From a recent American visitor to the occupied West Bank, at the Aida refugee camp. She came as part of an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation.
The first day of my trip began in the Aida refugee camp. In a cloud of tear gas, I was introduced to Israel’s war. Exiting our tour bus, we saw a few children around my son’s age throwing stones.
A quarter-mile away, at the 20-foot-high Separation Wall, were two soldiers with machine guns, face masks, helmets and bulletproof vests. The rocks were not reaching even halfway to where the soldiers were.
Moreover, the children were not exclusively throwing the rocks in the direction of the soldiers. They threw some rocks at a building to their left, like a game of handball that didn’t return; others threw to their right.
The stones they threw toward the soldiers seemed not to be in aggression aimed at harm, but as a statement of performance art, saying, “With these rocks, we resist your occupation, your apartheid.” Within moments, the soldiers began an attack of tear-gas canisters aimed at the children. The smoke inadvertently engulfed us as well.From the book Company C: An American's Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel, by Haim Watzman (2005), p. 131. Watzman is describing his experiences as an Israeli reservist soldier in the West Bank village of Bani Na'im in May of 1988, during the first intifada. His company has the duty of patrolling Bani Na'im for a month, and their orders are to respond to every hostile action by Palestinians, including painting PLO graffiti on the wall, throwing stones, or putting up Palestinian flags. Watzman was not happy about these orders and at first does not follow them.
During my first outings as commander of a jeep patrol, I tried to take a different approach. I deliberately ignored the graffiti and the flags, and kept as much as I reasonably could on the margins of the sectors I was sent to patrol. The third time out I had stones thrown in my direction from alleyways and rooftops. Over the vocal protest of the soldiers under my command, I disregarded those as well. The fourth time out the stones were bigger and they hit us. That I couldn't ignore. We chased our attackers but they got away.
I talked it over with Eiger [one of the other soldiers in the company], and what he said made a lot of sense. The young men of Bani Na'im were well organized. They had us under observation and were certainly capable of identifying individual soldiers and commanders. They'd seen that I was avoiding confrontations that other patrols sought out, and they interpreted it as cowardice. So they singled me out as an easy target, and that's why my patrols were getting stoned. Keep up my hands-off policy and I'd soon be the target of a Molotov cocktail, Eiger warned - and that was dangerous. Two soldiers from another unit had been horribly burned by one when their patrol was attacked a few weeks ago.Stones as performance art? Or stones as attempts to harm? You, my readers, are the judges.