bring out the water cannon

Chanoch Ne’eman 3 Tevet 5775 Jerusalem (c)

historical note

At the end of summer, twenty years ago, at the end of my first year in Israel, I attended a protest rally in Paris Square in Jerusalem. It was organized by the This is Our Land organization, to protest the withdrawal policies and arming of terrorists by the then government of Yitzhak Rabin. I went and was sort of shocked by what when on there. I was standing on the sidewalk with other protesters, just standing there, and over came a large group of Israeli police and started pushing us away. Not pushing us gently, but shoving us insultingly, like we were some teenagers caught smoking in the school bathroom. And we were old people, young people, just standing there participating in a legal gathering with a police permit!

And then, after they had cleared us from the square, out rolls this monster contraption with water cannon mounted on top and starts blasting the few die-hard youths who refused to leave the square with extremely high pressure water cannon. I had never seen or heard of anything like it before. (The photos below from Chile are from a smaller style  police water tank.) While shooting the water cannon accidently hit the illuminated street name sign on the corner, breaking it and leaving in swinging in the air held by an electric wire. And I was thinking to myself, “What’s with these water cannon? Where did this idea come from – Star Wars?”

For someone who had come from America, this episode was a sad and disheartening experience. In New York City, thousands of Jews, including me and my family, had protested against the Russian UN Delegation, and the NY Police had never lifted a finger against us. I guess because the US Constitution guarantees the freedom to assemble. I don’t think it would have been different if we were protesting against the American government, instead of the Russian.

That was in mid-September twenty years ago. The word was that PM Yitzhak Rabin had personally instructed the Police to treat the protestors roughly to discourage further protest. Less than two months later, in November, PM Yitzhak Rabin would die, after going into pulmonary arrest as a result of the gaseous shock waves caused by the fake bullets fired at him in a staged fake assassination attempt, designed by him and his colleagues to further delegitimize opposition to his government’s policies. (See other posts in the Rabin Fiasco category). I guess Hashem has his own ways of encouraging people to keep quiet.

I am recalling all this now, because last week, when our History Club met to discuss the Revolt against British Rule in Palestine, my friend Dr. Kent gave me, as is his want, a number of documents related to the topic. Among them was an article about Menachem Begin written by Dr. Avraham Avi-Hai in the Jerusalem Post on Nov. 28, 2014. He recounts there an episode which took place in Israel in 1952. The question was  whether the State of Israel should, as a State, not individuals, accept reparation payments from Germany? Ben Gurion, the Prime Minister, said yes. Begin, in the opposition, said no. By the way, Rabbi Y. Soloveichik, in America, also was opposed. Anyway, Dr. Avi-Hai describes how Begin spoke at a large demonstration against the policy, held while the Knesset was debating it. The demonstration was attended by about 15,000 people including many Holocaust survivors. Begin, as he was noted for, dramatically attacked the government and even called for its replacement.

I quote from Dr. Avi-Hai’s article:

The demonstrators then moved on toward the Knesset (then at the Frumin Building on King George Street near Ben-Yehuda Street). A large police force cordoned them off. The enraged crowd threw stones at the Knesset windows, and at Police. “After five hours of rioting, police managed to suppress the riots using water cannons and tear gas. Hundreds were arrested, while some 200 rioters, 140 police officers, and several Knesset members were injured,” according to Wikipedia. Begin was seen as personally responsible for the violence, and barred from the Knesset for several months.

Chanoch’s comments:

First of all, though I had heard about the reparations debate, I was unaware of this demonstration story. Now finally I have an idea where these water cannon had come from! As Thoreau writes in Walden, people are generally timid or bold as their fathers had been. So I guess Rabin, looking to Ben Gurion as a political father figure, saw fit to wet down his opponents in a similar way. It is interesting to me too that the 1952 demonstration took place on the same street, just two blocks away, as the 1995 protest. As to the account of the incident in 1952, I know some people consider Wikipedia the source of all knowledge, but I think most serious students of history realize that anything there needs to be verified by independent research. Just look at what is written there about the Rabin Assassination. That entry just appeared there in recent months. Those of us who were here and have followed the issue over the years, have to get on there and help counter that agitprop.

At the end of Dr. Avi- Hai’s article, he describes himself as being, in June 1948, “a volunteer from South Africa, who, against his will, was ordered to fire on the Altalena.” The commanding officer of that Haganah/IDF unit which followed Ben Gurion’s orders to fire on the ship was Yitzhak Rabin. Our Sages tell us not to judge someone till you are in his place, so I will certainly not judge Mr. Avi-Hai, who I tremendously respect for coming to fight for the infant State, and  if I was in his position, probably would have done the same thing, but I just want to point out that perhaps the more correct way to put it is “against his better will”. Because a person always has the choice of will who they are going to pull the trigger on. That was one of the points Thoreau made in his famous lectures, Slavery in Massachusetts, and Resistance to Civil Government. It is also the requirement of our Jewish Law, as our Sages said: there are three things one must give up his life rather than do – idolatry, murder, or forbidden sexual relations.

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