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Sunday, July 25, 1999

The seeds of hate

By Gideon Levy

One night about two weeks ago, Baha Awidah, 35, set out from Bethlehem to take his sister-in-law to Ben-Gurion International Airport, where she had a flight to catch. Also in the car were his wife, who is Swedish, their two children, aged five and a half and six and a half, and a relative who is crippled. His son-in-law followed in a second car. Like tens of thousands of Israelis who are accompanying their relatives and friends to the airport these days, Awidah, who is from the village of New Anata, north of Jerusalem, where he sells automobile accessories, thought the trip would be a matter of routine.The police officer at the Bethlehem checkpoint asked to see his driver's license and vehicle registration papers. He asked Awidah where he got the money to buy the car and immediately gave him a ticket for not having his car insurance without giving him a chance to retrieve the document from the trunk, according to Awidah. Then came the Border Policeman and the soldiers. The policeman asked him to sign the ticket and Awidah refused, because he doesn't read Hebrew. Then came the beating.

In testimony he gave to B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Awidah stated that the policeman pushed him, tore his shirt, punched him in the eye, cursed him and threatened to arrest him. The soldiers, or perhaps the Border Policemen, took him aside to continue the thrashing. One of the soldiers pushed Awidah's little boy, knocking him to the ground. The soldiers beat the father of the family on the back with their rifle butts, kicked him in the ribs as he lay on the ground, and choked him. The other soldiers stood around chuckling, Awidah says.

Ibrahim and Amin, the two children, watched as their father was brutalized and humiliated. Awidah says he was taken to the police station in the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, where the blows continued to rain down on him. The children waited until daylight on the steps outside with their mother, after they returned from Hadassah Hospital, where Amin's leg, which was hurt when he was knocked to the ground, was bandaged. Awidah was released in the morning and went to Hadassah himself for treatment. He submitted a complaint to the Justice Ministry department that investigates policemen. It is difficult to believe that he simply made up the story. He provided the name of the policeman who beat him and the name of an eyewitness; a B'Tselem staff member saw the bruises around Awidah's eye.

The wound around Awidah's eye will heal quickly, and it's unlikely that he will carry psychological scars as a result of the events of that night. Perhaps he was already beaten before, certainly he was humiliated more than once in the past, like every other Palestinian. The resilience and acceptance with which the Palestinians get on with their lives after events like this, and some that are far worse, never ceases to amaze. Palestinians who have been tortured by the Shin Bet security service, for example, almost always relate their hair-raising experiences with the greatest equanimity, as though they were talking about their neighbors.

But it is the children, Amin and Ibrahim, who will never forget the events of that night. Last week Osama Barham, who was released on July 18 from administrative detention (arrest without trial) after almost six years, told me that the seeds of the desire to take revenge on Israelis were planted in him when he was 15 years old and soldiers asked to see his ID card. When he told them that he was still a minor and therefore had not yet been issued a card, they struck him and knocked him to the floor. Then they reviled his father with curses.

Barham's father was a school principal and was revered by his son. The humiliation he endured at the hands of the soldiers was insufferable for the boy, and he never forgot it. The imprecations hurled at his father hurt him more deeply than the blows he sustained, Barham says. That night he decided to run up the forbidden Palestinian flag on a pole in his village. That was his private revenge. Soldiers removed it in the morning, but the 15-year-old boy saw the fluttering flag as a small victory over the soldiers who had injured his father. That was the start of his battle against the occupation, which went on for years. The memory of the day when his father, the esteemed school principal, was humiliated, has never left him.

Nor will the children of Yusuf al Atrash ever forget the day that soldiers beat their mother, after the family's house was demolished for the third time by the Israeli authorities. I myself saw the mother dragged across the floor and struck. The children were also witnesses. A daughter, Manal, tried to take revenge on the spot and attacked the soldiers with a fury that is reserved for those who want to save their mother's honor. Manal was beaten badly and arrested. For her, too, the memory of her humiliated mother is stronger than the physical pain she endured.

Last week the children Amin and Ibrahim Awidah joined this circle of fury. They are still small children, but like thousands of other Palestinian children who have seen their fathers beaten, the sight will be engraved in their minds for as long as they live. The soldiers and policemen who insult and strike Palestinians are perhaps unaware of the seeds of violence they are planting. Maybe they are too young, or too insensitive. But it's high time their commanding officers understood that every time the soldiers under them pummel and humiliate a Palestinian mother or father they are sowing the wind and we will all reap the whirlwind

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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