, done in the course of building a new Israeli highway. In the course of one demonstration, police raided the Satmar Yeshiva. And as the announcer says at the beginning of the clip, “one truly familiar with the history of interactions between the police and charedim in this city knows that what makes this event unique is, in essence, the fact that it was captured on video.”

This is a TV reporter, not a charedi Jew, making this charge. It’s been going on for decades — now, however, we’ve got a home video showing it happening.

Police claimed they were concerned that a policeman had been grabbed and dragged in, but neither the video nor the reporter give that much credence. The announcer seems to allege that the consideration given by Israeli police to mosques and churches is entirely absent when it comes to Chassidic synagogues. The announcer refers to the level of police violence against worshippers as “strong, even extreme.”

In a second video, Israeli TV cameras capture private security guards using electric “shockers” and brutality against demonstrators in northern Israel, near the construction site. The announcer emphasizes that the guards, though hired by police, were permitted to use only their hands to repel the demonstrators. They exceeded their legal bounds by using these shockers.

The behavior in Amona was outrageous and inexcusable — but hardly extreme, given past history.

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17 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    I stand by my comments. Too many posters on this and related subjects are talking about mistakes
    made in the 1940s, etc without realizing that a combined Charedi-RZ front is the only way of slowing
    down a post Zionist and post modernist Israel run by a coalition headed by Olmert & Co. Sure, Charedim and RZ have hashkafic differences but they should be able to realize that the future of Israel would lie within their ability to show that Torah Judaism has sweep, depth and the ability to cope with any
    intellectual and cultural trend, as opposed to treating the secular public with disdain except for
    approval for public funds for maintaining an admittedly isolationist way of life and an obvious lack of
    of empathy for each other except a eschatological hope that each will dissapear. We saw this after
    Gush Katif when someone in the Yated urged all RZ to “come home” to the Charedi world. We have seen silence in the RZ world to the Charedi critique of a High Court of Justice that views Torah and democracy as incompatible with Torah to be always to sacrificed for some democratic ideal. Surely,
    any lawyer or layperson who is familiar with the excesses of the US Supreme Court will admit that
    they are mild when compared with those of CJ A Barak. Yet, the RZ world was quiet. Was that because of the mad need for a RZ representative on that court?!

  2. tzioni used to be says:

    Welcome to the world of post-Zionism, or more simply put, perhaps the dream is over. I cannot help but feel sorry for those who are now tragically awakening to the inherent lie that has always been apparent to the few who refused to be blinded by their hopes. I too was once a believer, or at least allowed myself to be deceived by what I prayed medinat Yisrael would become. I naively refused to accept the multiple signs that the failings of the State were symptomatic of an inner cancer that would one day destroy all that could have been. I was entrapped by the romance of speaking of a Jewish state even though I knew that it was never more than a state of Jews.
    You watch policemen and you are distressed. How could this happen – how could this be? You are disillusioned by the venom and vitriol of the politicians and the press, by the lack of sympathy for the settlers who truly love the land and the people. Why are you surprised? Can you expect anything more from the heirs of those who forcibly cut Sefardic Jewry off from Torah, from officers who cut off peyot from demonstrators?
    We always refuased to believe this possible – it is an exaggeration, it wasn’t really what it seemed to be, the police were provoked… But when it was determined that the stories of acid being thrown by demonstrators in Neve Dekalim were no more than cynical lies, created by the press and the senior police officials to destroy whatever sympathy the residents of Gush Katif were gaining in the eyes of the populace because of their awesome restraint and incredible conviction, your faith began to waver. When you read about two thirteen year old girls being incarcerated for months on end, in conditions more primitive than those imposed on adults convicted of serious felonies, you began to shake and ask yourself, can I count myself among the supporters of this? And now, when you see the police in all their glory, fearlessly entering into battle against teenagers, will you still refuse to believe that it is a lie that we have been supporting?
    In the shadow of the Holocaust, when the memories of Auschwitz were so fresh, we preached achdut at all cost. Forgive them their sins, we so Christianly espoused, for they are tinokot shenishbu – they know not what they do. True Weizman declared that he was not building a state for the dregs of Eastern Europe, but he didn’t really mean it – did he? And even if he meant it, even if Ben Gurion was determined to destroy any vestige of observance, would our love for them and our dedication to them not bring them back? They were our brothers we believed and the day would soon come when they would seek our embrace and our counsel.
    But today, in the wake of Gush Katif and Amona, and in the face of what is still to come, G-d forbid, we must realize that they are indeed our brothers, just as Esav was a real brother of Yaakov!
    M’harsayich umachrivayich mimech yeitzeyu the Navi warns. How can we not shudder when we realize that he was referring to Sharon and Olmert. It took a Gush Katif before Rav Shlomo Aviner shlitah realized that it is impossible to refer to medinat Yisrael as reishit tzmichat ge’ulateinu. How can we help but ask mechilah from Rav Amram Blau z”l who came to this realization five decades earlier!

  3. S. B. Rozen, Esq. says:

    A few comments:
    1) There is a “saying” in Israel that the members of the police force, if they weren’t members of it, would otherwise be criminals. Obviously, that’s a generalization (and for honesty’s sake, I have a cousin who was a police officer and some of our best friends are police officers and do not fall into this categorization) — but there’s something to be said for it.

    2) As a Dati-Leumi, we failed in that we provided the press with pictures of children throwing rocks. Instead of pictures of police officers brutally attacking protesters, we have other pictures. Shame.

    3) Frankly, I expect more of “my kind”, although the words “my kind” is inappropriate. Without getting into whom I am specifically talking about, let me just end by quoting from a pamphlet published in 1944 by the Etzel: “… Yes, the dread of the loyal Jew is understandable. Are we to witness our children raising their hands or aiming their weapons against one another? What will they do, those persecuted people against whom the terrible edicts are directed? How will they defend themselves? … These are grave questions, and we feel it our duty – on our own behalf … – to provide an answer. And this is our answer: you may stay calm, loyal Jews; there will be no fraternal strife in this country … “.

    One side, “my kind”, must be better than the other side. Frankly, there is nothing more to say.

  4. Menachem Lipkin says:

    How sympathetic for an “MDA volunteer”. Maybe you need to read the article. (It’s here: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1138622548960&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull)

    I didn’t say he was almost seriously injured, I said he almost lost an eye. He was hit by a piece of glass and required 3 hours of surgery to save his eye. If you’re really a medic then you know that’s pretty darn serious.

  5. MDA Volunteer says:

    Menachem Lipkin

    I’m sure you see the magic word- “almost”

    I also almost died when my wife washed my pajamas – I managed to jump out of the pajamas in time before being bashed around in the washing machine and probably dying from brain injuries if not drowning first.

    I’m not saying that there were no soldiers or police officers hurt – but at the end of the day, no police officers were seriously hurt. None. Some were ‘almost’ seriously hurt, but if we go the ‘almost’ route, ein l’davar sof.

    Please note – this does not mean that I support throwing cement blocks on police officers – I’m just reiterating the fact that the kids got beaten up worse – much worse – than the police.

  6. Calev says:

    Alas, the ‘deaf ear’ has not been extended to charedim alone: police brutality is nothing new (I’ve personally experienced being unjustifiably beaten by police in London; take a look at all the deaths in custody of Aborigines in Australia) – but it’s particularly heartbreaking to see Jews doing this to fellow Jews in the Jewish homeland. Perhaps this is a sign that the secular Zionist dream of creating a state just like any other state has succeeded – at least for the time being.
    It’s good to see that people are now responding appropriately: gathering evidence (such as video clips). This evidence should be used to launch private prosecutions, if necessary, against those officers who exceed their rights. Ultimately that is the only way to improve the behavious of the police – when individual officers realise they are not above the law they are employed to enforce.
    This strategy, if pursued with cool heads and patience, will benefit everyone in Israel – charedim, hilonim, Arabs, Jews and the police themselves.

  7. Menachem Lipkin says:

    MDA,

    There was an article about an officer named Alon Madar in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post. He almost lost an eye while treating a couple of officers.

  8. Yaakov Menken says:

    Alexander,

    Please go back and re-read my post, since you may not have understood the paragraph three below the one you quote. I do think it understandable that given how careful the Israelis have been targeting terrorists, plus the desire of these terrorists to murder Israeli children, that the average Israeli gives little credence to the complaints of those who harbor those same terrorists.

    But that doesn’t explain the deaf ear given the charedim, thus that was the more logical question.

  9. Alexander says:

    Why have you not been listening, I ask in my mind, when the charedim were telling you this for decades?

    The Palestenians were telling you this for decades, too. But that was just “media bias” right? Right?

  10. MDA Volunteer says:

    Regarding the young man on life support:

    He was taken off the respirator a day or so after the Amona events, and he regained consciousness. I heard his father speaking on the radio, telling of the miraculous recovery. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a link to a news story right now.
    The father also spoke of how when he was in the hospital, one of the policemen made a comment to his older son (a paratrooper serving in the army) that it’s a pity his brother did not die. Talk about professionalism in the Israeli Polce force.

  11. MDA Volunteer says:

    You mention a police officer/soldier who was seriously wounded.

    I was at Haddassah Hospital when the Amona incident took place, and I was manning the emergency room doors for a few hours. The only seriously wounded person that I saw come in was an unconcious 15 year old boy who was not breathing on his own – he was on a ventilator (I saw this myself). He has since made a miraculous recovery. There were also numerous people who were wounded moderately – the vast majority of them being protesters.

    The stories about soldiers being seriously wounded are just that – stories and rumors. Until I see the ‘seriously wounded’ police officer, I’ll take that story with a grain of salt.

  12. mycroft says:

    “it’s obvious that the police did not approach this with the sensitivity and consideration of the army forces tasked with removing the settlers from Gaza”
    Nobody would expect that Magav=Mishteret Gvul border police-would be as sensitive as Zahal. Part of the reason is clearly that Zahal reflects a broad cross section of Israeli society from chilonim to NR=frankly it would be better for society peace if all Jews went in-but look I’m in America I don’t cast aspersions. But to quote my Israeli brother-he made Aliyah and also has Israeli citizenship-Magav is made up of tough people-unlike elite combat units in Zahal you won’t find Yeshiva bochurim in them. I also believe that a substantial porportion of Magav is made up of nonJews. Ability to speak Arabic is crucial for most of their duties. Magav is tough go to the Kotel any Friday morning and see 30-40 Magav standing right outside the gate to Har Habayit in their helmets and visors and weapons ready just ready for trouble. If anyone dreamt they would be easy in amona it was obvious delusion from the beginning. Combined with the open sedition rebeliion of some of the Mitnatchlim-look at the end 10 days ago in Fridays Hazofe asking people to go to Amona-and they use the word milchama.
    I’m not saying brutality is permitted in any case-but I would say that to the extent there are separate neighborhoods and Jews have nothing to do with each other-we are not treating ourselves as “Am Echad”. Not attempting to get theological-there are clearly very competent Rabbanim on the panel of writers-but I believe are grafting non Jewish ideas onto Judaism is responsible for a lack of looking at ourselfs as a people rather than a religion. “Ameck ami..” One cannot become a Jew by saying one is merely accepting all the mitzvot one has to accept becoming part of the Jewish people. Maybe I’m asking for a little more Ahavat Chinam to hopefully eradicate sinat chinam.

  13. Ellen says:

    Please clarify one additional point in the history of violence and demonstrations: did Chareidim become known for throwing stones on Shabbat before or after the police were known to use violence in breaking up legally authorized Chareidi demonstrations?

    I’m hoping the answer is that the stone-throwing came later, out of frustration. But the chilonim and Chareidim have an unfortunately long history of driving further rifts between each other. (And even more unfortunately it seems the National Religious/Religious Zionists have not succeeded in making an impression as being sympathetic to both sides.)

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    Obviously, police brutality in Israel does not discriminate between Charedim and other Torah
    observant Jews. What is disturbing is the lack of empathy between all Torah observant Jews on these issues.

  1. February 5, 2006

    Lack of Empathy?…

    Steve Brizel has commented twice recently that he sees a lack of empathy between charedim and the religious zionist circles on incidents like the autopsy on the one hand, and the evacuation of Amona on the other.

    Frankly, I don’t think the div…

  2. February 6, 2006

    […] Rav Yaakov says that while the police were brutal, we can judge them favorably and say that maybe they were just brutal here because they have have gotten used to to being brutal with other groups. And they have been brutal for a long time against Chareidim, so everyone who is crying, is crying too late. […]

  3. November 1, 2006

    […] Unfortunately, such a lawsuit would go nowhere. The son would need a dozen witnesses to even begin to counterbalance the willingness of Israeli police to circumvent the law when it suits them. This happens all the time. […]