Some lives are cheaper than others

Gidon Levy, Haaretz

Some lives are cheaper than others

Ha´aretz, Sunday, August 18th, 2002

Gideon Levy

Which is preferable – “pressure cooker” or “neighbor procedure”? Is it better to detonate a building with the occupants inside – a practice known in the Israel Defense Forces as “pressure cooker” – or to send one of the local neighbors to defend the soldiers bodily, the “neighbor procedure” in IDF argot.

In the moral deterioration of the IDF in the territories, which has been greatly accelerated in the past few weeks, the choices that are made by the army’s commanding officers are often described as an alternative between two controversial actions, in which the non-use of one automatically validates the other, and both of them together are automatically justified within the framework of the war on terrorism in which just about everything now goes.

Thus it was that the IDF tried, at week’s end, to justify the appalling use that soldiers made of an innocent neighbor, 19-year-old Nidal Abu Muhsein, who was equipped with a protective vest and sent to his death by soldiers who were engaged in a manhunt for a wanted individual, Nasser Jerar, in the village of Tubas, near Jenin. The other choice the soldiers had, according to the IDF, was to resort to the “pressure cooker” tactic. In fact, in this case the IDF did not balk at using that method as well: after the “neighbor procedure” failed, the army buried the disabled Jerar alive – he lost both legs and an arm a year ago – under the ruins of the building, which IDF bulldozers brought down without knowing whether there was anyone else inside. This act drew no response from anyone in Israel.

An innocent neighbor is ordered to go to his death, a bulldozer topples a building on a live wanted person – however cruel and however senior he may have been in his organization -without anyone knowing who else was in the house, and officers and politicians justify the operation without blinking an eye. If we have any desire to know how deep our insensitivity now runs and how morally obtuse we have become, this can make for an excellent case study: the nifty names the IDF has chosen – “pressure cooker” and “neighbor procedure” – can no longer mitigate the serious implications of both actions, which not even the most just war against terrorism can justify.

The use of bodies of Palestinians for the IDF’s needs is not new. In the first intifada, residents young and old were ordered to climb electricity poles to remove banned Palestinian flags, some of whom died of electrocution, while others were made to clear away barriers made of stones for fear that they might be booby-trapped. There were also cases in which Palestinians were forced to sit on the hoods of jeeps in order to protect the soldiers with their bodies. The exacerbation of the measures being used in the war against the second intifada has also brought about an exacerbation of the use of Palestinians as human shields: Palestinians have been made to enter buildings that were suspected of being booby-trapped, to carry out packages thought to be explosive devices and assist in manhunts for wanted individuals. Nor are these cases departures from the norm: they are part of a declared and fixed policy, so much so that they have become rooted as a “procedure.”

Underlying all these practices is the fact that the IDF holds Palestinian life to be cheap, and consequently, we can endanger them as much as we like. By the same token, the prevailing notion that in order to protect our soldiers we are allowed to make use of whatever means strikes our fancy, including the lives of innocent Palestinians, is a twisted concept morally and legally. The lives of the soldiers are precious, and it is the IDF’s duty to safeguard them to the utmost, but the lives of the Palestinians are precious too.

In the operation in which the neighbor was killed, the IDF deceived the High Court of Justice and showed contempt for the State Prosecutor’s Office. Only three months ago the state’s representative, attorney Michael Balas, told the High Court, “The IDF has decided to issue an unequivocal order to the forces operating in the field according to which it is absolutely forbidden to make use of civilians anywhere as a human shield against shooting or terrorist attacks.” This ban applies to buildings, streets and wherever IDF troops are operating.”

Now comes this operation, which apparently was not the only one of its kind, and proves that in the eyes of the IDF a commitment made to the justices of the Supreme Court is totally worthless. The liquidation in Tubas thus symbolizes another stage in the deterioration of the rule of law in Israel. An army that makes an explicit commitment to justices of the Supreme Court to refrain from making use of a certain procedure, and then ignores its undertaking so flagrantly – as though it had never been made – is an army that poses a danger to democracy. There is no one to put a stop to this tendency today.

The liquidation in Tubas may have prevented a “mega-terrorist attack.” But like every other liquidation, it did not defeat terrorism. It is extremely doubtful that it deterred the Palestinians, but some of the events in Tubas should be of deep concern to Israelis. The “neighbor procedure” reflects not only what remains of our neighborly relations with the Palestinians, but also what is happening to us.

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