June 25, 2009
Forty-three seconds: that’s the duration of a video clip uploaded to YouTube less than a year ago under the category of “Comedy.”
For the “hero” of the clip, an unidentified young Arab, they were probably eternally long seconds and far from amusing. He was forced to slap himself and sing to the jubilant shouts of the photographer and his buddies – all of them members of Israel’s Border Police.
This clip, which has been viewed more than 2,800 times, shows the unknown Palestinian standing in a desert setting while a disembodied voice orders him in Hebrew to hit himself: “Yallah, start, do it hard!”
The viewers hear the chuckles of the other policemen and a clear voice telling the Arab: “Say ‘Ana behibak Mishmar Hagvul’ [“I love the Border Police? in a mix of Arabic and Hebrew]. Say it!”
They see him obey in a subdued voice and with a frightened look, even as he goes on slapping himself. They hear the “director” laughing and the faceless voice shouting: “Again! Ana behibak Mishmar Hagvul.”
After a little more than 30 seconds, the voice says, “Say ‘Wahad hummus wahad ful'” – and the Arab man obeys and then is told to complete the rhyme: “Ana behibak Mishmar Hagvul.”
After 40 seconds, the abusers appear to have had enough and the voice impatiently orders the victim: “Yallah, rukh, rukh, rukh” (“go”). The camera turns and for a fraction of a second a Border Police Jeep is visible.
A few dozen viewers sent comments. “Hahahaha, it was great the way he excruciated himself.” Another added: “That’s how it should be!!!!! Stinking Arab.”
And a third pointed out, “He should have been shot!! Sons of bitches.” A few viewers took pity on the victim, though with reservations. One person remarked, “Mercy on the guy, even if he’s an Arab. What’s it in aid of? He didn?’t do anything.”
Old City lions
The clip just described is not the only one that has been circulated among members of the Border Police and found its way onto the Web. Haaretz found several others like it, in which Palestinians are seen being abused and humiliated by Border Police troops. The faces of the tormenters are rarely seen, and it’s also not clear where the clips were filmed – but what is clear is the atmosphere in which this cruel theater is played out.
For example, one 53-second clip that was uploaded in the past year and has had about 1,800 hits opens with the caption, “And a little poison – C Company, the lions of the Old City.” This clip, during which the caption “Respect” appears, consists mainly of stills of Border Policemen and is accompanied by an original soundtrack: “Let every Arab mother know that the fate of her children is in the hands of the Company, C Company in the Old City; with protective vests and clubs we break apart gun clips on Arab mothers; hours in the alleys, in every corner, at every moment, a police patrol with green beret is on the prowl and the others are plenty scared; C Company’s in the Old City, so let every Arab mother know.”
(This is a play on a famous quote by David Ben-Gurion, who said that every Jewish mother should know that her son is in good hands in the army.)
Another clip is accompanied by the following explanation: “They were bored (my buddies) so they grabbed one guy and laughed with him and he did it serious.? The visuals show a mustachioed Palestinian wearing a blue shirt and a green hat, sitting in what is probably a police vehicle. He raises his hands and asks “Now?” and gets an affirmative reply. Then, to the sounds of “One, two, three” and rhythmic clapping, he declaims, “Wahad hummus, wahad ful, ana behibak Mishmar Hagvul.”
After a few rounds of this he asks, “Yallah, enough?” The policemen, who are seen for a split second, reply, “More! More!” And he continues.
This clip has had more than 2,500 hits, with similar reactions. ?Hahaha, what a dumb Arab,” one viewer writes, and another chimes in, “You gonna see me there in too weeks and then we shute Arabs to the death.” (The English written here reflects the level of the Hebrew.)
One clip clearly shows the face of a Border Policeman as he speaks into the camera: “Shalom. I am now at [checkpoint] 51,” he says. Behind him, in the background, a Palestinian is seen crossing the road at a distance. The photographer urges the policeman on: “Run to him quick.”
“Hey, there’s an illegal − I want to show how I catch an illegal,” the policeman says, and starts to chase the Palestinian. The photographer is heard chortling and sniggering as he documents the event. The clip ends as the policeman returns to the Jeep with the youngster he has caught and says, “A Hamas terrorist has just been captured. Wow!” Standing behind him, the Palestinian, obviously fearful, intones, ?No, I am not Hamas, I am not Hamas.”
Yet another clip, entitled “Magavnikim” ?(Border Police, in the Hebrew acronym?), features an old, apparently ailing man. He is asked what he thinks about the “blue police” and replies, “Ass-fuckers.”
“So the blue police are fuckers, eh? And the Magavnikim?” he is asked. “What are Magavnikim – soldiers?” the elderly man asks, and gets a positive reply. “Ah, kapara [absolution] on them,” he says in a raspy voice.
Another video, which, according to its captions, was filmed by soldiers from the Lavi battalion in November 2007, features stills describing the unit’s daily routine. A series of photos depicts Palestinians crouching on the floor of a room in which an Israeli flag is displayed, blindfolded and with their hands bound. In one photo, an Israeli soldier appears smiling next to one of the bound men.
Via the Internet, Haaretz tried to contact everyone who uploaded the clips to YouTube, no responses were received, with one exception − and that person refused to comment substantively.
Border Police spokesman Moshe Pintzi stated in response: “In recent years there has been a decrease of tens of percent in complaints filed against Border Policemen, both over the unauthorized use of force and inappropriate behavior. One can attribute this trend to educational efforts in cooperation with human rights organizations and a policy of zero tolerance. The Border Police has vowed to maintain values, first and foremost, human dignity and human rights, and the fighters are taught to respect these values.”
According to Pintzi, the high command of the Border Police has known about the YouTube videos since 2008. “The Border Police is trying to find those who took the videos and if they are still in the force, they are being called in for clarification. From our experience, the videos are mostly uploaded to the Web after they are discharged because they understand our policy of zero tolerance. If we find evidence of a possible criminal offense we at the Border Police command transfer it to the internal investigation department. As for the song by Company C, following Haaretz’s request, the Border Police has begun to deal with the matter through our educational and disciplinary frameworks. The content of the song is contrary to the values in which we educate our fighters. We condemn the cynical use of David Ben-Gurion?s words by the creator of the song, and the Border Police intends to see this matter through.”
Forcing Palestinians to sing songs of praise to the Border Police is not a new phenomenon. In May 2007, for example, a field worker for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, took testimony from Mohammed Abu Mohsen, a 15-year-old boy from the village of Abu Dis, which abuts East Jerusalem. He described abuse he had suffered at the hands of Border Policemen close to his home. One of the policemen, he said, ordered him to chant, “Ful hummus ful, I love Mishmar Hagvul.”
“Again and again [he] wanted me to say that, but I wouldn’t do it,” the boy testified.
This unofficial Border Police anthem has been cited in indictments filed against abusive members of the corps. In 2005, two Border Policemen, Yaniv Aharoni and Assad Bader, went on trial in Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on charges of attacking and abusing Palestinians who had entered Israel illegally. According to the indictment, Bader “demanded that the complainants sing ‘Hummus ful, I love Mishmar Hagvul’ – saying that anyone who did not sing would be hit on the head.? Aharoni and Bader were convicted of aggravated assault, abusing helpless victims and making threats, and were sentenced to prison terms.
Worse than singing
From conversations with Border Policemen who recently completed their service, it turns out that the “Wahad hummus, wahad ful” chant remains very popular. A. is an officer who served in the Border Police for 10 years, mainly in the Jerusalem area and along the separation fence. Asked whether this is a widespread phenomenon, he replies, “Yes, because the Arabs also know this song and, you know, laugh.”
Sometimes, A. notes, when Border Policemen detain a Palestinian for a check, “until he [the policeman] records his ID number, [in order] to amuse the guys they bring in a new recruit to run the show – They line them up in a row and udrub” ?(get going?).
Isn’t there anyone who says this behavior is wrong?
“No, who would say that? They take it as clowning, you know.”
Don’t you think it’s humiliating to make people do that?
“From that point of view, yes, but it’s a relative thing, which is still at a higher level than the other things they do, which are more humiliating.”
Such as what?
“A lot of things. Blows, ‘sit on my knees,’ ‘lower your head,’ ‘pull down your pants,’ ‘strip.’ In my opinion, those are worse things than singing.”
Why do you suppose they film it?
“They film it so they can boast to the guys and show it to friends in civilian life.”
V., a Border Policewoman who served in Jerusalem and Hebron, relates, “It’s a song that I would say has been rooted in the Border Police for years. When I got to the company I heard it from locals [Arabs] who sang it. It’s passed on to each new group.”
Who films these things?
“In my opinion, it’s isolated cases of fighters who want to leave their mark or somehow try to educate the residents, but it’s not something that every Border Policeman does.”
Have you ever seen films like that?
“I saw one or two. For example, a bus that was carrying people to East Jerusalem and they stopped it and made everyone get off and took their ID cards. That’s a check of probably a quarter of an hour and a delay, so they try to pass the time: they talk to them, sing with them. Something like that.”
Y., another Border Policeman, tries to explain the phenomenon: “I got to know that song when I was drafted and was getting into the groove. Then, when I was in Hebron, the Arabs would say ‘Ana behibak Mishmar Hagvul.'”
Why would an Arab sing that on his own initiative?
“I have no idea. It depends on the guy that arrested him, what went on in his head.”
Good for the group
“What makes an ordinary Border Policeman humiliate others? What satisfaction does he get from it? Where does the need come from? Was it taught to them by someone?”
These rhetorical questions are posed by Dr. Ruhama Marton, a psychiatrist who is the president of Physicians for Human Rights. “The answer is yes: his squad commander, his platoon commander and the silence of the higher commanders taught him. They get the practice from the small-fry and the approval from the big guys.”
In an attempt to explain the behavior of Border Policemen, Marton cites the theory of the British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion (1897-1979.)
“Bion,” she says, “divided people into groups and argued that each group has basic assumptions, which are almost always unconscious, that dictate its behavior. An example is what he called a fighting group, which is characterized by a deep need for a leader to whom the fighters will delegate many demands and longings. The leader has to be the savior of the group, which resembles any typical battalion in Givati or Golani [IDF infantry brigades], and do the thinking for it.
“The fighting group has a collective morality. In other words, the members of the group do not develop the personal areas of morality, conscience and personal distinction between good and bad, or they try to ignore them … A phenomenon of group morality results, which is characterized by the view that what is good for the group is good, right and just, and what serves the group is moral.”
Is that reflected in the case of the Border Police?
“If the spirit of the group says ‘the Arabs are not really human beings,’ that is the determining factor. And if they are not really human beings, then to humiliate them is not the same as humiliating me.”
A humor thing
How does the high command in the Border Police treat the phenomenon? All the policemen who were asked said they had never been reprimanded.
Did your commanders ever talk to you about this?
“No,” says Y. “Never. You don’t do anything that’s not all right.”
So it’s all right to make someone sing?
“I don’t know how to explain the phenomenon. As long as it doesn’t involve the use of force or violence, I don’t think it’s not all right. But I didn’t do things like that, because it’s making fun of people…
The Palestinians are definitely afraid of your uniform, not of who you are, and there are some who take advantage of the power of their uniform … to hit someone here, hit someone there. You see it; you live it on the ground. But in my opinion, the people who do those things are miserable types who just want to show off. Some do it because they?re feeling down and there are another thousand and one reasons for doing those things.”
How widespread is it?
“It depends on the guy’s craziness.”
V., the policewoman, says, “We were not specifically told ‘don’t do that’ or ‘do that.’ It’s not something that hurts their rights, it doesn’t cross the border of the resident?s rights. If they flow with the singing, it’s not that they are being ordered or [being threatened] with a pistol.”
Can a Palestinian tell a Border Policeman “I don’t want to sing”?
“In my opinion, yes – It’s a humor thing and if they flow with it, terrific, and if not they just move on.”
Degrading and unacceptable
Major General ?(ret.) David Zur, who was commander of the Border Police from 2002 to 2004, says he is not familiar with the ditty mentioned above or the phenomenon of forcing Palestinians to sing it.
Of abusive treatment in general, he says, “Probably it happens more in groups of Border Police, because their point of friction at checkpoints and in dealing with illegals − which is the main occupation of the Border Police − is sharp. … We cannot ignore the fact that it happens once every so often, and it does not have the tacit agreement of the high command.”
According to Zur, “The Border Police is a collection of fighters who come from many different cultures. People who might not integrate in the army’s combat units integrate in the Border Police. Some people might say that is a bad thing, but some might say it is even Zionist service. There is a very high percentage of new immigrants. I offer this background in order to explain that in the final analysis, to introduce these people into the combat formation in a very short time is no simple matter and a great deal is invested there … There is an effort to root out phenomena like that, and all the types of abuse or of despicable behavior are dealt with … The Border Police does amazing work in the realm of education.”
Fighters I spoke with don’t even understand that it’s not right. They call it humor.
“It is degrading and it is unacceptable, period.”
How can it be that this basic understanding is nonexistent?
“I can tell you that this phenomenon has decreased significantly, for many reasons. Because of education, greater supervision and also because of the women in Machsom Watch [who document the activity of soldiers and Border Policemen at checkpoints] who did work in this area, and some of their photographs reached us. At the time, I allowed the Red Cross and an international human-rights organization to enter Border Police bases and talk to the troops. There are results, but it’s quite hard and it takes time and I am not sure that immediate results are visible.”
Do you think that lengthy service in the territories leads to insensitivity?
“Yes, yes. The people rub up against them [the soldiers], some of them experience difficult things, but none of that justifies it. The expectation is that people will rise above the grinding duty and the frustration and behave accordingly.