Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Confess

"I've got this terrible habit. It's called thinking." George Carlin

My fave rag (its maxi-me The Australian aside), The Australian Jewish News, has just had a go at "self-confessed* anti-Zionist Anthony [sic] Loewenstein," who "admitted he may have overstepped the mark in encouraging comparisons between Israel and Nazism" by posting a "Third Reich-style image of Julia Gillard alongside the Israeli flag and SS soldiers with the Star of David on their helmets." (Nazi comparison a goosestep too far, 16/7/10) [*Self-confessed anti-Zionist! OMG! Antony, are you now or have you ever been a member of the... ?]

Well, I too have a confession to make: I too... *sob*... sorry... I too recently found myself entertaining such a comparison. No, I hasten to add, I did not need Antony Loewenstein's encouragement in this. It just... sort of... *sob*... happened.

It's OK, I've composed myself. Allow me to explain:

I was listening to Radio National's PM program on July 12, and specifically to an item by Anne Barker on the appalling treatment of Palestinian child prisoners by the Israeli military as revealed in a new report delivered to the United Nations by the Defence for Children International organisation (Lobby group alleges mistreatment of young Palestinian prisoners in Israel), when I was reminded of an episode in a little book I'd read on the German occupation of Britain's Channel Islands...

You can see how insidious this business is, can't you? No wonder Antony got caught out. I mean, I tried to resist, but the comparison just goosestepped its way into my consciousness and, well, just occupied it.

The book was John Lewis' A Doctor's Occupation (1982), subtitled "The dramatic true story, seen through the eyes of a young doctor, of life in Nazi-occupied Jersey."

In September 1942, the Germans, for reasons Lewis could only speculate about, decided to deport English-born Islanders to Germany. Of the occupying German troops, Lewis wrote: "The German private soldiers themselves were very unhappy about the whole thing, which they felt was quite unnecessary and cruel. Several even said so, although not when officers were in earshot. Within the limits of their orders, they were as kind and considerate as could be, and many of them were uncomfortable and shamefaced when confronting the sorrowing, bitter Islanders." (pp 177-178)

It was the following description, however, that came to my mind while I was listening to Anne Barker's report:

"On September 25 a further 300 [deportees] arrived at the weighbridge... As before, crowds turned up to bid goodbye, but this time the Germans had blocked off not only all the streets leading to the weighbridge, but also all points having a view of the harbour, so that relations and friends were cheated of their last farewells... Deprived of the excitement of a patriotic demonstration, parties of teenagers marched through the streets, singing and giving the V sign. They were chased away by soldiers, but groups reformed at other points, and carried on baiting the enemy. At last the soldiers, not entirely unreasonably, lost their tempers when a boy knocked off a German helmet and the others started kicking it around. A German officer began bully-ragging one of them, a well grown teenager of about 14, who suddenly hauled off and gave the officer a sock on the jaw which laid him out cold. The soldiers then drew their bayonets, which had a very sobering effect; 14 boys were carted off to prison, where they remained for a fortnight. They were then tried by court martial. Those of 16 and under were released, after having had a thorough fright. The older ones received varying, not very severe sentences, but a man alleged to have incited them was sentenced to 3 years in a German prison. After this drama, we settled down to our customary dull existence." (pp 181-182)

Under-16s released; the rest given a not very severe sentence. I couldn't believe it. Germans for Christ's sake! A German officer - decked!

Now here, in part, is what had prompted my heinous thought-crime:

"ANNE BARKER: Every year nearly 700 minors as young as 12 are prosecuted in Israeli military courts. Hundreds are currently in jail. Nearly two-thirds of those charged last year were accused of throwing stones at soldiers or Israeli settlers, a crime that can carry 20 years in jail. Yet the organisation Defence for Children International, or DCI, which represents many of them in court, says very often minors are arrested who've done nothing at all. Its lawyer is Gerard Horton.

GERARD HORTON: Someone will have thrown stones at a bypass road or the wall or some army facility or a settlement. The army will then come into the nearest village to where that incident occurred and start arresting children.

ANNE BARKER: Gerard Horton says arrests are usually made in the dead of night as a form of intimidation or deterrence.

GERARD HORTON: We have a number of cases where children have woken up at 2 in the morning with an M16 assault rifle at their head, their hands are tied with plastic ties very tight behind their back, they're blindfolded. Generally they're not told why they've been arrested or where they're being taken.

ANNE BARKER: The Israel Defence Force defends its policies on the arrest and detention of Palestinian minors. In its statement to the ABC it says: Rock throwing is a serious offence, placing others at significant risk and endangering both the public and regional security. The same certainly applies to attempts at stabbing a soldier. Offenders of either violation must bear appropriate consequences. But lawyers say, despite what the IDF claims, Israel's treatment of such minors does violate international conventions. DCI says youngsters in custody are usually denied a lawyer until after they make a confession. Often the confession is made under coercion or even torture. Many, it says, are forced to sign confessions written in Hebrew, a language they can't understand. Recently it says another 15-year-old boy accused of throwing stones reportedly had car jumper leads attached to his genitals under threat of electrification unless he confessed. Lawyer Khaled Quzmar says such abuse is common.

KHALED QUZMAR: From experience I can say that most children arrested are tortured according to the definition of torture. When we talk about torture, it's physical and psychological.
ANNE BARKER: Now, a DCI report to the UN Committee Against Torture has documented a litany of alleged abuse. Of the cases it examined, it says 69% of minors were beaten or kicked during interrogation. Two-thirds were arrested at home between midnight and 4am. 92% were blindfolded and 14% were placed in solitary confinement."

I can't really understand now why this incident from the German occupation of Jersey came to mind when I heard the above - there is, after all, no real comparison between how the Germans treated the children of Jersey and how the Israelis treat Palestinian children. So I herewith apologise for my rogue thought. Can we agree that it's all the ABC's fault?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those stones really hurt, in more ways than the German occupiers of the Channel Islands could ever know and it shows.