Monday, March 17, 2014

Palestinian Flags, Israeli settlers and the IOF: Military Order 101 & Israel's restriction of Palestinian political freedoms

Dear friends,
you may have seen the reporting in Israel Haaretz newspaper about settlers in Occupied Hebron attempting to scale the roof of Palestinian house to remove a Palestinian flag.  After the settler got caught in barbed wire, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) intervened and demanded the Palestinian home owner remove the flag. When he refused, they threatened to arrest him.  Several days later, the IOF returned and removed the flag. According to the home owner Shadi Sider, who filmed the settler scaling his roof, the IOF kidnapped a neighbourhood child claiming he had thrown stones.  They conditioned the child's release on the removal of the flag - to which he finally agreed.

When the incident was originally reported by Haaretz, the IOF claimed that they  have "no standard policy to remove flags and does not plan to implement such a policy".  However, there is a lie. 

Amongst the thousands of military orders used by the IOF to control every aspect of Palestinian life under occupation, there is also an Israeli military order which prohibits the flying/waving/displaying of Palestinian flags both in public (eg at demonstrations) and in private.

Israel Military Order 101 - Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions - has an amendment (no1079) pertaining to the "waving of flags" which states: "It is forbidden to hold wave, display or affix flags or political symbols except in accordance with a permit of the military commander". 

Military Order 101 also
prohibits any assembly, village, procession, or publication relating to "a political matter or one liable to be interpreted as political".  The order is sweeping and does not include any precise definition of what example can be interpreted as "political".  As a result, it is used to restrict Palestinian political freedom on a wide ranging basis.  In addition, the order does not simply pertain to gatherings or public activities, it also allows for the restriction of gatherings and political activities in private places (ie. such as flying a Palestinian flag on your own roof).

The order also applies to all types of publications, whatever their circulation - so can be applied against the publication of newspapers, poems, photography, drawings, painting, other forms of art work.  The military order is so sweeping that even the publication of an opinion piece criticising Israel's occupation can be considered a violation of the order. (To read full text of Military Order 101, please click here

As B'Tselem, who originally made the footage and story public, note in relation to military order 101  that

"the order imposes far-reaching restrictions on freedom of expression and the freedom to demonstrate, exceeding the cautious restrictions permitted by international and Israeli law" and "establishes a maximum penalty of ten years' imprisonment or a heavy fine, despite the fact that these offenses do not injure life, body, or even property".
B'Tselem goes onto note in relation to "national symbols" such as the Palestinian flag:
The order emphasizes the prohibition on political protest and prohibits the bearing of national symbols in the framework of a peaceful procession, or even on the level of the private individual.
In the initial years after Oslo, in general the military order was usually only used in relation to the "Incitement" provisions in it but the order remains and can be used if the military commander so deems it. While the IOF may not currently have a "standard policy to remove flags" as the IOF spokesperson first claimed that does not mean there isn't a military order that allows them to prevent Palestinians displaying flag or that they don't implement this military order at different and random times - thus demonstrating how arbitrary the IOF are in applying military orders. 

On the application of the incitement provision in the military order, the order is broad enough to allow for a military commander to deem the waving or display of flags as "incitement". The provision states: Any person who (a) attempts orally or in another manner to influence public opinion in the region in a manner that is liable to harm public safety or public order or (b) does any act or has in his possession ay object with the intent to do or facilitate the commission of an attempt as aforesaid will be charged with violating this order".

So while the Israeli military has attempted to portray the incident in Occupied Hebron as a one off mistake, it is in fact a systematic part of the occupation regime which restricts and prohibits Palestinian political freedom. 

I have included below, the video shot by Shadi Sider and other B'Tselem volunteers, as well as the two articles from Haaretz on the issue and B'Tselem's statement.

in solidarity, Kim

Video by Shadi Sidr

Video by Manal al-Jaabari, B’Tselem

Soldiers ordered Hebron resident to remove Palestinian flag 

Rumpus followed failed attempt by Jewish settler to remove flag from his neighbor’s roof.
By Chaim Levinson | Mar. 13, 2014 |

Israeli soldiers in Hebron told a Palestinian to remove the Palestinian flag flying from his roof and threatened him with arrest if he refused.

The soldiers issued the order after a settler had tried to remove the flag himself but got entangled in barbed wire.

The incident occurred on Saturday, when a settler came to the house of Shadi Sider, who lives near the city’s Jewish enclave, Beit Hadassah, and climbed onto his roof in an effort to take down the Palestinian flag. Instead, he got tangled in barbed wire and remained stuck there, attracting stares from a small crowd of curious onlookers, until an Israel Defense Forces soldier arrived to extricate him.


A few minutes later, several other soldiers and an officer arrived and asked Sider to take down the flag. They said they were acting on orders from brigade headquarters.

Tempers quickly flared, and the soldiers threatened to arrest Sider. But then the officer called brigade headquarters to warn that cameras were present, asking, “Do you want me to remove it by force?” About 10 minutes later, the soldiers left, but said they would return with an official order.

B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, said that soldiers are obligated first and foremost to protect local Palestinians, as they are a protected population in the West Bank. Therefore, the soldiers had no right to leave Sider to defend himself against a settler trying to invade his home, much less to demand, under threat of arrest, that he remove a flag flying on his home – especially when many Israeli flags are flying nearby without any interference. And they are certainly forbidden to satisfy the whim of a settler who invaded a Palestinian house because he couldn’t bear the sight of a Palestinian flag, it added.

The IDF stated that it has no standard policy to remove flags and does not plan to implement such a policy. “This individual initiative will be investigated,” a spokesperson said.


IDF backtracks, removes Palestinian flag from Hebron roof

Owner says he agreed after soldiers promised to release neighbor they arrested for throwing stones.

Israeli soldiers turned up for the second time on Saturday at a home in Hebron to order the removal of a Palestinian flag, even though the Israel Defense Forces said last week there is no policy against displaying flags.

Shadi Sider, a member of a Palestinian family living near the Jewish settlement enclave of Beit Hadassah, said the soldiers had arrested a neighbor for allegedly throwing stones and conditioned his release on the removal of the flag. Sider said he capitulated to their demand and took it down.

“[The soldiers] arrested a youth who lives in the building, claiming he threw stones,” Sider said.

“They said they would release the boy if we took down the flag. There was an important officer with them so we agreed and took it down.”

An IDF official denied Sider’s claim about the Palestinian youth who was arrested, saying he was freed because he is too young to be criminally responsible. Convincing is all it took to get the flag removed, the source said.

The IDF declined to give an official comment.

Just over a week ago, following the first attempt by soldiers to have the flag removed, the IDF said there was no official policy that says Palestinians cannot display flags. “There is no intention to implement such a policy,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said. “It was a local decision. The matter will be looked into.”

However, the IDF commander in Hebron, Avi Bluth, later decided to have the flag taken down, explaining its display has disturbed the status quo between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents in Hebron.

What prompted the initial visit by Israeli soldiers to Sider’s house was a request by a settler who only turned to the soldiers for help after failing to remove the flag himself. The settler had climbed onto a ladder to try and reach the flag, but became entangled in barbed wire. He attracted a crowd of onlookers who recorded the scene. After a short while soldiers arrived to extricate him.

When the soldiers, who were accompanied by an officer, knocked on Sider’s door to ask him to remove the flag they were met with refusal. They said they were acting on orders from brigade headquarters. Tempers quickly flared, and the soldiers threatened to arrest Sider. But then the officer called brigade headquarters to warn that cameras were present, asking, “Do you want me to remove it by force?” About 10 minutes later, the soldiers left but said they would return with an official order.

Hebron settlers released a statement saying the footage of the affair, taken by a tourist, only shows half the story, and that Sider “provoked” the settler by waving the flag and “taunting” him.

“The flag may not be defined as illegal but it represents the [Palestine Liberation Organization], a terrorist organization that has never recognized Israel and has never renounced its murderous intentions,” the Beit Hadassah statement read.

On Saturday B’Tselem camera volunteer Shadi Sidr filmed a settler trying to climb onto Sidr’s own roof to take down a Palestinian flag flying there. The settler got caught in the barbed wire that encircles the roof. The two men go to speaking to one another, and the settler informed Shadi that Shadi’s roof actually belongs to the settler, not Shadi, because the roof is part of Land of Israel. An Israeli soldier then came to the house. He too demanded that Shadi take down the flag, trying to justify his order by saying there are no other flags in the area. The footage belies this statement, showing many Israeli flags nearby.

Shortly thereafter, five other soldiers arrived at the house. They ordered Shadi and his brothers ‘Abed and Adham to take down the flag, threatening to arrest Shadi should he refuse. The incident was filmed by B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Jaabari and B’Tselem camera volunteer Mahmoud Abu Hayah.

B’Tselem would like to underscore the fact that soldiers must ensure the safety of Palestinian individuals. They must not abandon a Palestinian to fend for himself in the face of a throng trying to gain access to his private residence. Not only did this particular Palestinian not receive military protection, soldiers came on the scene shortly after and ordered him, on pain of arrest, to take down a flag of Palestine from his own roof. The demand was made while many Israeli flags were flying undisturbed in the immediate vicinity.

The soldiers, responsible for maintaining security in the area, are first and foremost obliged to protect Palestinians who constitute the protected population of the West Bank. It goes without saying that soldiers must not aid and abet settlers trespassing on Palestinians’ homes or satisfy the whim of a settler displeased by the sight of Palestinian flag flying in Hebron.

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