Worse than a conspiracy – Yediot Aharonot
Yediot Aharonot editorial, 8/10/2002
(Yediot Aharonot er Israels største avis)
(Signed by Ofer Shelach)
Every time when such events as the army operation in Khan Yunes takes place, there are those who regard it as a conspiracy. Under this theory, somebody wants to set the territories on fire exactly at a time when signs of soul-searching and demands for change are visible on the Palestinian side. The calls for revenge heard in the Palestinian funerals are, under this thesis, precisely what was sought by those who sent twenty-five tanks in the middle of the night into a thickly-populated neighbourhood: it was dome, so it is easy to believe, with the full intention of burying any chance of a change in the dismal situation.
But in most cases, including this one, there seems to have been no conscious conspiracy by a political echelon seeking to bring the Palestinians to their knees and perpetuate the occupation with a trigger-happy army. What happened was worse then a conspiracy. What happened is characteristic of what happened to Israel – the country’s political leadership and its army as well as its citizens at large: a loss of all sensitivity, a feeling that everything is permissible and that the enemy’s cruelty justifies all and any action on our side.
Army Chief-of-Staff Moshe (“Boogie”) Ya’alon gives an enormous priority to the Israeli society’s feeling of being justified. On the wall of his bureau he had hanged a copy of poem by Nathan Alterman [written in 1968], in which Satan says that “the only way to defeat the Israelis is confuse them and make them forget that their struggle is justified”. The horrors of the suicide bombings and the belief shared by most Israelis that the Palestinians have rejected a generous peace offer by Barak, have brought us to the opposite pole: a perceptions that our reighteousness is absolute and that all our deeds and misdeeds are white as snow – even acts which obviously contravene any sense, sensibility or common humanity.
Many years, we drew our strength from the belief that we have a moral superiority over our adversaries. But in the Israel of 2002, there was a complete indifference to the “Amnesty International” report telling that in the first two years of the Initifada there were killed 271 Palestinian children (the number has since then risen) – just as on the other side there was glee at the horrible number of 73 Israeli children killed in suicide bombings. In the Israel of 2002, every heinous deed can be justified by such arguments as “they are hiding among the civilian population” and “when you cut trees, splinters are falling”. When an army force enters the house of a wanted terrorist and kills the wanted man’s mother, we all shrug. When a raid aimed at reaching terrorists ends without caching them but with a lethal shooting at a mosque, the only question we ask is “What will the Americans say”. As if the justification for any act depends solely on whether or not George W. Bush – a man to whom “moral sensitivity” is a completely alien concept – will or will not wagg his finger at us. As if out right has no other source than might, as if we have not only the right to live here but also the duty to behave as decent human beings.
In such a situation, there is no need of conspiracy in order to produce horrible results. It is enough to have a commander who sends soldiers into a hostile, thickly inhabited urban area, and in fear for their lives surrounds them with a wall of iron and fire which inevitable leads to civilian casualties. It is enough to have political and military leaders who don’t understand that such conduct weakens the army and undermines our basic stance.
It is enough to have citizens who care for nothing as long as they can go to the shopping mall in relative security (and who delude themselves into thinking that this behaviour of the army would indeed lead to the achievement of such a situation).
In 1953, an Israeli commando unit [led by then Major Ariel Sharon] conducted a cross-border raid on the village of Kibia, in which dozens of houses were blown up with the inhabitants inside. Faced with international criticism, then Prime
Minster Ben Gurion resorted to a lie and claimed on the Knesset floor that “No IDF unit had left its base on that night”. Lying is a bad thing to do, but at least it an evidence of shame and of a realisation that moral norms have been violated. In the Israel of 2002, nobody feels a need to lie and nobody feels ashamed. That is much worse than a conspiracy.