This two-minute video, taken on October 7 in the West Bank near Ramallah, is worth studying carefully to understand how Israel has become so adept at managing the Palestinian population under occupation and at foiling their efforts at resistance.
We can see about 20 men, faces concealed, who look like they are Palestinian protesters throwing stones at the army. In fact, they are what are called “mistaravim”: Israeli security forces in disguise as Palestinian youths.
According to those who witnessed this incident, the mistaravim began throwing stones at the army in a piece of theatre to lure other Palestinians to the protest (see update 2).
Then, as we can see in the video, when a few Palestinian protesters separate themselves from the main body of the crowd they are picked off by the mistaravim, like lions going after a gazelle.
Notice, once they have grabbed the main Palestinian in this video, they shoot him in the knee and take turns kicking him.
We can’t see what happens next, but the routine is well known.
He will be taken off to a Shin Bet interrogation (torture) cell, where he will be made to give up the names of anyone he can think off who was there (and very possibly those who weren’t).
Then the Israeli army will make night raids to grab those who were named, or seize them when they try to cross one of the many checkpoints and roadblocks Israel operates in the occupied territories.
At some point later he will be released. The Shin Bet will use his “confession” as blackmail to get him to serve as an informer.
This has been going on for nearly five decades in the occupied territories. It has created an awful lot of Palestinians trapped in a vicious cycle of collaboration, and a very effective system of control for Israel.
Sam Bahour makes the point that the drama playing out here illustrates the way young Palestinians are being drawn not into an organised intifada but into futile bursts of anger against Israel.
He says it more eloquently than I can:
Here is another video of the same incident, showing what happens earlier when the mistaravim are throwing stones and then switch sides.
Since this post was written, reporters at the clash site have clarified the events shown in these videos to Allison Deger of Mondoweiss. They say this was a planned demonstration near Bir Zeit university at one of what are known as “clash points” – these are usually important road junctions in the occupied territories where the army have located a checkpoint or military base. When Palestinians demonstrate, it is to places like this they head.
Allison has been told that of the 300 demonstrators, about 100, including the mistaravim, began throwing stones at the soldiers.
These videos give us a chance to examine the mistaravim’s operational methods in detail.
Presumably, something in the dress code of the mistaravim identifies them to the soldiers, so they are not likely to be targeted by their own side with stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas or live ammunition. For the real demonstrators, it is a different story. Live ammunition can kill from a long distance, of course. But in most confrontations the army are likely to fire rubber-coated steel bullets or stun grenades. If the demonstrators stay far enough away from the soldiers, they reduce their chances of serious injury from this kind of ammunition. It is for that reason if no other that the soldiers are very rarely in any danger from the stone-throwing.
But in the two videos above, we can see some of the stone-throwers moving recklessly close to the soldiers. There is a reason for that, I think. The mistaravim (safe in the knowledge they won’t be hurt) are the ones pushing forward towards the soldiers. What the mistaravim are doing is giving a very small number of the stone-throwing Palestinians a kind of false courage: because they see the mistaravim moving closer to the army position, and doing so without serious retaliation from the soldiers, they follow. It is at the point at which the mistaravim have moved so close to the soldiers almost all of the real Palestinian demonstrators have held back, that the mistaravim reveal themselves. They pull out their handguns and grab the Palestinians who have isolated themselves from the rest of the demonstrators.
From Israel’s point of view, this is a very effective way to bolster its control mechanisms, as I noted earlier. In its interrogation (torture) centres, Israel will turn many of the teenagers it grabs into informers. This will help them identify the organisers of the demonstrations and the main participants and seize them too. Such betrayals sow the seeds of doubt in Palestinians’ minds about whom they can trust, even friends and family. It is a very refined system of divide and rule. Hany Abu Assad’s recent Oscar-nominated film Omar presents a precise picture of how this works in practice.
As I also noted, the goal of this form of entrapment is to maintain the occupation and crush all serious resistance. To echo Sam Bahour’s sentiments again, Palestinians will have to become equally sophisticated to counter it. The mistaravim are identifiable to the soldiers, but not it seems to Palestinians at these protests. If Israel’s system of control is to be challenged, the small step of working out how this is done would be a good place to start.