Fear and loathing at IDF checkpoints


March 22, 2019

(JNS)—A critical function of the Israel Defense Forces is to secure borders and sensitive locations, in addition to the transition points in and through such areas.

Guard duty is deceptively routine and simple. Like other military functions, most of the time there is a familiar routine that can seem mind-numbing to the casual observer.

However, the trained soldier knows all too well that the seemingly mundane and insignificant can be a ruse—a cover for something intended to be deadly. Therefore, vigilance and skepticism are part of a checkpoint soldier’s professional DNA.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see groups, often from Europe, hovering around checkpoints with a very different orientation and objective from those who come to support soldiers with pizzas and good wishes. These folks come with loathing, and an unvarnished hatred of who the soldiers are and what they are doing.

These people are there to play the game of “gotcha.” They come armed with video cameras, often planted just inches from the face of the guarding soldier, and hope to catch the soldier doing something—anything—that can, out of context, look like some heinous act.

Whether it’s a scowl at an uncooperative Palestinian passing through a checkpoint or an attempt to search a suspicious-looking person, there are ample opportunities to create a context in which the soldier appears to be the personification of an oppressive Israel.

This is cynical manipulation, but sadly, with the Internet, social media, and Photoshop and other apps, we live in a world increasingly filled with such out of context videography.

Yet the situation at a checkpoint is far more fraught with risk, rather than just embarrassment from manipulated misrepresentation.

There are life-and-death implications at checkpoints, and no one knows that better than the soldiers on duty. Besides obtrusive and invasive cameras, there is often verbal harassment as young soldiers are being demonized for doing their duty.

For some soldiers this is a non-event, but for others, it is profoundly unsettling to be told that you are a disgrace and a war criminal. The risk—actually, the desired result—is for the soldier to become flummoxed, upset, and therefore less vigilant and attentive than he or she should be.

Of course, this could lead to a soldier reacting, which might also make for a choice video morsel. But more frighteningly, it could result in a soldier losing his concentration and being vulnerable.

This appears to have been what very well happened in the appalling case of Solomon Gavriya. Solomon was a 20-year-old Border Police officer of Ethiopian descent who was standing guard at Har Adar, an agricultural town right on the 1949 Green Line and next to Abu Ghosh.

While on duty, Solomon and other guards were verbally harassed by people from Machsom Watch, an Israeli anti-Zionist NGO, heavily funded by European governments and organizations, as well as the New Israel Fund. Machsom Watch’s mission is to show up at various checkpoints and monitor the activity of the guards there.

Usually such monitoring is accompanied by verbal harassment, and that was exactly what happened on Sept. 26, 2017, while Solomon was on duty. Reports from his fellow guards said that he was relentlessly verbally abused for more than a half-hour by Machsom Watch operatives.

Minutes after the verbal assault ended, a terrorist broke through the gate, shooting Solomon and two others dead. Is it unreasonable to suspect that Solomon’s concentration and preparedness had been compromised by the verbal attack that immediately preceded the physical one?

The clear implication of the groups harassing soldiers is that they—and the state they represent and protect—are illegitimate, and thus worthy of such contemptuous treatment. The idea that foreign nationals are allowed to harass soldiers protecting their own country seems inconceivable, yet until recently it has been a common Israeli reality, devoid of pushback.

Happily, the days of free reign for demonizers might be coming to a close. Not because the government or the army has changed its protocols to prevent such behavior from occurring. Change is coming because Zionist organizations and citizens are revolted by the free hand that these loathers have had.

One effort undertaken by Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization, is particularly promising. Im Tirtzu has recruited a group of volunteer “Video Commandos” who have been fighting fire with fire, employing the same rights of proximity exploited by the demonizers.

With the slogan of “Aim, Click and Shoot,” the Video Commandos film the demonizers as they film soldiers.

The Video Commandos recently achieved a significant victory when the primarily Scandinavian EAPPI, an affiliate of the anti-Zionist World Council of Churches, announced that they were leaving Hebron because of the “harassment” their volunteers had recently been subjected to. That “harassment” was nothing more than turning the tables on them, presenting EAPPI with a new reality.

Suddenly, the Video Commandos were showing exactly what EAPPI members were doing in their efforts to demonize soldiers.

That new reality and new perspective is exactly what the Video Commandos seek to do wherever where is harassment of Israeli soldiers.

It is a classic grassroots effort, like Im Tirtzu itself. It reflects the desire of Israelis to protect those who are doing the protecting. It is an effort to make sure soldiers can do their duty without having to worry about cynical, manipulators who are seeking to denigrate, and yes, even endanger soldiers in the name of their ideology.

At a time when IDF soldiers are being harassed by these filmers with impunity, there is nothing more fitting than to fight fire with fire.

Douglas Altabef is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at dougaltabef@gmail.com.


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