February 6, 2021. The Hague, text: David Shulman, photographs: Margaret Olin

Firing Zone Marker outside of Jinba, South Hebron Hills, 2017.

Sometimes, possibly more often than we think, there is also good news.

A settler commanding soldiers, Ein Ar Rashshash, Jordan Valley, 2018.

Every person of conscience, especially Israelis, should rejoice at the decision, announced February 5th, by the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague that the court has authority to sit in judgment on cases involving Palestine and Israel—specifically, on matters of war crimes. The Gaza wars figure in the judgment, as do the settlements on the West Bank. This judgment has been long in coming, and it is too early to say if or when it will have practical consequences. Already the United States has issued a statement denouncing the ruling. Netanyahu, predictably, says the decision is proof that the ICC is anti-Semitic.

But for those of us working for human rights in the grassroots fields and grazing grounds of Palestine, the decision offers hope and much-needed relief.

Arresting shepherds for graing, Zanuta, South Hebron Hills, 2015.

Readers of this blog know that the entire project of settling hundreds of thousands of Israelis on stolen Palestinian land is a war crime under international law, a violation of the 1994 Rome Convention, from which Israel withdrew (after initially signing on), in an act of sheer moral cowardice, precisely because of this stipulation. Then there are the everyday wrongs, acts illegal even by the lax standards of Israeli law, that are committed by Israeli officers, ordinary soldiers, policemen, and bureaucrats from the Civil Administration. Every time soldiers and police declare Palestinian agricultural lands a Closed Military Zone, thereby preventing access by farmers to their fields, they are violating a ruling of the Israel Supreme Court from 2004. An officer once said to me when we showed him the ruling, which we always carry with us: “Why do I need to read some paper from the Supreme Court? I have my gun.”

Arresting a tractor for plowing, Wadi Sumsum, South Hebron Hills, 2014.

Yet the legal status of such acts is the least of our problems. No one has the right to inflict savage harm on innocents—to torture and terrorize them, to steal their possessions, to demolish their homes, to wound and kill them with impunity, to arrest them and keep them in prison without reason, sometimes indefinitely (this includes hundreds of Palestinian children). In the occupation, all of the above are routine. The list is very far from exhaustive. Its rationale is rooted in the fantasy of mass expulsion and in the harsh reality of absolute Jewish supremacy and domination.

Ruined olive trees, near Birin, West Bank, 2018

The last few months have seen an escalation of such acts throughout the West Bank. Demolitions have increased many times over; villages and towns have been decimated by the army bulldozers; the entire village of Homsa in the Jordan Valley has been destroyed, and last week the soldiers came back to wreck the meager sheep pens and tents that the people of Homsa had somehow managed to rebuild. Marauding bands of armed settlers attack Palestinians at will, by night and by day, while the army and the police turn their eyes away or, even worse, join in the assaults. Unarmed demonstrators have been shot in demonstrations. At the destitute encampment of Al-Rakiz, a young man, about to be married, was shot in the neck and paralyzed for life by soldiers who came to steal a generator. There is no accountability whatsoever, and Palestinians are virtually without legal recourse when they are hurt, dispossessed, or brutally harassed.

an activist brings a branch from an uprooted olive tree in Khirbet Susiya to the gates of the settlement Susiya where the vandals who attacked the orchard live. South Hebron Hills, 2019.

 We have to hope that the ICC will pass judgment on those who have, for decades, been perpetrators of such deeds. One sign of the panic that has taken hold of the Israeli establishment is the fact that, according to press reports, the government already has a list of some three hundred names of Israeli officers, bureaucrats, and politicians—from the Prime Minister on down– who are in danger of being arrested and handed over to the ICC if they set foot in Europe, in Australia, and in many other countries. I would like to think that this list, unbeknownst to those who compiled it, is itself evidence of a bad conscience. As Vladimir Jankélévitch has shown in a remarkable book, [The Bad Conscience, trans. Andrew Kelley (2015)] a bad conscience is a great human achievement; it may eventually lead to a healing remorse.

flying checkpoint, Northern Jordan Valley, 2018

Pangloss, or his pupil Candide, would say that someday remorse must happen. It can no more be suppressed than the flow of rivers downstream to the sea. It takes time, usually lots of time, and in the meantime there is much suffering. No Pangloss, I may not live to see the change. I assume that much blood, not water, will flow. Still, sometimes there is good news.

A road block closing the road to Yatta, the only city, and the source for most supplies. South Hebron Hills, 2017

We have documented hundreds of cruelties that we personally witnessed, over the last years; some were described in these pages. For now, here are some pictures that we’d like the judges—and all compassionate people– to see. It’s a small, representative sample. There are not a few men and women whom I’ve met in the field who, in my view, should stand in the dock in the Hague. I have seen what they did to innocents, and to us.

Ruin with washing machine. Umm Al Kheir, South Hebron Hills, 2017

For the record, let me say that the vast majority of the soldiers and policemen I have encountered in the territories are not sadistic by nature. They are no worse than all the rest of us. They are caught up in a system that has sent them to do terrible things, and they don’t have the strength of character, or enough of an inner compass, to resist. Probably, in many cases, they don’t even understand the meaning of what they are doing. Most have been brainwashed by the prevalent nationalist demonology.  Many of them readily say that they are only following their orders. Even better than the Hague would be to see these men and women finding within themselves the courage, and the wisdom, to acknowledge what they have done. Maybe one or two of them will someday say they are sorry. Does this sound like fiction, science fiction, wishful delusion, hallucination? All I can say is that I have seen it happen more than once.

Ruins Al-Mirkez, South Hebron Hills, 2018.
cut electric wires in a cave, Al-Mirkez, South Hebron Hills, 2018.
A shepherd grazes his flock next to a settlement built on stolen land. Wadi Swaid, South Hebron Hills, 2019

text: David Shulman © 2021. photographs: Margaret Olin © 2021

a new Israeli outpost on Palestinian Land overlooking Wadi Swaid, South Hebron Hills, 2019.

Some of the photographs in this post were published in previous posts, where you can find out more about the incidents they portray, viz.: Waiting: Jinba, Out of Sight: Ein ar Rashshash, Zanuta and Rahwa, A Tractor in South Hebron, Hollywood Endings, Demolition, Liberation,

6 thoughts on “February 6, 2021. The Hague, text: David Shulman, photographs: Margaret Olin

  1. I endorse with heart the clear eloquence of David’s remarks with the photographic proofs! Indeed it is ironic that I should have Victor Klemperer’s The Language of the Third Reich as my Orwellian language companion when any expression of indignation of the violation of the human rights of Palestinians is immediately labelled as anti semitism and that the worst anti semites are themselves like me Jewish. So be it to have to endure this inversion as a sleight of hand.

  2. Shalom, Ahalan: I am a Canadian as well as Israeli. I lived in Israel for 11 years and left when I could no longer tolerate how the soldiers and the crazy ‘settlers’ as they call themselves treated the Palestinians on the West Bank. Watch 5 Broken Cameras” free on YouTube. Every fall while I living in Israel I and a group of other like-minded Israelis and others would go to El Walajah on the West Bank near Jerusalem and help the local farmers bring in their olive harvest and our help was well appreciated by all. I read via the organizer of the olive harvest, a Jerusalemite, that the Minister of Interior has planned mass demolition sometime this year in the village of the same El Walajah. The suppression and the humiliation of the Palestinians by the soldiers was too much for me, so I have left Israel and am presently living in Covid free Taiwan.

    • It’s good that you did what you could while you lived there, and that you are keeping up with all the destruction going on now. Not many people do anything or even pay attention, it seems. Covid-free sounds appealing about now, speaking from not covid-free Connecticut.

  3. “they are only following their orders” – doesn’t this sound familiar? It’s always what soldiers always say when committing the very worst crimes of humanity. Shame on their commanders – what short memories.

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