Violence, In Search of Definition

It is hard to believe that my own society which survived millennia in Palestine, is now begging to retain 20% of its legal property.

Not too long ago, I conducted a survey of and personally interviewed some 250 Palestinians injured during the First Intifada (uprising). Most were males in their 20s, incurring injuries in their teens. I also interviewed a larger number of the injured significant others, many of whom had been witnesses to events surrounding the injuries.

There were thousands of others I could have interviewed, but the sample was more than adequate to provide a picture of the nature and extent of intentionally inflicted injuries on young Palestinians by the Israeli military establishment. In the early 1990s, truncheons were not the only weapon of choice for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF); they had an array of lethal weapons that could maim or kill from secure positions—tanks, armored vehicles and occupied high-rise buildings overlooking crowded Palestinian communities. From these secure positions, sharpshooters could select their human target, determine the nature and extent of injury, then pull the trigger. To a sniper, killing is a crude art; maiming, a fine art. To the victim, the sniper’s choice represents the difference between transient pain and lifelong agony.

Intentionally inflicted injuries have far reaching implications. In addition to the fact that they represent extreme forms of violence directed at innocent civilians—children, human rights activists, farmers, journalists, political activists, and emergency medical personnel–their ultimate victim is society. Only a handful of the 250 intentionally injured and disabled Palestinians I surveyed identified less than two individuals who had met similar fates; the majority named three to five injured and disabled friends and acquaintances. In the refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank every family had a story to tell about injuries and disabilities—physical, psychological, and emotional. My survey excluded the latter two conditions, but one can’t but infer that a population so physically traumatized can escape lifelong psychological and emotional trauma.

A peek into the age groups that were the target of Israel’s intentional injuries during the First Intifada might reveal the nature of the violence inflicted by the IDF and the Border Guards on the integrity of the Palestinian society: 54.2% of those I surveyed ranged in age between 7 and 17 years; 23.8% had a mean age of 26 years; 14.2% had a mean age of 6 years; 6.2% had a mean age of 36; and 1.9% had a mean age of 42.3 years (percentages rounder to the nearest decimal). More than 92% of the injured and disabled were either school children or young adults on whom families and children depended for survival.

No intelligent being can accuse Israel’s military establishment of random violence against Palestinians. Incapacitating the young is an integral part of Israel’s demography syndrome.

If Israel’s violence during the First Intifada was directed at the most viable subset of the Palestinian population, the state’s violence during the Second Intifada was directed both at the infrastructure of Palestinian society and at the society itself. Israel redefined, or more appropriately, refined and expanded the construct, violence. The curve of intentionally inflicted injuries began to tilt toward collective injuries resulting in more deaths than disabling injuries, more destruction of and confiscation of property, more limitations on movement, more attacks on public and civil institutions, and ever stricter controls on media. Every Palestinian became a potential terrorist and the state’s language of diplomacy was adapted to fit the US model of the terrorist (Palestinian).The much talked about concept of purity-of-arms gave way to impurity-of-arms and creative violence to ensure the purity of the state—a state for Jews only. Ergo, what the state controls, regardless of labels, is the state’s. Western media’s cover-up of Israel’s violence during the past six years has been almost perfect. On this subject, I recommend www.ifamericsnsknew.org.

Unlike animal violence, human violence has a built-in inflation factor, and is far more variegated than other human behaviors as, e.g., love. Hatred and violence are mutually inclusive. Discrimination is a subtle form of extreme violence because it is rooted in hatred. A recent survey by the Geocartography Institute (Jerusalem Post, March 22, 06) showed that 70% of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in Arab neighborhoods and more than a third considered Arab culture inferior. Culture and society are inseparable

Herein, examples of Israel’s expanded concept of intentionally inflicted injuries since I last visited the territory, or since the beginning of the Second Intifada, the al-Aqsa Intifada.

Rachel Corrie is a US citizen who had traveled to Gaza to protest IDF demolitions of Palestinian houses. She was crushed by an IDF Caterpillar bulldozer in the presence of witnesses. Israel concluded it was an accident. Do you know who Rachel Corrie is and what she represents? In 1967, in a premeditated attack on the USS Liberty, at least 12 Israeli planes dropped napalm and left 870 rocket and cannon holes in that intelligence vessel. Thirty-four sailors were killed and 171 injured. Israel said it was an accident. Even today the cover-up continues.

Moshe Nissim, nicknamed Kurdi Bear, did not know how to operate a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer. Jenin’s Palestinian refugee camp, surrounded by IDF, became home to Nissim and his 60-ton armored machine. Nissim tells the story: “I entered Jenin, driven by madness, by desperation, in the worst condition possible…The funny bit was, I didn’t even know how to operate the D-9. Within two hours, they taught me to drive forwards, and make a flat surface. I tied the ‘Beitar’ football team flag to the back of the bulldozer and…[for] three days, I just erased and erased [Palestinian houses]….[and) I don’t [sic] care if there where any [Palestinians in the houses].” Much of Rafah (in Gaza) was bulldozed by IDF D-9s prompting the UN mission in Gaza to beg for funds to build shelters for the hundreds of families who lost their homes.

Iman (Faith) Hamas, a 13-year old girl from Gaza was killed by an IDF bullet. Soldier-witnesses accused Captain R of violating established rules of confirmed kill by pumping more than 30 bullets into her dead body. Captain R stated that the girl posed a threat to the IDF, sued in court, was awarded $20,000, and was elevated in rank and returned to duty. Has any of the Israeli leaders ever been called upon to answer for the crimes they committed or instigated, or ever been tried for these crimes?

There is very little in the literature that describes state-condoned intentionally inflicted injuries. For states that identify themselves as civilized, intentionally inflicted injuries may be an evolving art form. It is hard to believe that my own society which survived millennia in Palestine, is now begging to retain 20% of its legal property. But then it is equally hard to believe that only fifteen years ago Iraq was a thriving modern society.

Axiom: the greater the range and complexity of an undesirable behavior in a society, the more euphemisms are created to hide that behavior. To understand the phenomenon of violence one has to look into its varied euphemisms (shock and awe, targeted assassinations, collateral damage, extraordinary rendition, etc). Surprisingly, of the people I surveyed, none uttered the word hate (against Israeli soldiers or Jews). All were critical of Palestinian and Israeli leadership—an interesting response to state violence and intentionally inflicted injuries. That says a great deal about Palestinian culture and society, and Palestinian perception of violence.

-The author is a Fellow ASHA and is an Adjunct Professor and Senior Researcher at Center for Asian Health, Department of Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. Dr. Toubbeh has been recognized by the Chair of the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities for his contributions to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and is also a recipient of the Eagle Feather, for his advocacy in behalf of Native Americans with disabilities. He is author of Day of the Long Night: a Palestinian Refugee Remembers the Nakba (McFarland & Co.)

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