“You do not see human beings in front of you. Do not believe their sorrow, do not believe their smiles, do not believe their feelings. They’re subhuman.” — Eran Efrati, a former sergeant in the Israeli military.
Investigative reporter Abby Martin recently completed an in-depth and highly commendable six-part series of 30 minute documentaries for TeleSUR based around interviews with people living and working in the Palestinian occupied territories, and from her own experiences on the ground. Each of the episodes is embedded below according to the original sequence of broadcasts and including the first which provides historical context for what follows.
As Eran Efrati says in the penultimate episode – an extended interview [from 25:00 mins]:
“What a lot of people like to describe as the most complicated political situation of our time is probably the most simple… It’s a situation about equality.”
Nakba: the catastrophe
Between December 1947 and January 1949, some 600 villages were entirely flattened and larger cities devastated as thousands of Arabs were massacred and more than 700,000 fled or were expelled from their homes. This frenzy of ethnic cleansing made way for a new wave of European settlers and caused Palestine to be broken up into three parts.
The Empire Files begins its series of reports by looking back on the bloody history of Zionist colonisation, beginning with expansion and the steady expulsion of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants under British rule – a land grab that quickened in the immediate aftermath of the post-war reign of terror known to Palestinians as Nakba or “the catastrophe”:
Refugees in their own land
Today nearly 70% of all Palestinians are refugees. Millions of displaced Palestinians are scattered around the world, yet hundreds of thousands remain in their own country, and many of those now crowded inside refugee camps were ethnically cleansed from villages only a few miles away. Of these, more than a million are imprisoned inside the walled-off and blockaded Gaza Strip.
In the first of her on-the-ground reports from Palestine, Martin speaks with those trapped inside two of the most besieged refugee camps in the West Bank, Balata (the largest, where 30,000 people are crammed inside 0.25 square km)* and Aida (nearby Bethlehem with 5,500 people inside 0.1 square km):
Annexation one settlement at a time
There are absolutely no legal Israeli settlements in the West Bank under international law. Israel, however, takes a different view. Once in a while a caravan arrives on a hilltop adjacent to a large existing settlement. Shortly, a few more settlers arrive there. Soon afterwards, this ‘pirate outpost’ is afforded protection with a military camp and electricity and water are also connected via the main settlement. Access roads are laid, ancient olive groves are cut down, and gradually another slice of the Palestinian land is stolen away as this new settlement is declared ‘legal’. Thus, little by little the Palestinians are evicted and penned behind fences, as their homeland is eaten into and annexed by stealth:
A tale of two cities – both under enemy occupation
Like Berlin under Soviet rule, Hebron is a divided city. One area is designated H1 and the other H2. To cross from one sector to the other involves security checks where residents must pass through turnstiles but only once their papers are thoroughly checked. For Palestinians this often means delays of hours to get to work or school. So the Palestinian residents are abandoning H2 in droves, forced out by the daily harassment of Israeli forces and the illegal settlers alike. Indeed, to ensure this ethnic cleansing goes on, Palestinian are routinely humiliated, verbally abused, physically attacked and even gunned down on a regular basis because no action is taken by the Israeli authorities. Many acts of extremist terrorism are committed in the name of Zionism but never reported upon or debated in our corporate news:
“I was the terrorist” – confessions of an Israeli veteran
Eran Efrati was a sergeant in the Israeli military, but has since become an outspoken critic of the occupation of Palestine and Israeli apartheid. In this extended interview he gives testimony on how Israeli war crimes are institutionalised, and how the oppression of the Palestinians is simply a war of conquest that will doubtless be accelerated under the Trump Administration:
Asked to explain more specifically how the culture within the Israeli military fosters anti-Arab racism, Efrati replies [from 17:40 mins]:
I think the system, you know, is not only inside the military. It’s like I said before: that’s actually what being an Israeli means. Being an Israeli, growing up in the Israeli educational departments, you understand that all the Arabs hate you. That they are actually in a way the continuation of the biblical Amalek or Hitler. You know that everybody there wants to throw you into the sea. This is what you’re growing up with and you really believe in that.
I mean going into the military, you already go in so full of hate and fear that at the same time you don’t need much to be very aggressive, violent and racist towards Palestinians. They see the Palestinian women and the Palestinian men as subhuman. The occupied territories are like an [exclave] where those human beings are considered to be not human beings.
This is a process that you start at a very early age, being enforced inside your boot camp, and later on when you’re going into your service… you do not see human beings in front of you. Do not believe their sorrow, do not believe their smiles, do not believe their feelings. They’re subhuman.
Abby Martin interjects: “But they look just like you – there are so many Arab Jews”
Efrati replies [from 19:10]:
I think the Arab Jews in Israel are probably the most tragic story in the entire story of Zionism after the Palestinians. And you know it’s obviously not being talked [about] enough obviously inside Israeli society… The Mizrahi Jews – the Arab Jews – that came around the years of ’50 and onwards into Israel (some came by choice, some came by force) but they didn’t come to a country that was theirs.
They came only about two years after Israel had already given out most of the land to the European people. And they [the Ashkenazi settlers from Europe] understood that they could not hold the territory alone [but] need more people on the ground to fight off Palestinians or Palestinian refugees if they will come back, and then they went off and brought most of the Arab Jews and put them in the most terrible places in Israel: on the borders, on the borders with Egypt or Jordan or Lebanon and Syria. We put them at buffer zones to protect us from Palestinians. […]
Many of them [the Arab Jews] in Iraq or Egypt had a good life (or in Morocco) and wanted to stay. They didn’t know what would be the destiny of this new country – it was very likely that there would be a lot of wars going on there. They felt protected in those countries and they said no. And the Zionist organisations sent other delegations into some of these countries… to terrorise those people [and] to force them to come into Israel. […]
After they came they were being sent into the most disgusting forms of settlement for the newcomers [who were] sprayed with DDT, with gas, to try to “clean them up” before they join with the Ashkenazi – the European kids – to play with them. They were separated and segregated for years – it was not their country and it is still not their country. And what they had to do to start to assimilate themselves inside this new country was to make sure that everybody understood they are not Arabs – they look like Arabs, they talk Arabic, but they are not Arab; they are Jewish. Because you can be an American Jew and you can be a European Jew, but you cannot be an Arab Jew in Israel.
They erased their identity and they started to form what we know today as the most extreme right in Israel. They are the extreme right because they have to solidify themselves as the most loyal citizens of the state.
Silencing the screams from Palestine
Although Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is an internationally-recognized human rights crime, those who defiantly resist the occupation are harshly punished. “Taking part in political activity” has been criminalised along with most other forms of non-violent resistance including the publication of instances of oppression on social media platforms. Under the latest draconian measures, throwing stones is deemed “an act of terrorism” and punishable with up to twenty years in jail.
Moreover, with recourse to “administrative detention”, Palestinian suspects can be imprisoned without charge on the basis of secret information, and this can be renewed every six months indefinitely. Such arbitrary and indefinite detention may begin with up to 180 days of interrogation, for the first sixty of which the prisoner can be denied access to a lawyer. In fact, 40% of Palestinian men in the West Bank and Jerusalem have spent time in prison, with a conviction rate in the military courts of 99.7%.
Getting detailed facts about Israel’s imposition of martial law in the West Bank, Martin visits the Ramallah offices of Addameer — the most prominent prisoners’ rights organizations in Palestine — where she also hears about the shocking use of torture, and in particular psychological techniques against children, that provides yet another weapon for oppression.
Chronicling this history of resistance and repression from the First Intifada through the 2015 uprising, this final episode reveals the brutal lengths the Israeli occupation will go to silence any and all advocacy for freedom:
Additional: Lies and distortion in the media coverage of Palestine
In an earlier broadcast [November 2015], Abby Martin looked at how the so-called “Israel-Palestine conflict” was deliberately misrepresented by the western corporate media during the last major crisis in the region. She covered the variety of tactics employed by the state of Israel to control the narrative from its Hasbara propaganda machine to the murder of journalists.
The episode features interviews with Dan Cohen, an investigative journalist who had recently returned from 7 months living and reporting in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and, Rania Khalek, a writer and editor with the Electronic Intifada:
* In the programme the figures for the Balata refugee camp are given as 28,000 inhabitants packed inside an area 1km by 1km (i.e., one square km), however wikipedia currently puts the figure at 30,000 residents in an area of only 0.25 square km. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balata