Monday, August 29, 2005


Taysir el-Heyb

There is a long article in Ha'aretz on the background of Taysir el-Heyb, the IDF soldier who shot and killed Tom Hurndall. It is illuminating on the relationship of the Bedouin to the State of Israel, and the role of the IDF in that relationship.

On the living conditions of the Heyb family:
Taysir el-Heyb, the oldest of six children, was born in July 1983 and lived most of his life in a small, rickety hut with no bathroom. The Israel Lands Administration (ILA) recently razed the hut, saying it had been built without a permit. His father worked as a day worker in agricultural jobs until he became ill, first physically and then mentally, and became unable to support the family. His mother worked cleaning homes in Moshav Migdal, whose luxurious homes are just a few hundred meters away from the Wadi Hamam huts that are on the brink of collapsing. A few years ago, she also became ill sick and, like her husband, had to stop working....

The ground floor [of the house in which the family now lives] still has exposed concrete walls. On the second floor, where they now live, the walls were covered in whitewash, long since peeled, the windows are broken and there are hastily improvised electrical wires hanging exposed and dangerous. Most of the rooms do not have finished floors. Apart from few plastic chairs and an old and empty refrigerator, there is no furniture in the house - no beds, no tables and no closets.

The family sleeps on mattresses on the floor and the few clothes they have are piled in cardboard boxes. The father, whose illness has cut him off from reality and is therefore unaware that his son has been sentenced to a lengthy prison term, roams the rooms all day long, staring at the walls and windows.

The three younger children in the family, who are 14, 16 and 18, have never been to school. "I never had money to buy them books or notebooks," their mother says, adding that the State of Israel's welfare authorities have never asked her why her children are not in school. Taysir did go to school. "Until seventh grade, he went to the school in the village," says Mahmoud Wahib, his uncle, "but it's impossible to say that he learned anything there. He never had books and he never had supplies. Today he barely knows how to read and write in Arabic and he doesn't know how to read and write in Hebrew at all."
These conditions are not unheard of in the Bedouin village in which the family lives. Nor is it uncommon to find the young men of the village enlisting in the IDF -- it seems logical that this would constitute some attempt to escape the conditions in which they'd lived, to establish a connection with the state that had to this point neglected to build any connection, in hopes of a brighter future. In fact, "approximately 40 percent of the young men in Wadi Hamam, a village afflicted by unemployment, neglect and poverty, volunteer for the IDF or Border Police." However, Taysir el-Heyb seems to have been particularly unsuited for the situation in which the IDF put him.
The psychological tests determined that his skills were very close to the lower limit, the cutoff below which potential enlistees are not eligible for military service: Colonel Aviram made sure to write in his verdict that el-Heyb "was given a psycho-technical rating of 10 (on a scale of 10 to 90) and was rated 43 in the quality group (on a scale of 42 to 65)." Despite these figures, the IDF agreed to induct him and to send him to serve as a fighter in the desert patrol brigade, known as the Bedouin brigade."

In his first year of service, which he spent mostly in training camps, el-Heyb managed to be absent without leave twice - once for 22 days and once for 34 days - and to serve four short terms in military jail - one of them for "inserting a cartridge into his gun, cocking it and releasing the safety, contrary to orders." Later in the year, he again used his weapon contrary to orders, this time while on vacation in Wadi Hamam, and was sentenced to 12 days in jail and a three-month suspended sentence. In July 2002, when he was already serving in the Termite post on the Philadelphi route, he was sentenced to seven months in jail for "using a dangerous drug in serious operational circumstances."

Despite all this, the army subsequently decided to promote him to the rank of sergeant, appoint him commander of the post and post him there armed and alone, in a position on the edge of Rafah, facing a large civilian population.
Despite the state's failure to sufficiently provide for Taysir el-Heyb, both before he enlisted and after, it has elided this responsibility and has instead made him a convenient scapegoat -- the whipping boy to prove Israel's willingness to "crack down" on the IDF. This is certainly the impression that has been left on those from Heyb's village:
"If it had been a Jewish soldier," says Mahmoud Wahib, Taysir's uncle, "he wouldn't even have gotten a one-year sentence."

"If the deceased had been a Palestinian and not a Briton," adds Yassin el-Heyb, a neighbor and distant relative of Taysir, "no one would have been interested in the incident and it's doubtful whether they would have even investigated it. The Druze officer who fired an entire magazine at a girl in Rafah came out totally clean. Why? Because the girl was Palestinian and not British. But in this case, the family of the deceased made a fuss in the media, the British government submitted protests and Israel decided to prove to the world, at poor Taysir's expense, how much are army is concerned about human life.

"If this is how the army treats a guy like Taysir, " he concludes, "who had nothing on his mind other than dreams of a military career and circulated in the village and convinced people to enlist, then it's clear that no Arab need enlist in the army anymore."
Ilan Bombach, Taysir el-Heyb's attorney, offers compelling argument that this is indeed the case.
In his arguments before the court, Bombach stressed that el-Heyb was the first soldier to be tried for manslaughter since the outbreak of the current intifada and the first since the 1980s to be sent to jail for a lengthy term as a result of an intifada-related shooting incident.

For some reason, this made me think of the captions of some photos I just saw from New Orleans, one a picture of a young black man with a black plastic bag of what looks like may be food and some soda in his arm, wading through chest high water, and the other a picture of a young white couple hauling bags of groceries through the water. The caption on the first photo called the man a looter, in the second photo the people were described as shoppers.

I think when you're a deadender minority type person, things like "mandatory" evacuations mean go directly to hell, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. And, you prolly deserve it. Uh huh.

Aunt Deb
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