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7. Policing the Ghetto

The first Palestinian revolt against Israeli rule, or Intifada, began in December 1987 with the organization of popular committees, mass demonstrations, and stone throwing (or occasional firebombing) against Israeli troops. Israel's military and border police responded with a harsh, police-style repertoire including mass incarcerations, coercive interrogations, and widespread beatings.[1] Jewish paramilitary vigilantes often joined in, criticizing the military's restraint and initiating their own assaults. Although Israeli leaders discussed the notion of using overwhelming military force to crush the uprising, the ghetto acted as a constraint, limiting Israel's options.[2] The military did not destroy large numbers of Palestinian homes, massacre, or generate waves of refugees, and while vigilantes threatened greater force, the state kept a cap on their actions, much as Serbian forces did in the Sandžak, Vojvodina, and Kosovo (before 1998).[3]


Israel's reliance on ethnic policing in Palestine rather than more despotic repertoires was a function of institutional context. The next chapter looks at Israeli tactics in Lebanon, which were more destructive than anything used in Palestine during the late 1980s; here, I juxtapose Israel's 1988 policing efforts in the West Bank and Gaza with its earlier repertoires of violence in the same area, when Palestine was not configured as

a ghetto. When Palestinian lands were constructed as frontiers, not ghettos, Israeli methods were quite different.

To take an example from the 1947–49 war, Jewish soldiers conquering the West Bank village of Ad Dawayima killed some 80 to 100 persons, including women and children, according to Israeli sources cited by historian Benny Morris, slaying children "by breaking their heads with sticks." Surviving villagers were forced into their homes, which troopers then dynamited around them. According to an Israeli trooper who claimed he was an eyewitness, one of the soldiers "boasted that he had raped a woman and then shot her," while another woman, "with a newborn baby in her arms, was employed to clean the courtyard where the soldiers ate," and was later killed, along with her child.[4] In another instance, again according to sources cited by Morris, Jewish troops killed hundreds of civilian curfew violators in the Palestinian town of Lydda, and then shot dead "dozens of unarmed detainees in the mosque and church compounds in the center of town."[5] Following that, soldiers forced all Palestinian residents from the town. According to Morris, "All the Israelis who witnessed the events agreed that the [Lydda] exodus, under a hot July sun, was an extended episode of suffering for the refugees," during which hundreds died and many were "stripped of their possessions" by Jewish troopers.[6] Elsewhere, Israeli forces displaced Palestinians by "advancing while shooting" into villages and urban neighborhoods, "shelling" and "firing in all directions" in residential areas.[7] Because these areas were not configured as ghettos within Israel when hostilities began, Israeli forces were free to engage in ethnic cleansing, much like their Serbian counterparts did in Bosnia decades later.

During the 1950s, Israeli forces adopted a shoot-to-kill policy along its borders with the West Bank and Gaza to stop Palestinian infiltration. Although some of the slain infiltrators were guerrillas, others were refugees seeking to return home.[8] In the country's southern border regions, according to a senior Israeli officer, every "stranger" caught within eight kilometers on either side of the boundary was to be shot on sight; along Israel's eastern border with the West Bank, soldiers were ordered to shoot anyone without a special pass.[9] Israel's reprisal policy against West Bank villages in the 1950s and 1960s is also of interest. The policy was adopted as a response to Palestinian guerrilla attacks, and by striking heavily at both Arab combatants and civilians, Israel hoped to persuade the guerrillas to accept their 1947–49 loss. The reprisals were at times ferocious, far outstripping anything contemplated by Israel when the West Bank was configured years later as a ghetto.


In 1953, for example, following a deadly Palestinian raid in central Israel, the Israeli Central Command ordered its commandos to "attack and temporarily … occupy" the West Bank village of Qibya (which had little connection to the prior Palestinian attack) and two other locations, and to "carry out destruction and maximum killing, in order to drive out the inhabitants of the village from their homes."[10] In Qibya, soldiers blew up forty-five buildings and killed sixty villagers, mostly women and children. According to a contemporary report by Time magazine, Israeli troopers in Qibya "shot every man, woman and child they could find, and then turned their fire on the cattle. After that, they dynamited forty-two houses, a school and a mosque. The cries of the dying could be heard amidst the explosions."[11] Israeli forces "moved from house to house, blowing in doors, throwing grenades through the windows, and ‘cleaning out’ the rooms with light weapons fire. Inhabitants who tried to flee their homes were gunned down in the alleyways."[12] In 1966, Israel topped the Qibya events with a raid on the West Bank village of Samu', destroying 118 homes and killing twenty-one Jordanian soldiers.[13]

These incidents are of interest here only because of the stark contrast they pose to Israel's later repertoires of violence in the same area. When the West Bank was external, Israeli forces used despotic tactics, including ethnic cleansing. Once it was transformed into a ghetto, however, Israel's methods changed.


Israel's 1988 ethnic policing efforts sparked outrage among human rights activists and critics.[14] In response, Israel's defenders noted the multitude of regulations, norms, and orders restraining their military's resort to deadly force in the West Bank and Gaza.[15] In effect, these rules were the nuts and bolts of Palestine's institutional (ghetto) setting, which combined Jewish national domination with a heavy dose of legalism and police-style principles. The resulting repertoire of violence was one of savage restraint; harsh and painful, but limited.

Israeli repertoires of violence in Palestine were constrained through four key institutional mechanisms. First, the army circulated detailed rules of engagement governing the use of lethal force, and while these were classified, they seemed to generally comply with accepted police procedures.[16] Second, the army's bureau of Internal Affairs investigated allegations of military wrongdoing, providing a bare minimum of accountability

for Israeli field troops.[17] Third, all coercive actions were authorized by military orders and emergency regulations aimed, in theory, at preserving law and order while protecting Jew and Arab alike.[18] Finally, Israel's Supreme Court, parliament, journalists, and international human rights monitors regularly scrutinized military action. Israel's critics said these constraints were largely meaningless, arguing they were used chiefly to legitimize acts of Israeli repression. Israel was systematically beating Palestinian protestors, torturing prisoners, using lethal gunfire, imposing draconian curfews, denying freedom of movement, and imposing myriad petty harassments on oppressed Palestinians.

At first glance, these two positions seem irreconcilable. For Israel's defenders, the state was using legitimate policing methods in a restrained and relatively regulated manner, restoring law and order to an unruly environment. For its critics, Israeli forces were running amuck, disregarding legal constraints while viciously oppressing Palestinians. Both defenders and critics examined the same Israeli practices, but emerged with vastly different interpretations.

Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that Israel's methods included both restraint and brutality. As Israel's defenders tacitly noted, the security forces' suppression of the Palestinian Intifada was "restrained" in that it did not include ethnic cleansing or wholesale destruction, methods used years earlier when Palestine was differently configured. Yet Israel's methods were also "savage," as any casual observer could discern in the field. The following account illustrates this dual policy of savage restraint. According to witnesses interviewed by al-Haq, a respected Palestinian human rights group, Israeli troops in early 1988 grabbed a seventeen-year-old Palestinian whom they suspected of throwing stones, and began

dragging the young man along on his back, kicking him over his entire body, stamping on his abdomen and genitals, punching him with their fists, and pounding him with wooden truncheons. The boy's head, face and neck were entirely covered with blood, and his nose was obviously broken. He had deep, bleeding gashes on his forearms. The Israeli soldiers pulled him upward and as the boy began to stand, one soldier kicked him twice in the genitals. As the boy doubled over in pain, another soldier kicked him under the chin and the boy fell backward. As he sat on the ground, three soldiers delivered several punches to his face and neck.… One Israeli soldier held the boy's arm outward and struck it repeatedly with a wooden truncheon. They then handcuffed him to the door, and one soldier took the boy's head in his two hands and bashed his head as hard as he could repeatedly against the door … [which was] covered with the boy's blood.[19]


This mixture of restraint (the soldiers did not kill the boy) and savagery (the soldiers tortured the boy) is understandable when we realize that ethnic policing methods were produced by the ghetto's regulatory mechanisms. Israel's concern for the appearance of law and order, its Internal Affairs investigations, its legal framework, and the presence of external monitors were all components of the West Bank and Gaza's ghetto-like setting. Each rule, norm, and regulatory device imposed limits beyond which Israeli violence could not go, but simultaneously generated incentives for new forms of "appropriate" violence. The cumulative result was Israel's 1988 policy of ethnic policing, as I illustrate below. As noted in the Preface, my analysis is based on some one hundred interviews with Palestinians for two book-length Human Rights Watch reports, as well as forty-five interviews with Israeli veterans. Some of these informants are quoted in the text below. [20]


In ghetto-like environments, legally constituted state authorities can plausibly claim full control over the enclave only if they can they break up concentrations of rebellious residents into smaller and more manageable groups.[21] In the Palestinian ghetto, consequently, much of the initial Israeli anti-Intifada effort focused on dispersing Palestinian demonstrations and reimposing Jewish control over Palestinian public space, with special emphasis on what the army called the "Palestinian street." If the military could effectively control Palestine's main roads and thoroughfares, it believed it could control the ghetto more broadly.

Palestinian roads became hotly contested arenas when Intifada activists realized that the best way to protest Israeli rule was to limit Jewish traffic through the enclave. Palestinian activists couldn't enter Israel proper to demonstrate or attack government offices, and economic boycotts of Israeli products had little effect. Segregated in their ethno-national pocket through strict Israeli pass-and-permit systems, bureaucratic controls, and checkpoints, Palestinians could best disrupt Israeli rule by preventing Jewish vehicles from passing freely through their own areas.[22]

Palestinian barricades posed huge problems for the military because they threatened the well-being of Jewish settlers, one of Israel's most powerful political constituencies. Settlers were furious at the disruption the barricades caused to their lives and efforts to normalize Jewish rule in Palestine. The barricades also posed an acute logistical problem for the

military, since the thousands of troops scattered throughout the West Bank and Gaza relied on a steady stream of military traffic. Palestinian efforts forced army transports to move about in convoys, complicating schedules and posing serious threats to drivers. The barricades also constrained the activities of Israel's internal security service, the Shabak.[23] The clandestine agency, fluent in the fault lines of Palestinian society, had for years controlled ghetto life through a vast network of patronage, informers, administrative deprivations, and interrogation centers.[24] Until this point, its efforts had proved remarkably effective, permitting Israel to rule Palestine with only a few thousand armed men during the 1970s and 1980s. Underlying the Shabak's power was its ability to quickly locate and detain Palestinians, but the roadblocks threatened to throw the whole system into disrepair. The arrest-and-interrogation nexus, linchpin of the Israeli control system, was rapidly unraveling. "The Shabak can't do anything without the army," explained Colonel Avi, a senior military commander in Hebron during 1988.[25] "How can the Shabak go into the village and arrest someone if the village is blocked off? If you need a company or two [of soldiers] to break into the village, to arrest the rioters, how can the Shabak get into the village? How can the Shabak order people to come to interrogation? It can't. It needs the army for that." Shabak interrogators were the moving force behind the Israeli control system in Palestine, but the Intifada was making it impossible for them to do their job. The military had to find a way to break through so that the Shabak police could continue to make arrests.

The Palestinian challenge to Jewish traffic was also a symbolic threat to Israeli power. If the army wasn't able to ensure that Jewish settlers and soldiers could go where they wished, the state's claim to wield an effectively monopoly over administration and governance would be imperiled. Eventually, Palestinian claims for sovereignty might find greater support internationally, forcing Israel to withdraw. The military was therefore determined to reassert control, and as a result, many anti-Intifada activities revolved around the battle for Palestine's roads.

Veterans spoke at length about the intimate relationship between the Israeli perception of restoring "law and order" and the army's effort to dominate the roads. Colonel Yossi, a battalion commander stationed in Gaza during 1988, said his orders were to "impose order" and demonstrate military control.[26] It was essential to ensure that the main traffic arteries were open. As Colonel Yiftach, a battalion commander in Gaza, said, "What we wanted was for there to be quiet in our area. When the area is quiet the regional commander gets off my back, the chief of staff

gets off the regional commander's back, and the prime minister gets off the chief of staff's back."[27] Quiet, in turn, was defined as the absence of Palestinian road blockages.

The military devised two general road-clearing tactics. The first was a limited effort aimed at breaking up blockages and pushing rebels off major roads. The second was a broader, more punitive campaign that sought to deter stone throwers and street protestors by bringing the battle to Palestinian neighborhoods, towns, and villages. The first tactic had a "defensive" aura about it, while the second seemed more "offensive."

Colonel Yiftach was a proponent of limited road defense. "I didn't believe that it was necessary to go into each shitty alley. What does it matter to my ass? We needed to guard the main roads." As long as the demonstrators were kept away from major traffic arteries used by Jews, Yiftach felt his job was done. He therefore deployed his men largely along the main roads, refraining from entering the surrounding neighborhoods. Colonel Yiftach believed that aggressive military patrols off the main roads, in smaller Palestinian alleyways, created more trouble than they were worth. Colonel Yossi, the other Gaza-based battalion commander, preferred the more intrusive policy, explaining that his men needed to penetrate the most remote alleys and deepest refugee camp corners. Palestinians were "like children … like everyone who rebels … in adolescence … they always need to feel where the limit is, where [adult] contact is. When we pulled back to the main roads, they came to fight us on the main roads, and it was a harder struggle. It was much easier to fight with them inside [their refugee camps] than to allow demonstrators to reach main roads."[28]

Both tactics had parallels in an earlier and more despotic era. "Road defense" resembled the Israeli border patrol's ambushes against infiltrators during the 1950s, while the more "aggressive" effort followed the logic of retaliatory raids during the same era. Palestine had been since transformed from frontier to ghetto, however, and fully despotic methods were no longer appropriate. Israeli troops devised alternatives that caused suffering while reducing the number of slain Palestinians to a minimum.

"Defensive" Measures along Palestine's Main Roads

Colonel Amit's early 1988 experiences in the southern West Bank exemplify tactics of road "defense." Then a colonel in the paratroop reserves, Amit was sent in January 1988 to join Intifada-repression efforts near

Hebron.[29] One evening, Amit recalled, he was ordered to patrol the Jerusalem-Hebron thoroughfare, a major transportation artery, and stop stone throwers from approaching the road across a boulder-strewn field. Colonel Amit said his first plan was to speak to village leaders in the adjacent Palestinian village.[30] "I told them, ‘If your people leave the road alone, we'll stay out of your village.’" In the early hours of the morning, however, several dozen Palestinian protestors tried to cross toward the main road, passing through the Israeli troops. Colonel Amit resolved the road "would be the last line of defense. I wouldn't let them get to the road.… Blocking the road would be worse than anything else. If they had succeeding in blocking the main artery between Hebron and Jerusalem, then what? … This would be the last spot. If they broke us there, then the army itself and the entire system would be broken."

Having determined the urgency of his task, Colonel Amit decided to use a small-caliber rifle to defend the road.[31] At first, he said, he fired warning shots in the air, but then took aim at the protestors themselves. "So you say [to yourself], come on, stop, stop, and they keep on coming." And Colonel Amit continued to fire his rifle. In less than an hour, Amit said he killed four Palestinians and wounded seventeen, including some gravely injured by shots to the spine. Amit said he aimed at the legs, but hit the upper body when the Palestinians suddenly turned or dropped for cover. Today, Colonel Amit sees his preoccupation with defending the road as strange but says it made sense at the time.

Although Amit's experience was similar in form to the border patrol's shoot-to-kill policies in an earlier era, it differed in crucial ways. First, his goal was to defend Jewish traffic through the Palestinian enclave, rather than to secure Israel's international borders. Second, Colonel Amit used a .22 rifle to minimize casualties. Third, he allegedly tried to wound, rather than kill, the stone throwers. As in the beating case described above, Amit's actions combine a mixture of police-style restraint with cold-blooded brutality. He killed four persons and wounded seventeen, even though their crimes hardly merited the punishment. At the same time, however, he could have killed many more. Had Colonel Amit been stationed in another institutional setting—Lebanon, for example—he might have shot to kill without a moment's hesitation, given the prevalence of different norms. As he noted, "You're talking about people's rights [in the West Bank and Gaza]. But on the Jordanian or Lebanese border," soldiers shoot to kill without question. "What about those persons' rights?" Institutional setting was key, and Palestine was a ghetto, not a frontier. Colonel Amit's mixture of restraint and savagery

was produced by Palestine's ghetto setting, where non-Jews were oppressed but also partially protected.

Preemptive Punitive Action: Colonel Eytan's Nighttime Raid

The punitive style of road protection was exemplified by the 1988 experiences of Colonel Eytan, then stationed in the northern West Bank. During the first months of the uprising, Jewish traffic along the main Nablusarea axis was disrupted repeatedly by Palestinian stone throwers from Hawara and Beita, two roadside villages. Colonel Eytan, then "advisor for Intifada affairs" for the regional military command, had unsuccessfully tried to prevent further road protests.[32] Exasperated, Colonel Eytan turned to the Israeli secret service for a list of suspects and resolved to teach them a lesson by raiding the two villages, arresting the suspects, and breaking their arms and legs. He chose several infantry platoons for the task, including one led by Lieutenant Dan, a regular army platoon commander.[33] On the evening of January 19, 1988, Lieutenant Dan's platoon entered the village of Beita, declared a strict curfew, arrested twelve youths on Colonel Eytan's list, and drove them to a nearby field. Amir, then a private soldier in Lieutenant Dan's platoon, recalled that the soldiers were told (by their officers, he thought) to deliver precise blows to prisoners' kneecaps. Otherwise, Amir explained, "you could hit the bone for an hour and nothing would break."[34] In the field, Lieutenant Dan told his men to break the suspects' limbs with newly issued truncheons. Since he was under orders not to kill, Lieutenant Dan stressed that the beatings should avoid the victims' stomach and face. "There was a lot of screaming," Lieutenant Dan recalled. The next evening Dan's men did the same in the village of Hawara.

Previously, Colonel Eytan had distributed truncheons to encourage his troops to conceive of themselves as police rather than combat soldiers. The soldiers used the clubs so forcefully, however, that they kept breaking. Eventually, Colonel Eytan ordered the quartermaster to distribute iron bars instead of clubs. Colonel Eytan said that in the context of the times, his decision to break Palestinians' arms and legs was not as strange as it might appear. There was much talk among the higher echelons of the need to "smash" Palestinian demonstrations and "break" the demonstrators' wills. To the men involved, the escalation to breaking individual demonstrators' arms and legs did not seem particularly dramatic.

Colonel Eytan had been given the task of keeping his sector's roads

open and physically dispersing Palestinian demonstrators while minimizing his resort to deadly force. His soldiers were detaining hundreds of Palestinians each week, but the jails were overflowing, and the military justice system was overburdened. Under those circumstances, selective targeting of key suspects seemed rational and effective. Colonel Eytan's scheme is also of note because it was an adaptation of Israel's punitive raiding policy from the 1950s and 1960s, when the West Bank was an Israeli frontier. In those years, Israeli forces might have destroyed Hawara and Beita or killed its inhabitants, but now that Palestine had become a ghetto, that was unthinkable. Instead, Eytan's troops tried to break the Palestinians' arms and legs, avoiding murder but inflicting pain.

Amit's and Eytan's experiences suggest that Israel's preoccupation with law and order, defined as the physical dispersal of Palestinian gatherings near roads, heavily shaped the contours of Israeli violence. These officers and others employed two broad tactics—road defense and punitive raids—and both were adaptations of more deadly patterns of Israeli military violence. As we shall see below, Jewish extremists tried to push the army to use far more drastic methods, viewing any policy that left Palestinians in their homes as a failure. The law and order preoccupation, however, kept ethnic cleansing off the agenda. Law and order was incompatible with despotism, and so the army focused instead on securing Palestine's roads, using methods heavily constrained by Palestine's ghetto-like setting.


In early 1988, mass incarceration of Palestinians seemed to provide a more encompassing solution to Israel's ghetto control problems. If Palestinians were blocking the roads, why not simply put them in prison? Extensive incarceration had the dual attraction of removing protestors from circulation while also fitting nicely into a policing paradigm. What could be more police-like than putting criminals behind bars? If the military was eager to bolster its law-and-order image, incarceration seemed enormously worthwhile. Imprisonment was also a useful alternative to deadly force, helping Israeli officials project a calm, legalistic, and police-like aura. The ghetto setting, in other words, generated symbolic incentives for mass incarceration.

Before the Intifada, the number of Palestinians detained by Israel hovered at around 5,000 on any given day. That number more than doubled in the first year of the uprising, however, and by 1989, some 14,000

Palestinians were full-time prisoners, plus several hundreds held in temporary holding facilities. The army built five new prisons and recruited thousands of troops to serve as guards, creating a large new prison bureaucracy. By 1989, Israel was imprisoning some 1,000 persons out of every 100,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, making the region the most heavily imprisoned society in the world (among countries assembling such data).[35] By way of comparison, Israel proper had only 110 prisoners per 100,000 in 1989, the United States had 426, Northern Ireland had 120, and South Africa had 240, while the Western European average was below 100.[36] At the height of the 1950s Gulag era, the Soviet Union had 1,423 prisoners per 100,000.[37] The Palestinian experience, in other words, was closer in per capita terms to the Gulag than to apartheid South Africa.

Incarceration began with an arrest by Israeli soldiers, who were authorized to detain Palestinians on the slimmest of grounds. Sometimes, male Palestinians were arrested without being suspected of a concrete, specific offense. On other occasions, they were arrested on suspicion of throwing stones, building roadblocks, or displaying Palestinian flags. After detention, prisoners were taken to holding facilities in regional command posts scattered throughout Palestine, and these were crowded, dirty, and unpleasant. Former detainees and at least one soldier recalled that the holding pens often stank of unwashed bodies, defecation, and urine, since multiple prisoners used an open bucket in tightly enclosed spaces. The stench was often so strong that detainees felt they were suffocating.[38] Miriam, an administrative officer responsible in 1988 for tracking West Bank Palestinian detainees, acknowledged that conditions could be difficult, since "we didn't always have a suitable place to keep them [the prisoners] before bringing them to central prisons."[39] The army resorted to using metal storage containers, which in summertime became highly efficient conductors of heat. After one or two weeks in the pens, detainees were screened by investigators; some were sent to more intensive Shabak interrogation, while the rest were taken for quicker questioning sessions with police or military interrogators, sent to batch trials for conviction, or released.

During the first year of the Intifada, prison guards often abused detainees. Itai, a reservist who spent a month guarding prisoners in Gaza City, recalled that

their way of behavior, the soldiers there [in the prison], it was barbaric. You could see it in the way everyone who would go through the place would give people blows, a blow here, a blow there. The group who was supposed to take the guys to the court in Gaza were issued with truncheons. On the

way to the court, they would try their truncheons out on someone and it was … it was something really terrible.

Every night, they would bring in new people … like trash in trash carts. They would pile them up inside the trucks, throw them … on the road, lift them up in a line—they are tied, of course—and then start to make them march.… On the way, what they go through on the way … They get beaten up there, really badly beaten up. I don't even know how to describe those beatings.[40]

In interviews, other detention camp veterans related similar stories.[41]

Had Palestine's ghetto setting not prevented Israel from using more direct methods, prisons might not have assumed so central a role in Israel's coercive repertoire. As is true in today's United States, where prison plays a crucial role in the lives and imagination of poor African American males, incarceration became a central part of the Palestinian male experience. The detention camps, in turn, spawned related evils such as overcrowding, guard abuse, and inter-prisoner disputes.[42] Had the West Bank and Gaza's institutional setting not channeled Israel toward policing, prisons would not have assumed such a central role.

Military Courts and Coercive Interrogations

Palestinians arrested by the military were occasionally imprisoned without trial, but "administrative detention," as it was called, was restricted under both Israeli and international law. Military prosecutors had to prove the detention was necessary, relying often on secret intelligence supplied by the Shabak. Human rights activists protested the secret hearings, saying they violated detainees' legal rights.[43] Time and again activists challenged the authorities' use of secret evidence, making administrative detentions costly and complex affairs. Prison without trial, therefore, could not be used against most of the thousands of Palestinians arrested each month in broad military sweeps. Instead, these had to be charged, tried, and duly sentenced in military court. As a result, the army relied heavily on its military court system to generate convictions and project a lawful image.

Israeli authorities had created a network of military tribunals in army bases throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and judges were often Israeli lawyer reservists.[44] Defendants were represented by Palestinian or, occasionally, Jewish lawyers, while prosecutors were sent by the military's Judge Advocate General's office. Israeli authorities often pointed to the tribunal as a major legitimating device, arguing that its adversarial system

ensured that justice duly guided the Israeli military's relations with Palestinians. Orlee, a military prosecutor, said the courts often tried to protect prisoners' rights. The problem was that Palestinian defense lawyers were dispirited and poorly trained. "It was really absurd," she said, "they didn't even know basic rules." She clamed prisoners suffered as a result of this incompetence.[45] As thousands of Palestinians poured into the military justice system in 1988, however, the use of torture to produce confessions shot up overnight. Israel interrogated some 5,000 Palestinians each year from 1988 to 1993, and many of these were tortured.[46]

Military justice promoted the use of torture for a variety of reasons. Unlike civilian courts in Israel, military prosecutors relied heavily on confessions for conviction, since other evidence was generally unavailable. Palestinians did not volunteer information and material evidence was hard to gather, since most every trip by soldiers to the West Bank and Gaza involved some kind of confrontation. Tribunals, consequently, accepted confessions as evidence for conviction provided there was a "scintilla" of corroborating evidence. As my Human Rights Watch report noted in 1994, "The extraction of confessions under duress, and the acceptance into evidence of such confessions by the military courts, form the backbone of Israel's military justice system.… Because a defendant's signed statement is almost sufficient to convict … interrogators have strong incentives to obtain such a statement."[47] Israeli interrogators applied tremendous pressure on Palestinians to incriminate themselves and others, as there was no other way to satisfy the requirement for a legal trial.

I managed to interview one military policeman who had participated in interrogations during 1988. Omri, a sergeant who spent thirty days of reserve duty in the al-Fara'a detention camp in 1988, recalled interrogating eight to ten Palestinians per day.[48] He said that hundreds of prisoners were brought to al-Fara'a each day by infantry units patrolling the northern West Bank, most of whom were young males suspected of minor offenses. The prisoners were handcuffed, blindfolded, and ordered to wait their turn, immobile, in the central courtyard, while Omri and his colleagues worked with six other police interrogators in special rooms located nearby. Their goal, he recalled, was to get information and a signed confession so that the prisoner's file could be sent on to prosecutors. As Orlee explained, military prosecutors wanted open-andshut cases. She spoke highly of an interrogator known as "Maradona," who had a reputation among Palestinians for abuse. "He would really

do very nice files," she recalled, and would "very much tie up loose ends, not like lots of other [interrogators]." Prosecutorial desire for more detailed confessions, however, translated into more coercive interrogations.

When prisoners wouldn't cooperate, Omri recalled, the policeman made a signal and Omri began to hit suspects with "a club, foot, anything … beatings like I can't describe. Just beating and beating.… We hit them everywhere—head, face, mouth, arms, balls." The only guidance Omri received was to "try and not kill them." Many of the detainees, he said, had "broken arms, legs, teeth." "If the beating didn't help anymore, because he [the prisoner] was about to die," Omri said, and the detainees still did not supply the desired answers, the interrogators poured an astringent liquid on the open wounds. Then, he recalled, "they just screamed and screamed. Screams like I've never heard before." Omri provided uniquely vivid perpetrator testimony, but his claims were supported by other veterans such as Itai, the Gaza City prison guard. When Israeli interrogators were at work Gaza prison, Itai recalled, there were "screams which until today, when I sleep at night, I hear them inside my ears all the time … horrible screams."[49]

Torture is common to most violent conflicts, and there is nothing particularly special about its application in Palestine. It assumed a particularly important role in Israel's ethnic policing repertoire, however, because of constraints imposed by Palestine's ghetto-like conditions. Since soldiers could not kill or deport large numbers of Palestinians, they turned to incarceration. Imprisonment, however, had to be conducted so that it appeared to respect norms of due process. Yet since Palestinian witnesses would not cooperate with military investigations, prosecutors felt obliged to rely on confessions to convict. And because prisoners would not confess voluntarily, interrogators extracted confessions through torture. Ghetto mechanisms of legal oversight and police-style restraint, in other words, created incentives for violence during incarceration and interrogation.

Israel's Beating Policy

Not all Palestinian protestors could be sent to prison, since legal complications made arrest, imprisonment, and conviction a costly investment. As Colonel Eytan explained, "There just wasn't enough room in the jail for all the people we arrested." Or as Efraim, an Israeli soldier who served in the Gaza Strip, noted, soldiers were often reluctant to arrest stone throwers because of the time and bother involved. Suspects

had to be dragged back through Palestinian neighborhoods, and forms had to filled out.[50] Yet the rules also prevented soldiers from simply shooting protestors down, forcing Israeli officers to constantly search for nonlethal techniques. As Colonel Avi recalled, most debates during the first months of the uprising were about how to keep the number of Arab deaths down while still making them suffer. Israel prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had this position in September 1988, noting that Israel's "purpose is to increase the number of [wounded] among those who take part in violent activities but not to kill them.… I am not worried by the increased number of people who got wounded, as long as they were wounded as a result of being involved actively by instigating, organizing and taking part in violent activities."[51]

Lethal force was not prohibited entirely, of course, as Shimon, a former infantry private, observed. He said officers wanted to reduce the number of causualties, but authorized deadly force against Palestinians who covered their faces. These, he said, were considered terrorists, with all that entailed.[52] Yet the cumulative result was clear. Despite Israel's overwhelming firepower, the large number of demonstrators, and constant confrontations, soldiers killed only 204 Palestinians between December 9, 1987, and November 15, 1988, the most intense phase of the uprising. At the same time, however, Israeli troops injured over 20,000 Palestinians.[53]

How did the institutional setting reduce lethal force in practice? At the most general level, military commanders realized that high casualty rates might cause political complications for Israel internationally. Given Palestine's status as an encapsulated enclave, Israel's responsibilities were clear and unambiguous. With human rights scrutiny playing a key role in Israel's international relations, large numbers of Palestinian deaths would be a political liability. A second reason was linked to Israel's ethnic policing infrastructure. As noted above, military actions were controlled and monitored by the army's bureau for Internal Affairs. For reasons of manpower and economy, the bureau decided to limit investigations to cases of lethal force. As Lieutenant Arik, an Internal Affairs officer explained, "There were so many incidents every day, we had no way of investigating everything. We needed to devise a way of reducing the caseload. So we decided to investigate only when there was a death. We investigated the other stuff, beatings and harassment, far less frequently. We just didn't have the manpower."[54] Consequently, Internal Affairs conducted 170 investigations of army-caused deaths between December 9, 1987, and the end of September 1988, a figure roughly equal to the total number

of Palestinians slain by the military.[55] Most veterans were cognizant of this limitation, realizing that as long as they did not kill, their actions were unlikely to be investigated. Internal Affairs inquiries did not lead to severe punishments, but they did complicate soldiers' lives. Overall, the focus on lethal force limited the number of slain Palestinians while generating a search for nonlethal methods. Mass incarceration was complex and unwieldy, so soldiers sought alternatives that were quick and efficient. Soon, this led to the army's policy of beatings.[56]

It seems likely that the notion of physically punishing large numbers of Palestinian demonstrators emerged from the experience of rank-and-file soldiers in the first weeks of the uprising. Frustrated at regulations barring them from shooting demonstrators dead outright, soldiers began using their fists and rifles to hit any Palestinian they could catch. The notion of inflicting maximum pain while avoiding Internal Affairs scrutiny traveled quickly up the hierarchy, however, for it seemed to provide just the solution commanders were looking for. As Colonel Avi noted, the soldiers' assault rifles had a warlike aura, while wooden clubs created a law-and-order image. "When you're with a club," he said. "it's like the police. Police all over the world have clubs; it's like a legitimation of sorts."[57]

On January 19, 1988, the Israeli defense minister warned Palestinians that soldiers would adopt a policy of "force, might and beatings" if they continued to rebel.[58] Although he later qualified the statement, saying he never intended to authorize indiscriminate violence, field troops understood otherwise. Colonel Avi showed me a copy of an order from the army's Central Command dated January 1988, instructing commanders "to beat rioters" (lahakot mitpar'im). As Colonel Yiftach recalled, the orders were "to hit in order to punish. Whoever throws a stone, if you catch him, he can't throw stones anymore."[59] And as Efraim recalled of his time in Gaza. "We used to just beat anyone we wanted.… if anyone ran from us … we grabbed him and beat him."[60] Often, the beating ended right there, but in other cases, it continued, as soldiers crowded around to vent their frustrations on whomever they had caught.

There was considerable ambiguity in the orders, which did not precisely define a beating's modalities. Some officers thought the blows should stop as soon as prisoners were handcuffed, while others viewed the violence as an ongoing process. Many soldiers pulled Palestinians into side streets and savagely beat them there. "You are supposed to hit the prisoner where and when you catch him," one officer explained, but if a crowd gathered to watch, "you have to take him aside" and hit him

there.[61] The violence quickly spiraled out of control. As two Israeli military correspondents wrote,

There were countless instances in which young Arabs were dragged behind walls or deserted buildings and systematically beaten all but senseless.… No sooner had the order gone out than word of excesses, unjustified beatings, even sheer sadism echoed back from the field … before long reports flowed in of soldiers thrashing people in their own homes just for the hell of it. Proof that whole families fell victim to the truncheons was readily observed in the hospitals, where women, children and the elderly were brought in for treatment.[62]

Veterans described how they implemented the beating policy. At first they tried to hit only young males, whom they assumed to be the main source of resistance, but the violence rapidly escalated. The problem, soldiers said, was that they never knew for sure who had thrown stones at them. Chasing suspects down an alleyway, soldiers often happened across a group of Palestinians; not knowing for sure whether these were the guilty ones, they grabbed them and physically punished them anyway. To many soldiers, it seemed that every Palestinian supported the uprising; thus, every Palestinian became a target. A beating's intensity was often shaped by soldiers' levels of stress; the more difficult their day, the more brutal a beating they gave. Intensity also varied by unit when individual groups tried to cultivate a tough image by using more violence than others. Status struggles were also important, as some of the worst violence was done by low-status support troops eager to show front-line colleagues that they too could wield violence.


In 1988, tensions between formal rules and actual practices were a recurring theme in the Israeli military, much as they would be in any large bureaucratic organization. Generally speaking, formal rules are often generated for reasons other than pure efficiency, and workers often chafe at restrictive and seemingly illogical regulations. More often than not, workers decouple practices from regulations, generating tacit working norms that grant them greater flexibility and autonomy.[63] To avoid triggering management offensives against hidden practices, workers hide their practices and respect certain key limits.

When responding to critics, Israel's representatives often highlighted the army's formal regulations, dwelling on "managerial" rules rather than actual practices. For example, they noted that army violence was

governed by reasonable, police-style regulations, compliance with which was enforced by legal experts and Internal Affairs investigators. As one legal officer argued, the army's "Rules of Engagement in Judea, Samaria [West Bank] and Gaza are in accordance with Israeli criminal law, with the rulings of the Supreme Court, and have been approved by the IDF Advocate General and the Attorney General's Office."[64] Closer examination undermines the image of a disciplined organization, as soldiers routinely violated military regulations, treating Palestinians as they pleased. Low-level troopers fashioned their own tacit practices, and these were quite distinct from formal blueprints. As one trooper noted in a newspaper interview,

Every battalion works out its own set of norms.… Every battalion commander is the sovereign of the area [under his command]. Every company commander is the mukhtar [traditional headman] of a village or two, and every soldier manning a roadblock is a little god. He decides what to do: who will be allowed through and who won't be. Try to understand that every person there has considerable leeway when it comes to making decisions.

The best description I can find for what's going on there is total chaos.

… There are simply no [rules] governing the implementation of orders, behavioral norms, and methods of punishment.[65]

His chaotic vision dovetails with the stories I heard in my own interviews with Israeli veterans. Individual units rotated frequently, and each new batch of troopers brought their own particular forms of repression. Some were relaxed disciplinarians, while others would deal harshly with perceived infractions. This inconsistency was reproduced up and down the hierarchy. Each unit would be responsible for staffing dozens of patrols and checkpoints, each of which was commanded by someone else. Viewed from up close, it seemed that individual soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and junior commanders enjoyed enormous autonomy to deal as they pleased with Palestinians. Israeli ethnic policing was not only harsh, but was also inconsistent.

The image of chaos is also deceptive, however, just as it would be were one so immersed in the "trees" of the informal shop-floor regime that one missed the "forest" of the capitalist economy. Informal practices and hidden innovations, after all, do not necessarily imply lack of structure. Workers can be autonomous at one level while remaining within broad managerial parameters at another. This was clearly the case for the Israeli military, where soldiers developed hidden practices but also remained within certain boundaries. Troopers devised unique tortures for Palestinians they encountered, but dared not go too far lest they trigger an inquiry.

These boundaries were so deeply ingrained as to be virtually invisible, however, and most media attention was focused on the leeway soldiers enjoyed within ghetto-imposed boundaries.


Israeli violence against Palestinians was located at the center of a series of concentric circles. The inner circle was staffed by "shop-floor workers," or line soldiers, while the outer ring was populated by legal norms and regulations, including the Geneva Conventions, and social actors, such as jurists, journalists, human rights activists, and diplomats. Intermediary rings were occupied by senior officers, Internal Affairs investigators, and the Judge Advocate General's office. These mid-range circles functioned as transmission belts, conveying the norms and regulations of the ghetto setting to the rank and file. This middle circle regulated Israeli military behavior, imposing broad parameters within which troopers were free to devise new methods of violence, abuse, and repression. Some of those boundaries, such as the ban on mass killings or deportations, were so deeply entrenched that they rarely occasioned notice. Others, such as those regulating the precise modalities of physical beatings, were more hotly debated.[66]

Internal Affairs investigators were rarely involved in violent events themselves, appearing only after the fact to question the soldiers involved and, on very rare occasions, Palestinian witnesses.[67] As a result, disciplinary activities were often carried out by field officers who fended off Internal Affairs while meting out on-the-spot punishments such as suspension of privileges. They did so because they knew that if they failed to remain within the broad guidelines of ethnic policing, word would seep out to Internal Affairs. Both soldiers and field officers detested Internal Affairs investigators, whom they scorned but also feared.

Soldiers received detailed instructions and rules of engagement in written booklets and oral briefings, the general thrust of which was to place violence within a policing framework. Soldiers raged at the rules, which complicated their lives. Regulations governing the use of lethal force against "fleeing suspects," for example, ordered them to first cry out, "Stop or I will shoot!" Then they were to fire warning shots in the air, and only after that, to aim gunfire at the fleeing suspect's legs. When carried out faithfully, this was a cumbersome and complex process that soldiers bitterly resented. Many ignored the three-part procedure altogether, while others performed all three stages simultaneously. Lieutenant

Aviad, a former infantry lieutenant, explained that "what I and others would do is order one soldier to yell, ‘stop or I'll shoot!’ I would order a second soldier to fire in the air, if we even bothered with that. Then I would take the best shot in the patrol and tell him to shoot toward the suspect … all three would do what they were supposed to do at the same time. That way no one could say that he didn't hear a warning shout or didn't see a shot fired into the air."[68] Other rules were equally detested. Soldiers were allowed to shoot Palestinians only if they felt their lives were in danger, but how was one to define a "life-threatening" situation? For some it only meant when directly attacked by gunfire; for others, it meant when anyone appeared ready to throw something at them. Lieutenant Aviad claimed that Israeli soldiers could, in fact, kill Palestinians when they wanted to in the Palestinian territories. What was required, he said, was to conduct the shooting in such a way that it could somehow be excused under existing open fire regulations. As long as the shooter could manufacture a legal excuse, investigators would not question the incident too closely.[69]

The rules reduced levels of lethal force, but also pushed troops to design practices of violence that would evade legal censure. Soldiers formed small cliques that would go out on patrol together, devising punitive methods that could be easily denied in an inquiry. Shimon, for example, suspected that some of his colleagues had engaged in unauthorized violence while on patrol, and then hidden the details from others.[70] Efraim, the Gaza trooper, claimed that as many as half of his company participated in "cliques" of this sort. "There was an unwritten set of regulations that had no connection to the official procedures." he said, "Tight little social groups did stuff that no one else would know about. The sergeants preferred these [groups] because they were more effective." Efraim recalled one exercise that his clique devised to "teach the Arabs a lesson" in a refugee camp in southern Gaza. When confronting demonstrators, he said, the orders were to put special tubes on their rifles that allowed them to fire rubber bullets. When the officers weren't looking, however, he and his friends loaded their rifles with live ammunition. "The officers never realized," Efraim claimed.[71]

Senior officers were aware of the informal regime. Field commanders said their ability to monitor all of their far-flung men was limited. Even Colonel Avi, who claimed to have been well-informed, acknowledged that "there could be tens of incidents I don't know about."[72] Other officers recalled keeping an eye on specific soldiers whom they felt were liable to wreak havoc when unobserved. Officers often blamed other units

for the worst violence. Reserve paratroop colonel Yiftach, for example, said regular-army soldiers were most abusive. In the Golani infantry brigade, the "atmosphere was to smash … to really punish them [Palestinians]," even among the officers.[73]

Field troops constantly tested the limits of army and state regulators, trying to see how far they could go without attracting censure. This was particularly true for beating incidents, which were the most common form of Israeli repression during 1988. The key problem in beating, according to senior informants, was that the rules were open to interpretation and manipulation. Soldiers were instructed to cease using force once a suspect's arms and legs were tied, but it was the troopers who decided when the Palestinian was properly subdued.[74] As a result, many soldiers delayed putting the handcuffs on, beating detainees all the while; others simply ignored the rule and hit prisoners whenever they wanted. The only absolute rule was that prisoners should remain alive.

When soldiers went too far and killed someone in a blatantly illegal way, Internal Affairs stepped in, signaling that the line had been crossed. As a result, there were a few isolated cases through which the wider Israeli public became aware of the beating policy. In 1989, for example, four soldiers stationed in the Gaza Strip were court-martialed for killing a middleaged Palestinian, El-Shami Hani Ben Dib, on August 2, 1988. The four soldiers had chased a stone thrower into Ben Dib's home but didn't catch the culprit. Instead, they hit Ben Dib with rifle butts and clubs, kicked him, and then jumped on his prostrate body from a nearby bed. They then took Ben Dib to base, where he slowly died of internal bleeding. Ben Dib, blindfolded and bound, lay on the base floor while passing soldiers cursed him, hit him, and ignored pleas for help. In June 1989, the four soldiers were convicted of brutality rather than manslaughter. So many men had hit Ben Dib, the judges said, it was impossible to determine responsibility for the killing.[75] The trial publicly exposed what many troopers already knew. An informal regime of hidden practices reigned in the ghetto in which soldiers, both in front-line combat units and in the rear echelons, had wide latitude. From a sociological perspective, it is important to note how the Ben Dib event reinforced the boundaries of acceptable ethnic policing: torture was permissible, blatant murder was not. Thus of the 204 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces from December 9, 1987, to November 24, 1988, only three died of beating injuries.[76]

This chapter began with a description of early Israeli violence in Palestine, when the area was not yet configured as a ghetto. Consequently, Israel's

methods ranged from ethnic cleansing to destructive raids. These early tactics stand in stark contrast to Israel's policing repertoire in the same region years later, in 1988. Although painful and abusive, ethnic policing left Palestinians alive and in place. As long as Israel's juridical and empirical sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza remained secure, it would use ethnic policing, despite support for more drastic measures among the Jewish public and some political elites.

In 1988, there was a mutually reinforcing relationship between ghettos rules, on the one hand, and ethnic policing tactics on the other. Each regulation seeking to limit Israeli violence spawned a new form of less intense, but nonetheless painful, violence. Restrictions on ethnic cleansing and mass killings led to imprisonment, torture, and punitive beatings, while Internal Affairs investigations helped shape a hidden regime of unofficial violent practices. The violence penetrated all areas of Palestinian life, but its intensity was limited. The Palestinian ghetto population experienced pervasive pain and suffering, but also remained, alive and in place, on their land. Their ghetto-like institutional setting guaranteed their continued survival and ongoing ability to present a demographic challenge to the Jewish national program.

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