I’ve Been to Gaza Twice
I’ve been to the Gaza Strip twice.
The first time, I was called there in emergency during my infantry officers’ course, in 1994. The second time was three months ago.
In 1994, the night after the massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron (Goldstein murdered over 30 innocent Palestinians), my course battalion was called up to Gaza. The goal – to repress the riots following the massacre. On the night we arrived, the local battalion we came to assist had killed over 15 Palestinians.
In the morning we went out to patrol, in order to enforce the curfew on the neighborhood of Sheikh Radwan. We passed by the mourning sheds erected near the homes of the dead from the night before. Near each shed, a riot broke out.
The instructions were clear – as a new company, we had to summon the veteran company to stop the riot. Within 2 minutes, 3 jeeps arrived driving full speed and accelerating into the crowds. They were shooting in the air, and then (as Territories veteran say in black humor) into the air (of the lungs).
The belief that justice is on our side, and the total faith in our commanders, had blinded us all.
The second time was 3 months ago. Between these two times, I’ve been to the West Bank many times, and there is not enough room here to tell all I’ve seen there. Yet, the Gaza Strip seems to me like a different planet.
Everything beyond the Checkpoints appears as a terrible scene out of a horror movie.
Military entry into Gaza is done only using bulletproof vehicles. Soldiers don flak suits and helmets, and practice a bomb ambush drill before entering. Lebanon once again, but an improved version.
Whoever is familiar with the region between the Kisufim Checkpoint and Gush Katif (the largest settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip, home to a few thousand settlers among a Palestinian population of one million), is in for a surprise. You learn for the first time the meaning of ‘exposure’. The built area on both sides of the road to the Gush has been razed to the ground, and looks like a desert. Now you begin to understand what lurks behind this clean word.
You arrive to the outpost, a huge mass of concrete. Many watch posts.
We man the posts after a long debriefing.
I’m at “the Pillbox” – a reinforced concrete cylinder, erected to safeguard the soldiers managing the junction. The soldiers’ job is to direct traffic at the junction using a stoplight.
The rules are simple – due to alerts in the region, there is no simultaneous movement of Jews and Arabs on the same road.
Therefore, Jewish traffic must be enables whenever it exists. When there is no such traffic, the soldier may allow the waiting Palestinians to cross the junction. Those soldiers with some historical knowledge ask questions. I ask myself as well.
But – I’m in the army, I’m an officer, I carry out orders. Is it legal to discriminate on the basis of blood? Is it illegal?
Is it “manifestly” illegal, and as such should be disobeyed? Of what color is the flag above the command to discriminate between fair skin and dark skin?
The Pillbox has clear laws. 200 meters from the post, near the eucalyptus grove, one is not allowed to leave the vehicle.
Whoever does go out, receives ‘warning shots’ – 50 meters from the legs. A few months ago a ‘terrorist’ stormed the post, and now everyone takes extra precaution. The lines are long, and sometimes people wait many hours. Whoever leaves the vehicle, runs back inside to the sound of bullets whistling by. In the vehicles are women, children, elderly people.
The Palestinians must not cross the junction on a red light. There is a Black Flag hanging over passage in red light. There are no ticket or fines. Rather, there is an immediate price. A Palestinian vehicle entering the junction at a time when an Israeli vehicle is there, must be stopped by all means.
There are good reasons for the Junction Laws. 4 months ago there was an ‘event’ here. 7 months ago there was another ‘event’ in another junction.
I want to see the commander, entrusted by a Hebrew Mother with Her Son, look her straight in the eye and tell her: for Your Son, I stopped dozens of ambulances hurrying to the hospital with patients. I shot at dozens of “outlaws” going out for a breath of fresh air in a 4 hour line, so that you would know that an officer like me must as his duty, torture a civilian population in order to return Your Son to you alive and well. I want to see the commander who would dare endanger his soldier, and then talk.
And thus, day after day, hour after hour.
In the Gaza Strip, the bulldozers work around the clock. Not a day goes by without seeing a bulldozer taking down an orchard, tearing apart a greenhouse, flattening a house. In most cases, you don’t know who gave the command. Who is responsible and why. But there is always a reason.
From that house someone shot. Behind that tree someone hid. In the orchard, someone prepared. The gun’s range is 300 meters. The machine gun, 600. The mortar, one kilometer. How far will exposal go? IDF bulldozers are digesting the Gaza Strip, meter by meter.
For the common man, Gaza is a remote story. Don’t want know, don’t want to hear. The TV broadcasts a one-sided story. It broadcasts what the viewer wants to know. They are bad, we are good, there is a war, everything’s Kosher. Crimes? Conscientious taboos? Quiet. We are shooting.
While in Gaza, you cannot be moral. It is simply impossible. Whoever thinks differently, please go there and see for yourself.
We are now at a position, that I wish to God we can still return from. The deeds begin to remind one of the forgotten past.
And there is always a justification, and there is always a reason.
Until, in a moment of quiet, after the last volley of shots, after the morning exposal and the night ambush, you stop to think for a moment. You are alone. Without your girlfriend, without your friends, without your parents, with no one – just you.
You stop to think, what is it you’re fighting for if you’ve already lost the moral basis for fighting.
If you can carry out almost everything. So much so, that it is not clear anymore where the red line crosses – if there is such a line at all – and whether this red line does not keep moving away as you get close to it.
After all, this is war, everything is allowed.
Again and again I ask myself, how come among so many senior officers fully familiar with the situation, there is not a single one who gets up and shouts. Not one who gets up, takes off his uniform and says – in THIS, I will not take part.
I guess I’m naïve.
After all, this is war, everything is allowed.