The Israeli military is not happy. Not, on this occasion, because of rockets attacks from Gaza. Not because of incursions across the border from Syria. And not from Palestinians throwing stones at check points in the West Bank.
No, the source of the military’s dissatisfaction is something far more trivial – a group of Israeli soldiers have been accused of the “serious” crime of dancing ‘Gangham Style’ (a catchy song from the South Korean singer Psy which has been a hit in the clubs this summer) with Palestinians in a club in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Footage, broadcast on Israeli’s Channel 2 shows the soldiers dancing with Palestinians, in the club which has some reports have suggested is frequented by a pro-Hamas clan.
Rather than seeing it as a case of letting off steam in what can be a volatile city, with violent clashes between Jews and Palestinians having taken place for decades, a military spokesperson said that “the soldiers exposed themselves to unnecessary danger and were disciplined accordingly.” They have now been apparently been suspended from duties.
This heavy-handed response by the Israeli military, highlights the arrogance of many in high command.
Having visited Hebron earlier this year, I know first-hand the tension existing in the city. As I wrote at the time, the various quarters are divided with Palestinians on one side of a barrier and Israelis living in settlements, illegal under international law, on the other. Israeli soldiers guard check points and control movement to different parts of the city.
To a ‘neutral’, international visitor like me, the majority of the soldiers came across as very friendly and shared a joke as they searched bags (although to a first-time visitor it may seem slightly scary with snipers poised on passers-by from rooftops in the distance).
Laughter and larking about is their way of dealing with the boredom of having to man their posts for hours on end, often without a single incident passing, bar checking identity card after identity card. They will know better than many people how ridiculous it is trying to keep the two groups of people away from each other.
International media regularly reports on the need for a two-state solution (a separate Israel and a separate Palestine), but is that what ordinary people on both sides of the so-called division actually want?
On one hand, Palestinians want to be able to travel around the whole former land of Palestine to visit their relatives, cut off by divisions created by Israel following the controversial 1967 Six Day war. During my trip earlier this year, a Palestinian living in Bethlehem (in the West Bank) told me he couldn’t visit his father living in Jerusalem because the border wall is in place. Another told me: “We just want to be able to travel to the coast and have a beer with our friends on the beach.”
And not all Israelis would, in the long-term, accept being ‘boxed’ into different areas of the country. Ultra religious Jews would never agree to move away from the West Bank given that, for them, it contains many important religious sites. This point is illustrated by the tens of thousands of Israeli settlers living in the illegal settlements in the area.
Hebron in the West Bank is right at the centre of the historical controversy as it is said to be the birth place of Abraham – the father of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This means that there are religious sites that need to be accessed by a wide range of people.
If the answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is therefore a one-state solution, then anything that can be done to foster relations between Israelis and Palestinians has to be positive.
What better way to start this process is getting the two sides to dance together ‘Gangnam Style’. The majority of ordinary people get the need for better relations, persuading those high up in the Israeli military and government will be a different matter.
Categories: Middle East