If there is one thing of which Israelis are sick to death – one thing, that is, which stands out in a field of literally thousands – it is Israel's image in the eyes of the world.
"Ahzove," says the Israeli on the street, waving the concept into the dumpster of history with two syllables that say everything: Leave it alone. It's nonsense.
"Ahzove shtuyot," says the Israeli at the produce market, or at the wheel of the cab, or at the Knesset. Four syllables that say that in the world's eyes, the face of Israel is immutably, irreparably, criminally, universally distorted. It is routinely demonized, blindly misapprehended, manipulated by enemies, little understood even – perhaps especially – by the best of friends.
Israelis don't want to hear another word about it. They've got other things to think about. Better things to think about, which translates to Anything Else. They've had more than enough, thank you, of eggheads and skinheads and anarchists and self-haters holding up mirror after fun-house mirror to reveal nothing in them but ugliness and ill-will and foul intention. And there is more than a little justice in the Israelis' sense of things. The result, though, is a blindness every bit as selective. Like a household cursed with perpetual mourning, Israelis have become used to warding off reflections from abroad with dark psychic shrouds.
Until this week. This week, for some reason, we had to look. It came on the nightly news all but unannounced, almost as an afterthought. But they ran the clip again and again, and even then they rebroadcast the loop, as if the news people, who have seen everything and then some, couldn't quite believe it themselves. They ran it and ran it until watching at home, you began to feel that it was you who was being hammered in the face by the blunt tin floor and the jagged margins of an assault rifle magazine. By the time it was over, that few seconds of tape was all that mattered.
It was the sight of the finest of our finest, next in line to command the army's officer candidate college. It was the glimpse of this man gone unsprung going about the performance of his duties, the lieutenant colonel engaging in the mechanics of defending the occupation, the career soldier churning in the over-calm walk and the unruly eyes and the blank, undifferentiated fury of Tony Soprano. And then, for the 100th time, he lays the M-16 on its side, tray-like, too fast for the eye to comprehend, and drives the weight of the assault rifle, clip first, into the face of the bicyclist he's facing, snapping his head back and down.
There were those who tried to fight it. To pretend that it was all a lie, really no big deal, just one more case of being willfully delegitimized. But the passion of their unbridled arguments - the implied military blackmail ("If he's seriously punished, IDF officers will refuse to go to the front"), the reflexive defense of the indefensible, the use of the word terrorist to describe people armed only with bicycles - confirmed that the incident had shaken them as well.
To be dangerous enemies of Israel, said MK Zevulun Orlev, former chair of the Knesset Education Committee, activists "need not be armed. In my view, those who defend terrorism, and those who support terrorism, and those who belong to the ISM (the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement), which supports and encourages terror, are terrorists, and represent a threat no less than those who are holding weapons."
For many Israelis, though, among them many on the right, watching the video clip, and hearing some of the more extreme Israeli reactions to it ("He should have shot the activist instead, and everyone he came with;" "They should give the officer a medal"), forced a moment of pause. Of reflection. Of wondering where we're headed.
This was the moment we have not been able to avoid. It was not only Danish activist Andreas Ias whom Lt. Col. Eisner struck in the face. It was every one of us. Since then, there's been something we're looking for in that ammunition magazine, that clip, and it's not the 29 live rounds stacked there.
There's some kind of code in this for us, for my friends, these people, these Israelis. We know that the message is meant for us, but we cannot quite make head or tail of what it is.
Again, tonight, they'll run that clip, over and over and still again. Every time, we'll want to look away. And every time, we'll wait for it, and wince.
Turns out that what is in the lieutenant colonel's clip is that rarest and most potent ammunition: an uncovered mirror. The occupation will never be the same. Not because it has changed in the slightest. But because - having seen the merest slice of it - we have.
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