Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Gideon Levy: “No one is guilty in Israel”

Ha’aretz 12 Nov 2006

Nineteen inhabitants of Beit Hanun were killed with malice aforethought. There is no other way of describing the circumstances of their killing. Someone who throws burning matches into a forest can’t claim he didn’t mean to set it on fire, and anyone who bombards residential neighborhoods with artillery can’t claim he didn’t mean to kill innocent inhabitants.

Therefore it takes considerable gall and cynicism to dare to claim that the Israel Defense Forces did not intend to kill inhabitants of Beit Hanun. Even if there was a glitch in the balancing of the aiming mechanism or in a component of the radar, a mistake in the input of the data or a human error, the overwhelming, crucial, shocking fact is that the IDF bombards helpless civilians. Even shells that are supposedly aimed 200 meters from houses, into “open areas,” are intended to kill, and they do kill. In this respect, nothing new happened on Wednesday morning in Gaza: The IDF has been behaving like this for months now.

But this isn’t just a matter of “the IDF,” “the government” or “Israel” bearing the responsibility. It must be said explicitly: The blame rests directly on people who hold official positions, flesh-and-blood human beings, and they must pay the price of their criminal responsibility for needless killing.

GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant will say with exasperating coolness that apparently there was “a problem with the battery’s targeting apparatus,” without moving a facial muscle, and will that be enough? Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh will say, “The IDF is militarily responsible, but not morally responsible,” and will he thus exculpate himself?

And who will bear the responsibility for the renewal of the terror attacks? Only Hamas? Who will be accused of the tumble in Israel’s status and its depiction as a violent, leper state, and who will be judged for the danger that hovers over world Jewry in the wake of the IDF’s acts? The electronic component that went on the blink in the radar?

No one is guilty in Israel. There is never anyone guilty in Israel. The prime minister who is responsible for the brutal policy toward the Palestinians, the defense minister who knew about and approved the bombardments, the chief of staff, the chief of command and the commander of the division who gave the orders to bombard – not one of them is guilty. They will continue with the work of killing as though nothing has happened: The sun shone, the system flourished and the ritual slaughterer slaughtered. They will continue to pursue the routine of their daily lives, accepted in society like anyone else, and remain in their posts despite the blood on their hands.

A few hours after the disaster, while the Gaza Strip was still enveloped in sorrow and deep in shock, the air force was already hastening to carry out another targeted killing, an arrogant demonstration of just how much this disaster does not concern us.

Israel after the disaster was split: There were those who did their duty and “expressed sorrow,” like the prime minister and the defense minister, and there were those who hastened with appalling insensitivity to cast the responsibility onto the Palestinians, like the “moderate” foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and the deputy defense minister from the Labor Party, Sneh. The silent majority did not bother to emerge from its yawning indifference. The entertainment shows on television continued to make people laugh, and one of the radio stations even broadcast, in a demonstrable lack of taste, Sarit Hadad’s song “You’re a Big Gun.” Mourning, of course, did not descend on Israel, and there was not even a single manifestation of genuine participation in the sorrow. It did not occur to Israel to promise compensation to the families and it did not provide help, apart from transferring some of the wounded to hospitals in Israel. We provided more aid to the victims of the earthquake in Mexico, even though there we didn’t have a hand in the disaster. For the most part, the media were not very disturbed by the killing and devoted less attention to it than to the Gay Pride parade.

A day or two after the disaster it was totally forgotten and other affairs are filling our lives. But it is impossible just to go on to the next item on the agenda. This disaster is not an act of God. There are people who are clearly responsible for it, and they must be brought to justice. The fact that the International Court of Justice in The Hague still looks very far from Israel, and the various “Halutzes” and “Galants” can still move around freely in the world, because in Israel they forgive nearly everything, does not mean that war crimes are not being committed here.

The IDF may well be a big gun, but an army that is responsible for needless killing in such large dimensions, as in recent months in Lebanon and in Gaza, is a failed and dangerous army that must urgently be repaired. The Defense Forces are not only killing Arabs for no reason, they are also directly endangering Israel’s security, disgracing it in the world and embroiling it again and again.

The heedless and arrogant reaction to such deeds contains a dangerous moral message. If it is possible to dismiss mass killing with a wealth of technical excuses, and not take any drastic measure against those who are truly guilty of it, then Israel is saying that, as far as it is concerned, nothing happened apart from the faulty component in the radar system or the glitch in balancing the sights. But what happened at Beit Hanun, what happened in Israel on the day after and what is continuing to happen in Gaza day after day is a far more frightening distortion than the calibrating of a gun sight.

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