As if taking a bike from a Palestinian child is how cruel ‘Israel’ gets

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Anwar and her bike

Screen capture from the video that shows 8-year old Anwar and her bike

By Tariq Shadid – On Monday, the Israeli non-governmental group B’Tselem posted a video recorded by one of their volunteers. It displayed an incident that took place on July 25th, showing how an 8 year old Palestinian girl in Al Khalil (Hebron) had her bike confiscated by Israeli soldiers.

The story penetrated into mainstream media, especially after Al Jazeera had circulated B’tselem’s video, after which it went viral on social networks. You are, perhaps, happy that mainstream media report on this news. If so, read on, and see if this is still your only thought about the issue.

The area of the bike incident

Anwar Burkan was playing with her bike on a street near the Cave of the Patriarchs, a site that is in the center of the city. Al Khalil (Hebron) is subject to one of the harshest and most violent versions of the Israeli Apartheid system. This Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank  has a large Israeli settlement, Qiryat Arba, biting deeply into its Eastern flank.

Shuhada street

Checkpoint in Shuhada street, in the center of Al Khalil (Hebron)

On top of this, the city centre has the unique situation of several smaller settlements inside the city. Jewish radicals, who have confiscated Palestinian homes, inhabit these areas. This style of inner-city settlement started in 1979, when the first Jews forced themselves into the city. They have expelled the Palestinian families, and live there in an area secluded and protected by the Israeli army.

Al Khalil (Hebron) now has several Jews-only streets in the city center, while settlers often break out of the areas they confiscated, wreaking havoc on Palestinians, their livelihoods, and their physical well-being.

Public response, and the response of the occupation

When you read the media reports about the ‘bike girl incident’, you will barely find any mention of this. Articles on the subject focus mostly on the ‘responsible approach’ of the Israeli army, to what took place.

The most prevalent reaction to the video footage, around the world, was that it was ‘heartbreaking’. Of course it is, it is truly heart-rending to see a little child harassed like that. You can see the girl crying and screaming as she runs away, after two Israeli soldiers take her bike away from her. The Israeli Border police commented in the media that they ‘regret the incident and have opened an investigation’.

Al Ibrahimi street, where Anwar was biking, is one of the Apartheid streets of Al Khalil (Hebron). In streets such as these, Palestinians have no access to certain parts. This, according to the official sources, is the reason why the two soldiers took her bicycle.

However, as the story reached further into mainstream media, it started to get a different twist. Most significantly, it contained the news that one of the soldiers had been ‘suspended’. Interestingly, this fact remains unverifiable. The only thing Israeli media ‘verify’ it by, is by the sentence ‘according to reports’. Does that convince you? We will get back to that later.

Whitewashing the real facts

Palestinian children under occupation

This image gives a rough impression of how horrible life is for Palestinian children under Israeli occupation

Once this aspect of the story entered the mainstream narrative, it grew into one of the most nauseating examples of whitewashing of the Israeli occupation we have seen in the past months.

Surely, the video is everywhere already, and indeed, it is heartbreaking. But let’s do a reality check here. If it is truly shocking to Western audiences to see two heavily armed soldiers stealing a bike from a small Palestinian child, doesn’t this illustrate how under-informed they are?

Do they seriously think that this is how bad it gets, when it comes to the treatment of Palestinian children by the Israeli occupation army? Let’s sum up some facts here. In its military offensives between 2006 and 2014, Israel killed 1,097 Palestinian children in the Gaza strip. These Western readers were heartbroken by the confiscation of a bike from an 8-year old girl. Does this mean they have never seen the gruesome pictures of these young deaths?

No, indeed they haven’t, at least not in their mainstream media. The horrifying pictures of child murders went at least as viral as this ‘bike video’. Why then, did this suddenly become newsworthy enough to be mentioned in mainstream Western media?

Palestinian children under Israeli occupation

So, let’s look at some more facts. At the end of April, a total of 414 Palestinian children languished in the prisons of the Israeli military detention system. ‘Israel’ is the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in military courts, between 500 and 700 each year. Figures on these horrendous practices are readily available at the DCI-P website, including reports of routine torture, abuse and solitary confinement.

According to Unicef’s CAAC Bulletin, in the 4th quarter of 2015, 25 Palestinian children were killed (20 boys and 5 girls) and 1,310 injured by the Israeli army.

I went to volunteer as a surgeon at the hospital in Ramallah in response to a call from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, in exactly that period. Going there under the auspices of PCRF (Palestine Children’s Relief Fund), I myself witnessed how swathes of gunshot injuries, practically all of them children, flooded the emergency room.

Treating child in Ramallah

Me, after the stabilization of a defiant 12-year old, shot through the thigh with live ammunition, in Ramallah

Palestinian children are routinely subjected to harassment by Israeli soldiers on their way to school. They are often deliberately delayed, pushed around, and intimidated. In the city of Al Khalil (Hebron) especially, these are common, daily sights. When settlers attack the Palestinian children, it happens more often than not that Israeli soldiers let them have their way.

How the whitewashing effect works

So, it shocks you to see heavily armed men, cruelly confiscating a Palestinian 8-year old’s bike. If so, thank God, you are human. But if you think that that is how bad it gets, and that the Israeli army is indeed taking this issue up responsibly, these whitewashing reports have managed to fool you. If what you gather from this incident, is that it is bad, but the army is fortunately undertaking action, then they’ve got you, hook, line, and sinker.

This is the reason why your mainstream media likes this story. It is the same reason why the horrors mentioned above, never make it to their pages. In this case, the widely circulated video had gone out of hand. Shrewdly, smart media manipulators managed to turned it into a publicity stunt for the Israeli Army. The message is: we care so much for Palestinian children, that we take this incident very seriously. Nonsense! And if you are the least bit informed, you know it. But don’t forget that most people in the West don’t.

Questions to ask

Now keep the previous paragraphs in mind, and ask yourself the following questions. Why did I never see such figures mentioned in my Western media? Is stealing a bike from a child worse, or more newsworthy, than shooting or imprisoning a child?

Why should I believe that this soldier is on involuntarily leave? Is there no credible source available? Why can Israeli soldiers shoot children, with the guarantee of exoneration from that crime, but can they supposedly not confiscate a little girl’s bike?

If you wonder about these things, you are doing the reality check that is necessary when you read these reports. The video already circulates widely; if you still think it is important, circulate only the video, not these whitewashing news reports.

Poor little Anwar Burkan may get a new bike. Perhaps she has even already retrieved it from the bushes somehow. But the children who lost their lives, their limbs, or their psychological well-being from imprisonment, how will they ever retrieve these?

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