July 31 - Help!

We’ll start with Btselem’s report about the first incursion. Even though I was familiar with the general picture and with many testimonies, reading the report was still a chilling and shocking experience.

A’s story is chilling. It is described by two testimonies from both sides (a soldier’s and A’s son). A climbed on the roof of his home with a wrench to fix the water tank. He thought that the army had left town. He fell victim to the murderous “Shoot First, Think Later” policy practiced by our army in the midst of civilian population for the last 22 months. Anan Abu-Dhahar’s story from Nablus is shocking. He was kidnapped by the army, refused to function as a live “Defensive Shield” for them (so that’s where this “operation” received its name from…), and as a result suffered blows and torture from an entire platoon, during long hours. He ended up serving as a “Defensive Shield”, after all. Not one righteous man was to be found in this Sodom, the pride of our nation, a combat reserve platoon.

But for me, the most publicly powerful aspect of this report is hidden in casual statements of soldiers who testified. It appears that battalion and company commanders have told their soldiers to try not to harm private property, because it’s not nice (i.e., it is very tempting, and quite likely you will never get punished, but please try, ok?). On the other hand, they said that the property of the Palestinian Authority should be harmed, vandalized and defaced as much as possible. This revelation means that the masses of soldiers who devastated the entire civilian infrastructure of Palestinian society, did not act out of recklessness or misunderstanding, but rather, according to clear instructions from their commanders in the field – and apparently, in line with malicious intent from above.

The field commanders also told their soldiers, that the curfew is a punitive measure, to be used until the Palestinians “understand” that Arafat is a bad leader. See, the soldiers in the field can’t be fooled. They know that curfew and administrative terror against civilian population do not prevent terror, but rather produce it. Please say again, this point should be emphasized: the soldiers and officers in the field perceive the curfew as a punitive measure, not as a security measure. This helps explains the brutal manner in which it is enforced.

The intuitive understanding by soldiers and field officers of the true intentions of higher command and the government – intentions diametrically opposed to the official and publicized government policies – is a characteristic property, perhaps even a necessary condition, for the perpetration of mass war crimes by modern civilizations. My tip of the week is to get a hold of the book “The Executors of Orders” by historian Yigal Eilam (if there is a translation); it was written over a decade ago, and analyzes exactly this chilling phenomenon.

Meanwhile, a few months have gone by. Right now the army imprisons and starves two million innocent people – and the world is silent. Under cover of this blessed silence, our Prime Minister found time for a new trick on July 22: he killed two birds in one blow. The first bird was the derailment, as he had done many times before, of a new process towards moderation and political effectiveness on the Palestinian side (about this bird a lot has been written already). The second bird, one that received far too little attention, was to test the readiness of our military system, our political system, our public opinion and world opinion for the perpetration of mass murders against Palestinians. And the result on both fronts is just as Sharon declared: “One of our Great Successes”.

We have just learned that our government and military system, up and down the entire chain of command, cannot identify a manifestly illegal order, even when they are being handed this order out in the open. Everything is executable, there are no second thoughts about anything anymore. And our public opinion: our media split for the ritual “discussion” between specific, rather mild condemnation, and covert or outright support. And rather quickly it moved on to more interesting events.

Those who criticized, used terms such as “aberration” (but what is the aberration here? Have you forgotten that even Barak had assassinated people in the midst of civilian neighborhoods, with the inevitable killing of innocents?), or “mistake” (what is the mistake here? Everything was on purpose. You should rather think a little, and try to fathom out the purpose). Those who supported called up, of course, the good old “war on terror”, but also – in Haaretz newspaper, of all places!!! (by their staff member Amir Oren, July 24) – defined the Gaza massacre as an “aid to encourage the moderates” on the Palestinian side. No less. Even this web of blatant lies spun by army spokesmen (those on duty and volunteers like Mr. Oren), a web whose content was changed several times daily, and whose sole purpose was to obliterate the massacre’s effect – did not wake our “free press” out of its dormant routine. And yet again, just like during the first invasion as described in Btselem’s report, the reality our press chose to treat has little to do with the reality seen by soldiers and Palestinians on the ground. The true message – the true intent – of the Gaza massacre, was well understood by the field command and the soldiers, and I am very afraid that the results of this understanding will soon be seen.

What about the public? Demonstrations, protest? Remember what happened 20 years ago after the Sabra and Shatila massacre. That massacre was indeed much greater in extent, but was not perpetrated by the Israeli army. However, the country was in turmoil for long months afterwards, and hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demonstrate. And now? When it's clear as daylight that we will pay a dear price in the blood of our citizens for this massacre ? Nothing. The extent of protest remains as small as it was before the massacre.
What about the world? The Bush Administration takes care, for its own reasons, to provide Sharon with a hermetic shield (I can hardly think of a person less deserving such a shield). So Sharon can move on to the next stage, in which the war crimes will probably be even more massive and shocking. The timing will be carefully selected (more about this on the next “Editor’s Word” by Tamir, soon to come out). No body in Israel can stop this next stage, because Israeli democracy is dying. It is even quite likely, that the non-reaction to the Gaza massacre was its official death certificate.

When democracy is dead, the ruler becomes a dictator and his maneuvering room becomes infinite. The only power that may limit Sharon’s maneuvering room now, are the democracies of the Western world (and maybe the Palestinian public too, if it acts carefully and extremely wisely – a very high expectation to fulfill when you are imprisoned and starved). To the citizens of these democracies we address the cry: Help! Help save Israel from its despicable dictatorship. Help save the Palestinian people from their Via Dolorosa and from the terrible fate this dictatorship plans to bring upon them. Help save the citizens of Israel from the bloodshed, impoverishment and decay they are about to suffer as a side effect of this fate.

Please help us, because we are too few and too weak. Until you agree to help us, we are compelled to find a good seat, so that we can at least watch and document the events.

 

 

Assaf