Vision of brutality leaves Israel in shock k

Jerusalem violence: Amateur video of soldiers beating two men to death condemned as `dehumanisation of Palestinians'
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The Independent Online
It is the casual brutality with which David Ben Abu and Tzahi Shmaya, two young Israeli border police, kicked, punched and kneed in the groin six Palestinian workers, caught trying to enter Jerusalem illegally to work, which most struck Israeli television viewers. As with the amateur video of Los Angeles police officers taking turns to beat Rodney King, the black motorist, in 1992, the film has an impact precisely because the slow-moving violence is apparently inflicted without anger as part of official routine.

Mr Ben Abu and Mr Shmaya have been detained for questioning and are to stand trial. Denouncing the beatings, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, said: "The acts of those policemen who hit the Pal-estinian labourers are immoral and criminal. They are not worthy of serving further in Israel's security forces, and the full force of the law will be brought down on them."

He claimed that the brutality contradicted the strict standards of conduct demanded of the Israeli armed forces.

Given the level of violence inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza over the last 10 years, Mr Ben Abu and Mr Shmaya can count themselves unlucky to be singled out. Since the start of the intifada in 1987, the security forces have killed 1,251 Palestinians, including 262 children under 16, according to the Israeli human rights organisation, B'Tselem.

Despite frequent Palestinian claims that soldiers fired without provocation, B'Tselem says only three soldiers have been convicted of manslaughter. At the weekend, a military court in Lod sentenced four soldiers, who shot dead an innocent man in a car to a fine of one agora - the smallest Israeli coin worth one-third of a penny.

Eitan Felner of B'Tselem says the film has created such revulsion among Israelis because "Israeli society has a self-perception of its security forces as behaving according to the rule of law. The majority of Israelis do not want to believe what happens on the West Bank."

He says that the beatings, at A Ram entry point into Jerusalem filmed by the amateur Palestinian cameramen, the one-agora fine for killing a Palestinian by the military court and the decision of the Israeli High Court to allow physical pressure amounting to torture - all of which have happened in less than a week - show "the dehumanisation of Palestinians which continues despite the peace process".

Mr Ben Abu, 18, a warrant officer who had served in the border police, a paramilitary organisation, for two-and-a-half years and Mr Shmaya, 19, who had been in the police for a year, appear to be ordinary enough security men. They claim that they beat the labourers because the incident took place on 10 October and they were still upset by the results of the fighting between Palestinians and Israelis on 25 September.

The most striking feature of the film, however, is the jocular sadism and lack of anger with which the police strike their victims, at one point one of them sitting on a man's head as if to emphasise his subjugation.

The high Palestinian casualties in confrontations with Israeli security forces stem prim- arily from the liberal open-fire regulations in the Israeli army under which a soldier can shoot if he believes he is in a life-threatening situation. The most common reason for soldiers to open fire in the past has been Palestinian youths throwing stones, but figures show that the actual threat to their lives is very limited. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed since 1987, but only three Israeli soldiers have died as a result of being hit by a stone during the same period.

The A Ram incident is the second time this year that film taken by an unseen amateur cameraman has embarrassed Israel. After 101 Lebanese refu- gees were killed by Israeli shells at Qana during Israel's bombardment of southern Lebanon last April, the army at first said it had no spotter planes in the area. Only when a video taken by a Norwegian United Nations soldier showed a drone overhead at the time of the attack did the army concede that this was untrue.