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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.

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