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No One Changed the Rules

By Gideon Levy
From the major Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz
December 12, 2004

“For the past four years, the IDF has been engaged in liquidating Palestinians on a horrific scale, in killing children, in confirming killings and in inflicting abuse at checkpoints.”

A gross injustice was done to the Naval Commando unit. The members of the Shayetet, as the elite unit is known in Hebrew, were on another routine liquidation mission, like dozens of others before it, and they executed the mission superbly – wounding, liquidating and getting out without any casualties.

But suddenly they were subjected to a vicious public furor – and one orchestrated by the senior command of the Israel Defense Forces to boot. It looks like a case of the bastards changing the rules without bothering to tell the fighters.

Actually, the bastards changed nothing. It’s hard to think of an example of greater sanctimonious self-righteousness than that offered by the chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, in dissociating himself from the Shayetet’s actions.

The talk about the need to refresh the orders and to study carefully the rules of engagement – lest the soldiers were given double messages, as Ya’alon said – is ridiculous. The Naval Commando troops behaved according to orders and policy that have never sent a double message. The message has always been unequivocal: liquidate. The person who issued the first liquidation order, in Bethlehem, is responsible as well for the “confirmation of killing” in the village of Raba’a, near Jenin; the person who set up a checkpoint between Beit Iba and Nablus is responsible for all the acts of abuse against the residents who get stuck there – with or without a violin.

In the past few weeks, not a day has gone by without a new affair: the Palestinian girl Iman al-Hamas in Rafah, the violin at Beit Iba, the abuse of the body, the Shayetet operation. Suddenly it turns out that the IDF is not behaving nicely in the territories, and everyone is shocked.

This surge of reports about the IDF’s moral behavior in the territories is intended to deceive. The chief of staff purported to be shocked, all of a sudden, only because the popular media, which for decades have not fulfilled their role, suddenly changed their tune and started to report as headline news what they have known all along. The reaction of the senior commanders is intended to create the impression that their aim is to uproot the unacceptable norms, and therefore they are putting on a show to the effect that the recent events are new or exceptional.

But they are neither the one nor the other. Since the introduction of the present method of occupation, which includes liquidations and checkpoints, the High Command has had no intention of rectifying the moral lapses. Anyone who is upset by the latest affairs is lending a hand to the deception. What moral difference is there between liquidation with confirmation and liquidation without it? Since the start of the intifada, the Shayetet, the undercover Duvdevan unit, the Border Police mista’aravim – who disguise themselves as Arabs – and the pilots of the Air Force have already liquidated 208 Palestinians using methods similar to those of the Shayetet in Raba’a village, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. This type of operation is routine for such units.

The episode of the Palestinian who was forced to play the violin at a checkpoint, the girl from Rafah whose body was riddled with bullets, the soldiers who abused the body of a Palestinian who was killed, the operation of the Shayetet – these are commonplace events, occurring on nearly a daily basis. For the past four years, the IDF has been engaged in liquidating Palestinians on a horrific scale, in killing children, in confirming killings and in inflicting abuse at checkpoints – and suddenly a storm has blown up. The soldiers have not been mentally “eroded” by their service – there were always those who behaved in this way, since the start of the policy of violence against the population. Nor has the IDF deteriorated – it’s been this way for a long time. Elite units and ordinary units are all tainted with the intoxication of power.

The newly issued report about the number of “innocent” Palestinians that the IDF killed is also meant to divert attention from the main issue. The point is that, if the IDF killed 29 “innocents” in 2004 – or 111, according to the count of the human rights organization B’Tselem – then all the rest of the killings are validated, because those victims were not “innocent.” So no one asks whether all the others really had to die. All the stone throwers, all those who hurled firebombs – indeed, does every armed person deserve to be executed without a trial, without being detained? Did they all deserve to die? And by what moral criterion is a Palestinian with a rifle, who is fighting for a just cause, considered not to be innocent, whereas an Israeli with a rifle is as pure as the driven snow?

From the day the policy of liquidations was introduced, from the day the IDF sent its soldiers and pilots into the territories to kill Palestinians, it was obvious that the slope is smooth and that the slide down it is rapid. The liquidations became second nature and the IDF began to make use of liquidation squads – there is no other way to describe their activity. The way Mohammed Qamail was killed in Raba strongly recalls the testimonies about the liquidation of Ibrahim Mahmoud in Jenin about 18 months ago. According to eyewitnesses, a Border Policeman kicked the wounded man and then shot him several times in the head. The IDF said at the time that from the preliminary briefing it was unaware of an allegation of confirmation of killing and that it would continue to investigate. Ibrahim Mahmoud was not even on the wanted list, only a passerby who got caught up in an operation to assassinate Fadi Zakarana. The only difference between the two liquidations is apparently that the event in Jenin took place too early, before the media and the chief of staff began to be shocked.

It’s a good thing that the Shayetet fighters were sent back to the territories at the week’s end. Now they will be able to continue their liquidation routine without interference, equipped with the refreshed orders. The chief of staff, for his part, will be able to go on competing with the prime minister, the defense minister and the head of the Central Command for the title of who can say “the most moral army in the world” the most times. Until the next time that the camera will be in the wrong place at the wrong time and another momentary storm will erupt because of another shocking exception. Afterward, the orders will be refreshed yet again and everything will go back to being the way it was: the liquidators will liquidate, the abusers will abuse and the chief of staff will cluck his tongue.

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