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That old, little remembered question - what would Yeshayahu Leibowitz have said had he seen this - came up this week when Golani infantry soldiers appeared to have crossed into the twilight zone of war crimes. Leibowitz, the first commentator to speak aloud about the unavoidable corrupting tendency of the occupation was in his day considered an overwrought prophet of doom. In his unsparing prose, he cited quotes by a German author who spoke about the transition from humanism to nationalism, and then to barbarism. Many loathed him and refused to forgive him for daring to warn about the degeneration of IDF conduct, and about its becoming one of the lowliest of armies. Today, would it really be so easy to point to the error of his words?

Of course, the incident near Masha village was not the first in which trigger-happy soldiers shot innocent victims. But, in contrast to the normal targets of IDF fire in the territories, the shooting of Jews tied together virtually all of the elements of Israel's corruption under the shadow of conquest. Golani soldiers, poisoned like quite a few of our finest sons in the territories, fired shots in what appears to be a state of wanton blindness and rage - a state of insensitivity that is deepening among the benumbed fighters of the intifada.

Then, in a dizzying spin of facile explanations, spokesmen moved from one disingenuous account to the next. The IDF, which has the wherewithal to see hundreds of meters into the distance at night, was unable in this case to identify the demonstrators. The soldiers believed the protesters were terrorists because their faces were masked. The soldiers feared for their lives. They followed the customary rules of engagement.

Wafting over the gunfire was the one sentence Israeli ears despise more than any other: the soldiers were just following orders. "I did what I was told," said the soldier who opened fire. This soldier's mother also explained that he followed orders; and she warned the IDF General Staff not to touch her boy. In hundreds of responses to an interview with the mother published on Ynet, the vast majority praised the trigger-happy soldier and his mother.

The IDF Chief of Staff grasped immediately that he would have to order an inquiry. But not a trace of stunned consternation could be heard in his voice; in any case, before this investigation began, the Chief of Staff did not order soldiers to act with humanity. And, as things stand today, formal investigations of possible offenses are pursued in just 6 percent of cases in which there is suspicion of illegal gunfire; and just 1 percent of such suspects are convicted.

Right-wing politicians attempted to justify events at the fence. These included Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim, the heedless Minister Uzi Landau, and all of the settler functionaries.

The shooting incident illustrated the problematic nature of the fence itself. The fence attracts the rage and frustration of thousands of Palestinian families. It will always be punctured with holes. Beyond whatever cost it exacts in its role as a separation barrier, the fence's additional purpose is manifest for all to see: it is a wall which bypasses a negotiated settlement, whose purpose (among other things) is to add to the Sharon government's treasure chest of rejections and refusals.

The IDF is not the only player which has become corrupted. The occupation erodes the state itself. Owing to its painful internal contradictions, it forces many Israelis to use their patriotism as a refuge in which they defend every single despicable act. The occupation drags the country's leadership, which has grown accustomed to lying, toward still deeper levels of deceit. The instinctive response to what appears to have been an illegal order was to unleash a barrage of fake and lame excuses. These responses are identical to the bluffing about the removal of outposts.

In the case of settlers, the occupation has brought distortion to the level of high art - they are compelled to defend their life's work. It is perfectly clear that their calculated historical goal is to throw up so many tin-plated outposts that the dismantling of genuine settlements becomes truly impossible.

In this respect, the incident at the fence might have been a blessing of sorts, a cursed blessing in disguise. The documented shooting does not leave much room for doubt, for grasping at straws. Because the gunfire was aimed at innocent Jews, and not "mere" Palestinians, the IDF has sketched in unusually vivid color Israel's march of folly and horror in the territories.

"My son studied in high school," moaned the Golani soldier's mother. "He spent some time at a yeshiva. He is a traditional, disciplined boy who would never hurt somebody for no reason." Indeed, this is a good boy in the territories, an ordinary Israeli lad who lost his head due to (what even Sharon has learned to call) the occupation - just like the state itself.