It was just another Thursday, January 9, 2014. Rhoda Ali Khamed Khader, a 38-year-old widow from the village of Izbat Al-Tabib was at home with her family. “My mother and my daughter said they were hungry. I went to the kitchen and brought fruit, apples – we began eating. Suddenly I felt I wasn’t breathing, my throat was burning, I felt like I was drinking the juice of a hot pepper, my eyes were burning, I was sick, my eyes became swollen, full of tears, I coughed heavily.” Soon after, Rhoda Khader lost consciousness and needed medical attention. The medics who treated her also treated her mother, Rashiqa, aged 77; her father, aged 80 and her 19- year-old daughter. Our brave soldiers managed to hit three generations with one tear gas canister. Bravo!
What Khader described is the result of an attack by CS gas, the more virulent sort of tear gas, used by the IDF. The attack actually began earlier that night. Mussa Asad Khamed Tabib described the course of events in the following way: During the morning, the army placed a checkpoint at the entrance to the village and accosted the residents, as per the ritual. Around8:00 PM, a soldier came over to the tent where Tabib was sitting, along with other men. The soldier photographed the people, and left. Two hours later, the tent filled up with CS gas. It’s unclear where it came from; Tabib estimates that soldiers fired it into the tent from afar. A short while afterwards, a jeep stopped near the tent, a soldier climbed out, looked with satisfaction at the coughing and suffocating men, turned back to the jeep, and, addressing the people inside, said, “bulls eye”. Shortly afterwards, the soldiers begin shooting CS gas canisters at the village houses, as well. This second volley is the one experienced by Rhoda Khader.
The incident is not unique. Two nights later, on January 11, again at night, the IDF returns to the village and once more fires gas canisters at houses where innocent people are trying to sleep. Earlier that day, a Border Police officer had come to the village, and Mussa Tabib confronted him: “People are sleeping in their homes,” he says, “and breathing gas.” Our attorney, Emily Schaeffer, addressed a sharply worded letter to the Military Advocate General, stating that “such events, and similar events which continue to take place up to the date of writing this letter, raise a severe suspicion that the goal of the IDF units involved is to disrupt the lives of the villagers, and punish them for organizing a quiet protest (by operating a protest tent and holding quiet demonstrations). Of course, if this is the case, then it is a manifestly unacceptable action. The throwing of stun grenades and tear gas canisters towards the houses and near the school puts the life, limb and property of the villagers at risk without legal justification. Furthermore, threats by military personnel against the representatives of the villagers are an abuse of their position and are without justification.”
These occurrences are not incidental. They are Standard Operating Procedure. The army even has a codename for them, “Livnat Shibush,” and they are used in several villages in the West Bank. In the past, we documented a similar action of the IDF in the village of Urif (Hebrew). An activity that has its own codename is not “an isolated incident.” The point of this attack is not to hit a specific target; it is to terrorize the population, making it clear who controls the region, who’s the boss. That’s how all occupation armies work. The American army in Vietnam referred to such missions as “showing the flag” missions: making clear that even when the forces are unseen, they are there. The message is simple: don’t get overly confident.
Such behavior has another name: “Collective punishment.” As such, it is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, or, in other words: it is a war crime. Article 33 of the Convention reads: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” The depressing conclusion – which I allow myself to write, as I have no intention of seeking employment with the Ort schools – is that the IDF has a routine of committing war crimes.
And worse, the citizens of Israel have become so inured to this routine, that they accept it with apathy – apathy they come out of only when someone dares to say the truth in public.