You have probably watched the viral video of the Palestinian women snatching a Palestinian child from the hands of an Israeli soldier, as he was trying to arrest the boy for rock-throwing.
If you missed it, no worries: as long as Israel’s occupation of the West Bank continues, you will have many more opportunities to watch similarly disturbing images. Because as long as the occupation continues, and combat soldiers are sent to police an occupied hostile civilian population, this ugliness is unavoidable.
There’s nothing new about it. Journalists who covered the West Bank 10, 20 and 30 years ago saw these sights numerous times. I recently stumbled upon a story that I wrote almost 30 years ago, describing the aftermath of a clash between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian teens at a refugee camp near Ramallah. It happened about two months into the first intifada. At the end of the demonstration, soldiers dragged toward a bus several children who they had captured during the confrontation. Women gathered and tried to pull the children away from the soldiers. They failed. As the bus left the scene, a couple of tear gas grenades were tossed from the window, sending the women back to their homes.
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Palestinian women quarrelling with Israeli soldiers, trying to prevent their sons or brothers from being arrested. There were even times when proud Palestinian teens being detained by the IDF would urge their moms to pull back so as not to be embarrassed before their peers.
From an Israeli military perspective, these scenes were as pathetic then as they are now. The soldiers, annoyed and humiliated by rock-throwers but weighed down by military gear, would play cat-and-mouse with the kids. They were typically able to catch only the slower ones, those who were either overweight or injured, such as the bandaged tween seen in the recent video. The terrified kids sometimes wet their pants on their way to the military jeep. And the soldiers, often members of select combat units, complained that instead of fighting enemy armies, they had been reduced to chasing children and smacking them with sticks.
The children-chasing soldiers of the late 1980s now have children of their own, who today are chasing the kids of the Palestinians who threw rocks at their parents. And so it goes. Generations of occupiers and occupied, chasing each other on the same hills, throwing the same rocks, engaged in the same embrace of occupation, enmity and revenge.
Still, there are some noticeable changes in this sickening dynamic. One is that Palestinians today are much bolder. While Palestinian women have been pulling their loved ones away from Israeli soldiers for a couple of generations, I can’t remember the kind of fearlessness that we have seen in recent videos, images of Palestinian men and women having fist-fights with armed Israeli soldiers.
Where does this new courage come from? It may in part be that Palestinians are in such despair, as the occupation is about to turn 50 and with no end in sight, that they increasingly feel they have nothing left to lose. Without a doubt, though, what is radically different today is the ubiquity of cameras. And this is where I find hope. Back in the 1980s, cameras were scarce in the West Bank. Video cameras were almost non-existent. Israeli soldiers knew that they could almost always get away with actions that were either illegal, embarrassing or both.
Last Friday’s “incident” in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh went viral thanks to multiple cameras and smartphones that focused on the soldier, on the child and on the Palestinian women.
The proliferation of lenses, of cameras constantly rolling, is the big difference between now and then. So keep those cameras rolling. Keep sharing on Facebook and Twitter to remind us all – Israelis, their friends overseas, and the world at large – how devastatingly destructive the occupation is for Palestinians and Israelis alike. By doing so, you are taking part in what may be the best hope for change.
This article first appeared September 3, 2015 in The Guardian