Israel's 'dogs of war': Another form of colonial violence
Israel's 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories has produced an array of images that convey the apartheid state's oppressive brutality.
Not least among them is the separation wall, dividing the West Bank from the occupied East Jerusalem, but also the prison walls that encircle and entrap Gaza's two million residents.
Each restricts Palestinian access to land, denying them crucial services, and stifling economic development. Both walls, alongside military checkpoints, military tribunals, detention centres, drones, tanks and fighter jets, have all become synonymous with Israel's unjust and inhumane colonial project.
But here's another cognitive image and one that serves as a near perfect metaphor for Israel's violations of international law and human rights: settler dogs.
Settler dogs, or "dogs of war", as Palestinians refer to them, matter because the more than 600,000 illegal Israeli settlers who reside in the occupied West Bank remain one of many key obstacles to peace in this long-running conflict.
Put simply, if international pressure cannot push the settlers back beyond the pre-1967 borders, any version of a two-state solution is unworkable.
Facts on the ground
For those unfamiliar with the rolling hills of the West Bank, Israeli settlements come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from mini-cities, like Maale Adumim, complete with shopping malls and Olympic-sized swimming pools, to outposts, comprising little more than a few dozen mobile homes.
It is from these outposts, however, that illegal settlements become highly fortified towns and cities, but where the latter are protected by the Israeli military, occupants of the former must protect themselves by their own means. It is from these settlements that Israel skillfully changes "facts on the ground" to its own territorial advantage.
The construction of outposts to seize and hold territory was a strategy implemented by Israel's founding fathers in the 1930s, and nicknamed the "tower and stockade" approach, and was re-implemented three decades later as the strategy to occupy and colonise the West Bank immediately after Israel seized the territory in 1967.
Should a Palestinian approach the perimeter, the dogs bark, serving as an alarm for the residents to grab their guns
"Everyone should take action, should run, should grab more hills," former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, once thundered, which is exactly what tens of thousands of settlers have done for much of the past five decades, seizing land that doesn’t belong to them, nor Israel, and then constructing makeshift homes throughout the West Bank.
Now this is where the settler dogs come into frame.
The first time I visited an Israeli outpost, its residents gave me a tour of the compound. Situated approximately 30-minutes drive from the centre of Jerusalem, the front gate to this particular outpost looked like an attempt to turn an old highway tollbooth into a pseudo-military checkpoint, which on this day was manned by a heavily armed 23-year-old Jewish American kid from Florida.
Behind him a loose gravel driveway snaked its way to the top of the ridgeline.
When you stand atop of the hill, you stand among two dozen mobile homes and trailers that house the outpost's 50 or so occupants. In the distance, and in all directions, you can see the unmistakable red-tiled rooflines of the larger Israeli settlements that strategically trace the Palestinian territory's hilltops.
Midway down the hill, a series of wooden boxes are tied together by chains, each box located approximately 50 yards from the next. These 3ft by 3ft boxes trace the outpost’s entire perimeter, each housing two guard dogs that are chained permanently to them. Should a Palestinian approach the perimeter, the dogs bark, serving as an alarm for the residents to grab their guns.
Inhumane and barbaric
This scene is typical of every Israeli outpost settlement in the occupied West Bank, and it is every bit as inhumane and barbaric as you can imagine. These dogs are permanently tied to these boxes, throughout the hottest days of summer, where daytime temperatures surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit, to the coldest nights in winter, where the mercury often touches zero degrees Celsius.
No respite. No end to their heinous mandated duty. They are put there for one purpose and one purpose only: to attack Palestinians.
For settlers with a reasonable income, there are settler dog training programmes. One such programme defines the "problem" that faces illegal settlers thus:
"Increasingly, Israeli Jewish people who live in Judea and Samaria, which is the name our Bible gives to these areas, are under attack by Arab Muslim terrorists. Most in the world call these areas the West Bank. Of course terror attacks take place in other parts of Israel but especially there. Also increasingly, knives are the weapon of choice to murder Jews."
It then defines the "solution" as follows: "A professionally trained protection dog could have saved that mother and turned the terrorist into the victim. I own a protection dog in Israel and can say with great confidence if that terrorist came into our home he would have a very serious problem."
Another settler dog training programme boasted that their trained dogs could smell the difference between an Israeli settler and an "Arab infiltrator", claiming: "The adrenaline of the Arabs, they can detect it. The Arabs are very scared of dogs…We don't want the dogs to kill Arabs, just immobilise them."
For settlers who live on more modest means, the dog "training" is far cruder. In some instances, an impoverished Palestinian is paid a small fee to give a dog a savage beating, thereby ensuring the dog forever remains fearful of Palestinians, which guarantees a more vicious response any time in the future a Palestinian might approach the settlement.
With an ever increasing number of Israelis illegally occupying the West Bank, bringing an ever increasing number of trained attack dogs, it’s little wonder reports of Palestinian being attacked by settler dogs are also increasing in both frequency and ferocity.
Like the West Bank's separation wall, and Gaza's virtual prison walls, settler dogs are also emblematic of Israel's systematic policy of segregation, dispossession, and colonial violence
Palestinian kids as young as five years of age have suffered life-long horrific injuries from these dogs.
These attacks coincide within a pattern of overall increase in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank - with the number of attacks increasing by more than 30 percent year-on-year, according to a report published by the European Parliament.
Worse, these dogs are not only being used to defend Israeli outposts, but also for offensive purposes – to intentionally attack Palestinian civilians. Amnesty International has observed these attacks, with or without the use of dogs, sometimes take place in the"presence of Israeli soldiers and police who failed to intervene".
So, like the West Bank's separation wall, and Gaza's virtual prison walls, settler dogs are also emblematic of Israel's systematic policy of segregation, dispossession, and colonial violence.
- CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America (2013), God Hates You. Hate Him Back (2009), and Koran Curious (2011), and he is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Two Jewish settlers train a Belgiam Shepherd at the Tapuach settlement near the West Bank city of Nablus (Reuters)
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.