June 26, 2009

Vignettes from an enlightened regime

While everybody is really angry at those thuggish basij militiamen (and be sure not to think that this is an endorsement of any kind), Gideon Levy reminisces. An IDF officer was caught lying. He misrepresented the events that led to an accident with an off-road army vehicle, and was demoted one rank. That infuriates a lot of Israelis who think the poor soldier was wrongly done in by his excessively harsh commanders. This is a good occasion for a Gideon Levy episode for "lies that my army told me". Enjoy!
We can go back all the way to 1948 and dredge up no few episodes in which the truth was not exactly our guiding light. It all began then. With lies, concealment, obfuscation, forgetting, repression. With massacres covered up by fairy tales and forests planted by the Jewish National Fund covering the ruins of villages. But why go back that far, if recent examples are readily at hand, even from the period following the Tamir case?

A few days earlier, soldiers abused six Palestinian youngsters from the village of Wadi al-Shajneh for 14 hours nonstop, imprisoning and beating them until finally dumping them onto the road from a jeep at first light. One of the victims reported that his money had been taken, too. These young people were also innocent of any wrongdoing. The fact is that they were not officially arrested, and were not even interrogated. What did the IDF spokesman say in response? "Two Molotov cocktails were thrown at an IDF force ... Six Palestinians who were identified in the vicinity were arrested by the force." Say that again: "identified in the vicinity." Again the question arises: If they threw Molotov cocktails, why were they released after their "Clockwork Orange" night? And if they did not throw anything, why were they detained, and above all, what is the spokesman protecting, and why?

Let's go back another few weeks. In March, an IDF sniper fired a bullet into the head of Mahdi Abu Ayash, a 16-year-old boy, in front of his father. The marksman used a Ruger 0.22 caliber rifle, which the military advocate general has banned for use in crowd dispersal events. What were we told by the IDF spokesman? "During activity by an IDF force in the village of Beit Omar, a violent disturbance developed ... The force retaliated with crowd dispersal measures." Bingo.

In January 2008 Kifah Sider, then 23, was in labor at her home in Hebron's Tel Rumeida neighborhood, which is dominated by Jewish settlers and barred to Palestinian vehicles, including ambulances. According to her husband, when she set out for the hospital, soldiers at the checkpoint held her up for 20 minutes, until she eventually had to lie down on the road in the freezing January weather to give birth.

What did the IDF spokesman say about this? "The Palestinian woman passed through the checkpoint with no delay whatsoever ... The IDF employed all means possible in order to assist the mother in labor." It's one account versus another, but why should we think that the husband and the eyewitnesses would lie? In another case, Fauziyah al-Darek, a 66-year-old woman who had a serious heart attack, was being rushed to the hospital in Tul Karm in March 2008. That's Tul Karm, not Kfar Sava. Unfortunately for her, she had to go through a checkpoint. The soldiers would not allow her to pass and told her husband - now a widower - "We don't care if your wife dies." Yes, Darek died at the checkpoint.

The IDF spokesman offered the following response: "The IDF does not prevent the passage of ambulances even if there is an encirclement operation, subject to a security check."

Week after week, the stories published here about the Israeli occupation are accompanied by a response from the IDF spokesman, and almost every week, the response is a lie. Nor are these white lies: they are blacker than black, even though they whitewash the wrongs and the injustices. Hundreds of cold-blooded assassinations have been carried out under the lying cover of the "rules of engagement," including shooting at innocent and unarmed demonstrators under the false pretext of "mortal danger" to soldiers. Hundreds of other cases are buried under the category of "Military Police investigations" and never reach the indictment stage.

In January 2009, soldiers forced Yasser Temeizi to get off his mule in front of his young son and abducted him from their small olive grove. Temeizi was a devoted employee of the Harash company in Ashdod, but during January's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza his employers asked him not to come to work. So he started to work the family's olive grove. At the end of the day he was found shot to death from point-blank range, with signs of binding on his hands. This time, the IDF made do with a laconic statement: "The matter is under investigation by the criminal investigations division [of the Military Police]." This is the same Military Police whose appalling methods were exposed and severely criticized this week by the court that sentenced Brig. Gen. Tamir. The court termed its findings about the Military Police investigation "an earthquake," although this aspect of the affair was of course concealed from the public by Tamir-Dreyfus, our victim. If this is how the Military Police investigations unit behaved with regard to a brigadier general, it's not hard to imagine how it deals with the killing of a bound Palestinian. How do we know? It is an incontrovertible fact that some 4,800 Palestinians have been killed by the IDF in the past nine years, about 950 of them children (according to B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories). How many indictments have been handed down in the IDF? Thirty, no more. That's less than one percent of the number of killings. How many soldiers have been convicted? Five. How many have been sentenced to a significant prison term? One. One soldier out of 4,800 cases of killing. No more need be said.

Nor is there any need to elaborate on the lie about "the most moral army in the world," certainly not after Operation Cast Lead. The soldiers in the Rabin Pre-Army Preparatory Course lied, the foreign correspondents who visited Gaza lied, Amira Hass lied in her reports, the international human-rights organizations lied, the United Nations relief agency lied. Only the IDF, which buried all those reports and protests, told the truth and nothing but the truth.

Israel has just prevented another official UN commission of inquiry, headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, a South African Jew and a Zionist, from entering the country in order to investigate the Gaza war - as though we were North Korea or Myanmar. If all the accounts were truthful, what is there to hide? All the lies of daddy Tamir pale into insignificance in the face of the lies of that war, with its horrific flechette shells that scatter their lethal steel projectiles every which way; the white phosphorus, which burns living flesh; the shelling of schools; the bombing of residential neighborhoods;0 and the annihilation of whole families who did nothing wrong. The IDF covered up all these actions with its lies, multiple versions and half-truths. Even calling such a brutal attack on a helpless, besieged population, almost without any manifestations of combat and resistance, a "war," is a lie. (Haaretz, June 25 2009)

And by the way, who is that persecuted officer whose career was so damaged by a silly lie about an accident, and whom Levy acerbically likens to Dreyfus?

From his stint as commander of the Golani infantry brigade - when his troops twice shelled the Jenin market (2002), killing several children, including two small brothers - to Operation Autumn Clouds in Gaza (2006) which he commanded, he has been responsible for wanton bloodshed, with at least half the 80 Palestinians killed on his watch being civilians. Nor should we forget the notorious shelling of the Gaza town of Beit Hanun under his command and responsibility (also in 2006), in which a volley of 11 unnecessary shells were fired at a residential neighborhood, in the wake of which the Israel Defense Forces of course blamed the cannon's computer chip instead of the division commander, Chico Tamir.

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