Planting a tree is like planting a flag
Yesterday afternoon (7 Nov), Elchanan Gruner, a journalist with HaKol HaYehudi, uploaded a video onto “X” in which we see an IDF soldier planting a tree in Gaza near the uprooted Israeli communities of Dugit and Elei Sinai. That, in itself, is a remarkable act which I applaud. It reminded me of the American astronauts who planted their flag on the moon.
Had he dedicated the tree to the 1400 slaughtered and 240 hostages still being held by Hamas, I think the entire country would have applauded him and this post would have gone viral.
But he dedicated it to, well, let’s let him speak for himself. I will translate below the post.
לוחמי צה"ל נטעו עץ באדמות רצועת עזה סמוך למקום בו היו הישובים דוגית ואלי סיני שהוחרבו: "נטענו את העץ לתקומת עם ישראל ולשחרור כל אסירי ציון, אריאל דנינו ועמירם בן אוליאל, אנחנו לא שוכחים אתכם, אתם חלק מהמאבק הזה" pic.twitter.com/mKcXRhJtOQ
— אלחנן גרונר (@elchangr) November 7, 2023
We planted the tree here for the uprising of the people of Israel [so far so good] and, with God’s help, all the prisoners of Zion will be released. Ariel Danino and Amiram Ben Uliel [this is the controversial part]; we have not forgetten you; you are part of this struggle. We won’t leave anybody behind. We will get to the end. Am Yisrael Chai [The People of Israel live].
I have not examined the case of Ariel Danino so I will only state that, according to Times of Israel, he was put under administrative detention on 29 October for four months for reasons unknown. Danino is a well-known activist in the settlement movement. In fact, just over a year ago, I published my translation of a tweet he posted when Twitter was Twitter in an article I called: “Ariel Danino: Arrested getting out of a car while Jewish.” I wonder if his current administrative detention is for a similarly significant crime.
Before I completed writing this article, an English language report of the tree planting (the only one in English) came out on an anti-Israeli news site. I am linking to that article (here) but I don’t give them much credit for telling the truth. My usual sources have not been available to verify or deny the information in that article and I found nothing on Danino’s “X” account that coincides with what the article claims. Of course, it could have been deleted in the meantime.
And here we get to the important part
In contrast with Danino’s case, I have delved deeply into the Ben Uliel case. And while he was found guilty of murder in the courts, a verdict that was upheld by the Supreme Court, I believe he is as guilty as Amos Baranas and Roman Zadorov. Baranas and Zodorov both confessed to murder after days of torture and later recanted. Finally, after years in prison, both were retried and found innocent of the charges. Ben Uliel also confessed after over two weeks of torture and later recanted. He is still awaiting his turn for a retrial.
I refer to this because the only secular Hebrew news site publishing an article about the tree planting (here) wants to make sure readers remember this case of despicable settler violence. Perhaps they saw it as an opportunity to balance out Hamas violence with settler violence? Naw! That is too far-fetched.
They write (my translation):
Ben Uliel previously confessed to the murder during his investigation, and even re-enacted what he did. First, he was convicted in the District Court in Lod in 2020, and in September of that year he was sentenced to three life sentences and another 20 years in prison. Ben Uliel later appealed his murder conviction, but the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the appeal.
Re “he confessed”: As I wrote above, Ben Uliel confessed after two weeks of torture during which time he was not allowed to see a lawyer. While the court did disqualify two confessions made during the period of ongoing torture, they allowed the one he made 36 hours after the torture stopped — did Ben Uliel know that if he did not confess the torture would not start up again? Is 36 hours long enough to overcome the impact of the torture? In a separate article, I write about the issue of forced confessions and note that academic studies show that up to 25% of wrongful convictions are based upon false confessions.
Re “the reenactment”: I wrote up a detailed article pointing out all the problems in the reenactment here. This was based on the video of the reenactment. I also read the court protocol in which the judges did not raise questions that they should have raised. For example, why is the interrogating officer accompanying Ben Uliel in the reenactment? He should not have been there. That should have been enough to rule out admission of the reenactment as evidence.
These two points are sufficient to have required a retrial. But when Avigdor Feldman tried to get the confession thrown out, the Supreme Court refused to do so. There are additional factors that the judges should have considered before bringing down their verdict (see here).
One must ask why the judges were so hellbent on prosecuting Ben Uliel and why the prison services are keeping him in solitary confinement under conditions no other prisoner has to endure. We must consider that he is useful for proving “settler violence” of the most horrific kind and serves as a counterpoint to Palestinian violence to keep Israel from responding to it in Judea-Samaria the way we have now been forced, against our will, to respond to Hamas in Gaza.
The article goes on to write:
Despite this, Ben Oliel’s name made headlines more than once in the past year, when in various cases members of the coalition and members of the public expressed support for the murderer – either by speaking out or by donating as part of the crowdfunding for him. Only last September, MKs Limor Son Har Melech and Minister Amichai Eliyahu, both from Otzma Yehudit, cast doubt on the conviction of the murderer – Son Har Melech even went so far as to call him “this tzaddik”.
Members of the coalition (right-wing party members, that is) and members of the public are expressing support, not for a murderer, but for a case of potential miscarriage of justice and are pressing for the same reconsideration offered to Baranes and Zadorov.
If a comparison between Judea-Samaria and Gaza must be made, then perhaps we can say that we have a settler being held hostage, not by Hamas, but by the Israeli authorities. I know that is a comment that may get me labelled as an extremist, but so be it.
Lastly, I guess I am wrong about the video having gone viral had he just dedicated it to the murdered and missing. After writing this article, I discovered that several soldiers — there is no mention of how many — planted a number of trees at the site of these two communities uprooted in the disengagement. Of course, the Israeli establishment — and perhaps the media as well — would not want this publicized because they do not want to get into the discussion of re-establishment of the Jewish communities demolished in 2005, the act that paved the road to where we are now.
Interestingly, the army announced that they would not dismiss the soldier in the video in spite of the fact that his behaviour is not consistent with IDF values. Given that he did not act alone in planting trees, I suppose they were unwilling to dismiss a whole group of soldiers who are very much needed in the war.
Feature Image is a screenshot from the video in the “X” post in this article.