Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres extended his greetings to the world on the occasion of the Chinese New Year: The Year of the Dog. Coincidentally, the Israeli occupation army is faced with an emergency. The Four Winds K9 company has stopped supplying it with the trained attack dogs that it had been using for the past 20 years to terrorise Palestinians.
A young Palestinian, Hamza Abu Hashim, recently filed a lawsuit against the Dutch firm because of the severe injuries he sustained when Israeli soldiers unleashed the dogs against him three years ago.
The Israeli occupation army’s canine unit annually imports dozens of these dogs that are trained to attack civilians. Shawan Jabarin, general director of the Palestinian Al-Haq human rights organisation, has stated in an open letter to Dutch ministers that these fierce, expertly trained dogs “are intentionally used by Israeli occupying forces to terrorise and bite Palestinian civilians, especially during protests and night home raids”.
Similarly trained dogs were used by Americans against African American civil rights activists in the mid-20th century. US forces also used them in the war against Afghanistan and apartheid South Africa used them against rights activists demanding an end to the apartheid system.
Abu Hashim, in his lawsuit, cited Four Winds K9 publicity, from 2015, stating that 90 per cent of the dogs in the service of the Israeli army were trained by this company. At the time, some lawmakers in The Netherlands called on the Dutch trade ministry to halt the export of the dogs to Israel because of the use to which they were put. The Dutch trade minister at the time responded that she personally favoured a ban but that there was no legal basis for imposing one.
Abu Hashim was 16 in 2014 when Israeli soldiers set the attack dogs on him. In his lawsuit, he states that he was bitten multiple times in his legs, arms and shoulders before the dogs were finally pulled off and that he sustained permanent scars as a result. The incident occurred when he, together with other Palestinian youth from an occupied West Bank village, took part in a protest against the Israeli military’s seizure of Palestinian land to pave the way for the construction of the nearby illegal settlement of Karmei Tzur.
The scene was filmed by one of the Israeli soldiers and posted on Facebook with a caption saying that the dogs had taught the “little terrorist” a lesson he would never forget. The video shows the Palestinian teenager crying out in agony as the dog bit him several times while the soldiers looked on, shouting jeers and taunts. After he succumbed they arrested him.
Abu Hashim’s defence attorneys maintain that the deliberate use of these ferocious dogs against civilians is a degrading and inhumane act that constitutes a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention which pertains to the protection of civilians in time of war and in territories under occupation.
They add that this brutal form of intimidation is being used by Israel as a means to control the population in the occupied territories and enforce land sequestrations for the purpose of building more illegal settlements. They stress that in transferring such dogs to the Israeli army, the firm aids and abets these human rights violations.
On the occupation authority’s midnight raids and sequestrations of Palestinian homes, a recent episode of the BBCs “HARDtalk” programme hosted a member of a group of Israeli officers who refuse to take part in such activities and who formed an Israeli NGO called “Breaking the Silence”.
The organisation exposes the various types of maltreatment and abuse inflicted by occupation soldiers against Palestinians and demands an end to the occupation of Palestinian territory. The talk show’s guest, Avner Gvaryahu, a former Israeli Defence Forces soldier, spoke about what led him, along with hundreds of other soldiers, to quit service in the Israeli armed forces in protest against the army’s systematic brutality against Palestinians.
He related his personal experiences as a soldier involved in midnight raids of Palestinian homes in Nablus and Jenin: the piercing stares of inhabitants under gunpoint in their own homes, and the seething anger he encountered among the Palestinians who had committed no wrong to possibly justify the confiscation of their homes in this cruel manner.
According to Gvaryahu, his group has been working for 13 years, collecting testimonies of Israeli soldiers who have come out against the state’s policy of intimidating, abusing and humiliating the Palestinian population in order entrench a sense of helplessness. He added that the testimonies also document acts of theft and plunder committed by the soldiers during raids.
In a recent investigative report on raids and sequestrations of Palestinian homes, Haaretz noted that the use of trained attack dogs was one of the instruments used by the occupation army to carry out the land confiscation policy.
The attacks against Palestinian persons and property increased in frequency and brutality following US President Donald Trump’s impetuous recognition of occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That act, as illegal as the Israeli confiscation of Palestinian homes and property, triggered another rise in Israeli settlement expansion and construction activity, which meant a rise in attacks against Palestinians and their homes using, among other means, dogs trained to bite and maim.
Such was Trump’s way of introducing the new year in January. When, some weeks later, the UN secretary-general marked the beginning of the Year of the Dog, he struck a totally different tone to the type of messages emanating from the White House.
Guterres said: “Dogs are guards and good companions to human beings. Dogs universally symbolise loyalty and trust, which inherently encourage the boosting of unity and collaboration. That is what our world needs... Let us work together for global peace and prosperity.”
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly