The IDF has decided that the soldier who shot and killed a critically wounded Palestinian terrorist will be tried on charges of manslaughter. The Israeli electronic and print media has been filled with arguments and commentary about the incident.
While journalist Gidi Weitz in Haaretz published quotations about how “Ben-Gurion deplored soldiers killing Arabs” in 1948, I particularly identified with a column by fellow journalist Yigal Sarna in the weekend Yediot Ahronot, entitled “Who is a Hero.” He began the column with a passage taken from a telegram by a student of psychotherapist Carl Jung, Prof. Erich Neumann, upon his immigration to Israel in 1934. Here is the prophetic quote (translated from the Hebrew):
“The shadow will burst forth, and it will not be pleasant”
“I’m afraid that all of our repressed drives, all of our aspirations for government and revenge, all of the hidden brutality within us, will be realized here. The Jews in the Land of Israel, liberated from the pressures of other nations that we have suffered from in Exile. This could cause, in the final analysis, the bursting forth of “the shadow” here in Palestine, it will be seen and come forth. And it will not be pleasant”.
And what did we see this past week? Another Yediot journalist, Nahum Barnea, served as our eyes and ears, when he went to see the solidarity demonstrations with the imprisoned soldier outside the army base in Kastina. And what did he see? 200 demonstrators, from the Kahanist Otzma Yisrael movement carrying signs saying “We are all with the soldier in Hebron,” the La Familia ultra-supporters of the right-wing Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, and supporters of the extreme right “Lehava” movement, shouting “Death to the Arabs.” And Baruch Marzel, the successor of the slain Rabbi Kahane 26 years ago in New York as head of the outlawed racist Kach movement, who was wearing a t-shirt with the words “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first”. The soldier, whose name is currently banned from the media by a gag order (though it’s all over the right-wing Facebook and web sites as a hero), went over to shake Marzel’s hand after the shooting. And his hometown mayor from Ramleh organized a solidarity demo with the native son, while the mayor of Beit Shemesh declared him a national hero.
Attacking the Chief of Staff and the Defense Minister
And what else did Barnea hear there? “Arab son of a bitch,” and not only “Death to Arabs,” but “Death to Leftists” and “Death to the Media.” “No leftists, no terror attacks” and “May their babies be burned.” And they also attacked Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot and Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, both of whom backed the army’s decision to detain and charge the soldier who fired in Hebron as the proper response to the situation. Even Bibi Netanyahu was the butt of their shouts. As Barnea wrote, some of the demonstrators brought their babies there to “give them a proper education from the start.”
I heard a similar words in an exchange in West Jerusalem, vicious attacks against Chief of Staff Eizenkott, Defense Minister Ya’alon, accompanied by the comment that “Bibi is weak, and can’t deal with it. What we need here is a Putin,” and this was not from a Russian immigrant. When I said “do you really want to give up on Israeli democracy,” the response was “a little dictatorship here and less democracy is what we need.”
Memories of heroism during the Yom Kippur War
To get back to the column by Yigal Sarna dealing with “Who is a hero,” much of what he wrote dealt with the formative experience of his life, serving in the Golani Brigade as a young 21-year-old during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a war that could have been prevented if Golda Meir had responded to Anwar Sadat’s overtures for peace. However, once the Egyptians and Syrian’s attacked, there was no choice but to respond militarily, with a war that involved a great deal of heroism, on both sides. When Sarna participated in the battle to recapture Mt. Hermon from the Syrians on the night of October 22/23, he “saw the simple bravery of Golani unit fighters who acted against their instinct of self-preservation, risking their lives. I also saw Syrian commando soldiers fighting like lions in a lost battle.” I know exactly what Sarna is talking about, because I was there as well, in the Combat Engineering Corp support unit for the Golani troops in that battle, a day which I consider the longest day of my life.
I have many images from that day, and one of them is of an Israeli medic caring for a wounded Syrian soldier.
While the medic soldier in Hebron, instead of caring for him, shot and killed the wounded Palestinian assailant.
Two Armies in the IDF
Prof. Yagil Levy, an expert on the sociology of the Israeli army, published an article last week devoted to “Two Armies in the IDF”, which in English is called “The End to Israel’s Army as we know it?”
On the one hand, there is the traditional army represented by the secular Chief of Staff and the Defense Minister, along with the army high command, defend traditional military values and procedures. On the other hand, there are the policing units based in the Occupied Territories, in places like Hebron, many of whose members live in the settlers, and form a sort of militia that mingles with and defends the settlers. What we have been witnessing this past week is a struggle between the two armies, a struggle that only serves to emphasize the urgency of resolving the conflict before the senior command becomes dominated by settlers and the right-wing religious.
As the poet Yeats famously wrote: “the center cannot hold…the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned…”
The battle between “Kahane was Right” and “Leibowitz was Right”
What are witnessing today is battle of stickers, of graffiti slogans between right and left. In Jerusalem, you see the slogan “Kahane was Right” on the walls. In my Tel Aviv neighborhood, you see the slogan “Leibowitz was Right” The racist Rabbi Meir Kahane believed that democracy and Judaism were incompatible, and he wanted all of the Israeli Arabs to leave the country, in exchange for the Jews who came originally from Arab lands. And he believe that force was the answer.
As for Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, soon after the end of the Six Day War he had the foresight to declare a continued occupation would undermine Israel’s moral stature, and lead to severe moral decline and disaster. In 1968 in an essay entitled “The Territories,” he wrote the following:
“A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel…There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Forces, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations..”
Ram Loevy: “We must not be silent”
Last Thursday I participated in an event organized by a group of lecturers and students at my alma mater, Tel Aviv University, devoted to “The Campus Against Racism.” One of the speakers was Israel Prize Winner Prof. Ram Loevy, who has directed some of the most significant and profound Israeli TV dramas, including the short story “Hirbat Hiza” by writer S. Yizhar, a microcosm of the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem after 1948. At the event, he showed excerpts from a TV drama he directed “Murder in Television House,” in which he inserted into the script a description of a horrible event that took place during the 1956 Suez Campaign war in the Sinai when about 50 defenseless Egyptian prisoners were killed by Israeli soldiers at Ras Sudar, an incident which has never been publicly confirmed by official government or military sources. As Loevy put it, that was one of his attempts at “Breaking the Silence”.
And at the end of his comments, he said something which all of us who agree with Prof. Leibowitz, that every effort should be made to end the occupation and to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace as soon as possible to save Israel’s soul and guarantee its future, should take to heart.
Loevy said that “when many of us hear racist, anti-Arab and anti-democratic comments in the context of the current situation, we tend to avoid getting into an argument, preferring the comfort of continuing on with our lives. That’s a mistake. We should not let any such comments pass without a strong principled response.” Definitely wise words from Prof. Loevy.