Trauma in Amona

True, protesters resorted to violence. But this fact does not mitigate the evil reality that unfolded.

It was 11:15 a.m. Wednesday when I received the call from my brother in Jerusalem: "Abba was hurt, do you know anything about his condition?" I was in Amona that morning in my capacity as a journalist. I knew my father, Jonathan Blass, who serves as rabbi of Neveh Tzuf, would be in Amona. Only a few days before he had delivered a sermon in the synagogue in which he called upon the adults to join the protest in Amona. He wanted them to participate not only in order to protest the demolition of Jewish homes but also to serve as a mature and calming force among the many teenagers who were expected on the scene. I had been greatly concerned for my father's safety because as soon as I arrived I saw the police storming the houses, beating the protesters surrounding them. The police gave no warning or ultimatum before they began their onslaught. They came to the houses, billy clubs brandished, and commenced beating people with blow following blow. I saw a 19-year-old fellow I know break out of a group of protesters standing outside one of the houses. He told me, "They surrounded us from all sides. People who wanted to couldn't retreat." Even as he told me this, I still thought and hoped that the police would act differently toward clearly non-violent adult protesters. Little did I know… MY BROTHER'S call came after he heard Pinchas Wallerstein, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, on the radio describing how my father, standing near him, had been clubbed on the head by a mounted policeman. He assumed I was at the scene for work and immediately phoned me. I raced from place to place trying to find my father, who was not answering his mobile phone. I met a neighbor. He told me he had been standing close to my father but had been separated from him when the police cavalry charged into them, clubbing every person they approached. At a certain point, walking inside a tent overflowing with wounded protesters, most of whom were suffering from head injuries, I ran into a paramedic who knew my father. He informed me that he saw him being evacuated, conscious, in a military ambulance. Twenty minutes later, I finally succeeded in reaching my father on his cell phone. Although the connection was bad, I received the impression that he was safe. Just as our conversation ended, a 16-year-old, seeing my press card, approached me. "I just want to let you know that I volunteer in the civil guard, but I am leaving my volunteer card here on this hill." "Why is that?" I asked. "I saw a policeman purposely club a 12-year-old boy on his kneecap. I understand that some force is required to get control of the situation here. But that was just plain, gratuitous cruelty. He's a little squirt. The policeman could have easily just picked him up and carried him away." I finally found my father walking out of one of the tents, where he had been examined by a doctor. He held an ice pack to a bump on his head the size of my fist. He described how he and a group of adults had been standing outside one of the houses when the policemen rammed into them without warning. A European journalist, standing nearby, overheard our conversation and could not help but ask my father, "They beat you on the head - an adult with a white beard and all?" "I was relatively lucky," my father replied. "A person standing next to me was struck in the eye after receiving a blow on the head." It was later reported that Yechiam Eyal, 15, was hospitalized in serious condition after receiving similar blows. ON THE way back to Jerusalem on the noon news broadcast I heard Yisrael Yitzhak, the police commander in the area, respond to anchorwoman Yael Dan's question regarding the police's orders and behavior at Amona. Brazenly, Yitzhak claimed: "Policemen did not beat protesters on the head." Yitzhak lied because he knew he could get away with it when the object of his lie was the settlers. He knew most of the reporters were little more than government spokesmen, incapable of discerning where reportage ends and spin begins. He knew he was living in a country where the only two radio channels are controlled by the army and the government, and he also knew that in Israel 2006 lying is acceptable. After all, it worked for the prime minister, who lied to his voters, and for the defense minister, who lied to the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee. IT IS true that the protesters also resorted to violence. It is true that on Wednesday the 4,000 protesters were bereft of leadership capable of restraining a minority of hotheaded youth who insisted on throwing rocks at policemen. But this fact does not mitigate the evil reality that unfolded: A force of 2,000 well-organized, highly-trained policemen with a clear chain of command stormed a crowd of protesters, most of whom were motivated by the love of Israel and live by the highest moral standards, who had come to Amona to exert passive resistance and demonstrate their empathy with the families whose homes were set to be destroyed. As a journalist and loyal Israeli citizen I came away deeply disturbed by the organized police violence masked with lies and enabled by an anemic and supportive local media. The writer is a freelance journalist and producer working with foreign press and Makor Rishon.