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Thursday, February 02, 2006

What Happened at 'Amona'

This first-person account of what happened yesterday at 'Amona' came from Ncoom in Shilo:

Yesterday was one of the harder days in my life. I watched violence, I saw blood spilt, I saw children writhing in pain. But no less painful was to hear the devious descriptions of the day coming from our media. I cannot describe all that happened, but I can tell all that I saw. But the question is not whether there was violence, but where it came from. The head of the operation, Nitzav Hasin Faris, said the police were forced to pull out their batons when stones were thrown at them. Amona. In my eyes.

The day began at 4:30 AM, when security forces began approaching Amona from several sides. At the entrance, the sole paved road into Amona, a large number of people sat on the road blocking it. The police marched up the sides, off the road. They had no trouble passing the 'roadblock.' But apparently the police wanted the road opened, so they could bring in their wheeled vehicles. The method they chose was to gallop into the crowd, with their enormous horses. People were trampled. Girls were trampled. The violence begins.

Apparently there were discussions at higher levels going on to attempt to prevent the conflict. A restraining order was obtained from the courts, and the conflict paused until the court could consider the matter at 8 in the morning. The offer was that Amona, at their own expense, would completely remove the houses within two weeks, and transfer them (they're made of pre-fabricated walls, and disassembly is messy, but possible) to nearby Ofra, on undisputed land. In addition to achieving the ostensible aim of the government, removal of the houses, this would have prevented any confrontation. The court declined. Apparently, some force in the courts, government, or whoever influences these decisions, wanted bloodshed, not resolution. I suspect Olmert as a campaign move, but have no more information than the next citizen.

Sometime around 8:30 the news comes: Bagatz turns down the offer. All holds are off- the destruction can begin. At the time I was resting in a caravan, nearly a kilometer from the nine houses in question. The police lined up and began marching. Pictures were taken. They were already holding their batons raised, in their hands, by the thousands, ready to attack, long before they were anywheres near any of the protesters. Many pictures show it. Nitzav Faris lied about who was interested in violence.

I had been in Amona for two days already, and heard many of the shiurim for men in the Beit Knesset. While many of them spoke of an ongoing Kulturkampf, the attempt to eliminate anything Jewish about the State and replace it with the values of Western Society, the distortions of the media and the courts, every one of them repeated the same message: this is a struggle, but the border which is not to be crossed is physical violence to fellow Jews. One mentioned the struggle over the Second Temple, saying that once killing begins, there is no end on either side. Avoid at all costs. One group, that insisted that violent struggle was the only way was asked to leave Amona, and did so. The plan was protest and resistance, but nothing to endanger those who came to tear down the houses.

I circled around and came to the area of the houses. I personally believe that even if there were 30,000 people, even if the whole country were standing there, it is not possible to stop this kind of maneuver. A large organized and well armed force willing to use violence will prevail every time. One of the problems of a police state. In a democracy, the will of the people decides, not the force of the security arms. The place I ended up had the advantage of being both the site of the first building chosen for evacuation, and overlooking the corner chosen to evacuate the wounded, so I saw most of what happened at the early stages, as well as all of the injuries.

The police chose a route near me to descend from the high approach ground to the street the houses were all laid out on, in a gentle crescent, all on the far side of the street. Police no longer wear traditional name tags, but a cloth badge on their right shoulder. As they passed me I read out their names and said: Avner, this is defending the country? Tamar, this is defending the country? Elichai, this is defending the country? I noticed that about 10% of them had their name tags tucked up under their vests so that your couldn't see the name. My first thought was to reach out and flip one down, but I figured I would be grabbed and arrested immediately for attacking a police officer. So I pointed out to the next one to pass that his name wasn't visible. "So what?" he asked me. As did the next. And the next. Or they ignored me completely. And these are the people who claim to be present for the preservation of the order of law?

When they had sufficient forces on the street, they formed a wall, faces towards the buildings, stretching from the nearby cliff to the edge of the hill. As their wall thickened, they started moving closer to the houses. Then they brought up the horses, and suddenly pushed a hole in their wall, and the horses came charging through. Their riders had their batons drawn, and ran into crowds, lashing out at the heads of anyone they could reach. The picture was exactly that of a Russian Cossack. As they repeatedly charged people and smashed heads, the rocks began to fly at them, and in fact drove them back. If a rider's kneecap was broken by flying rocks, this is probably how it happened. The move by the horseman had little to do with the move forward by the soldiers to 'conquer' the territory. That they were doing quite effectively before they threw the horses in. The only purpose seemed to be to inflict blows.

As the police continued to move forward, they made it to the first house. All the time they were grabbing individuals and pushing them back to remove them from the area around the houses. This was usually done like a water-bucket brigade. Someone would be grabbed, dragged back, and passed on to the next link in the chain, who would do the same thing, until they reached the main line, where they would be violently pushed through into the masses of citizens on the other side. Some walked, some were carried. In the intermediate range, between the front line, and the back line of protesters and police and soldiers, was sort of a no-mans-land. A number of police wandered back and forth there. Some of them, including an officer with three fellafal on his shoulder, would periodically approach one of the protesters who was being transported back out of the area, and smash them over the head with their baton. Sometimes it was people who were walking, accompanied by a policeman or two, under their own power, out of the area. These were some of the people who arrived at the medic's corner bleeding profusely from head wounds.

Of the approximately 30 people I saw arrive at the medic's corner, almost all suffered from head wounds. Blood dripping from cracked skulls. I saw two or three police brought there during the time I was there. Despite their wearing helmets, they too had received head wounds, presumably from rocks thrown at them. One of the three had no wound, but was so dazed I suspected a rock had hit his helmet and he had a concussion.

At several points in the scuffles, batons were pulled out of the hands of attackers. I saw several of them flung into the valley. They were not used as weapons. While the police were attacking, the subconscious message of the protesters was- throw away your weapons. No violence.

The police had experience from Gush Katif. They knew that they could methodically grab an individual, and remove him. There was no need for batons to accomplish their task, just as there was no need for tractors to remove the houses. Someone, presumably on high, wanted bloodshed. Thousands of police flailing with batons produced hundreds of wounded and bleeding. I do not think Effie Eitam was throwing rocks. I think he was attacked because he was there, as were thousands of others. I saw police take vicious cuts with their batons at protesters legs, again, as they were walking out of the area. And I saw a few instances of protesters who were being carried out by four policemen, while a fifth was twisting their head, or forcing it backwards, with the sole purpose of causing pain. I also saw two cases of protesters lying on the ground while police sat on them, usually with their knees digging into limbs, and hitting them.

The calls for law and order by the government, by the media, and by the police are revolting. Of course we need law and order. But the main proponents of violence at Amona were those self same bodies that are self-righteously lambasting the youth. People of all ages were attacked because they were there, because someone thought there was political mileage to be earned by spilling their blood. The police announced that the cost of the destruction was 10 million shekels. Add to that at least another 5 million shekels cost of the houses themselves. Then ask to whom it was worth that much money to break the heads of Knesset members and other citizens.

I taught my children to respect the State, to believe that after thousands of years of oppression in Galut, we now live in a country where they can be Jews without being attacked for it; where they can hold their heads high. My older children who saw what happened there are traumatized. Trampling people with horses while beating them from above? In the Jewish Homeland? Groups of policemen attacking helpless individuals, with deliberate brutality? My children are confused. I am embarrassed. If we don't find a way to reshape our government and our institutions with Jewish values of respect for the individual, as opposed to the unstoppable-ness of power, then all may be lost.

Maybe the accusation of worrying too much about the Land of Israel is justified. While we have been struggling to preserve the Land, those who want to relinquish the land have also relinquished the basic Jewish values of honoring their fellow man. Without our land, we are back to the Diaspora. Without acting like Jews on our land, we are nothing. If we act like animals, even in the Land of Israel, we will not survive.

[Postscript: The police announced tonight that they are reviewing films of yesterday's rioting and plan to charge those 'settlers' who threw stones with attempted murder. Somehow, I think there should be charges pressed the other way. But those of us who live here know how unlikely that is. CiJ]


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