The message from the high command
The IDF has totally shaken off any and all moral responsibility for the killing of children. However, the wave of harsh testimonies by reserve soldiers who refuse to serve in the territories has again brought to public attention atrocities that are being perpetrated in the occupied territories.
An 11-year-old boy was shot in the head from short range while fleeing after he threw stones at Israeli soldiers who were posted at the roadblock next to the refugee camp where he lives. That is the version given by eye-witnesses. It took the boy a week to die, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman stated: "In the course of disturbances, use was made of means to disperse demonstrations against a youth who was identified as the chief inciter- The soldier who fired acted properly."
A 15-year-old boy threw stones at a tank that was besieging the headquarters of a national leader. A soldier shot him in the head from short range, killing him. The IDF Spokesman: "There was a large throng, which included stone throwing. The force that reached the site reacted with means to disperse demonstrations but did not identify any casualties. Nor were any complaints made to the coordination and liaison authorities."
A soldier in an undercover unit gave hot pursuit to a boy of about nine who had been throwing stones, shot him from behind and killed him. The IDF Spokesman: "A group of Palestinians this morning attacked soldiers with stones- In the riots a Palestinian youth aged 14 was killed."
These are the stories of three of the 80 Palestinian children younger than 15 and the 197 below the age of 18 (according to data of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group) who have been killed in the intifada. The first two children were brothers and their story was told in Ha'aretz Magazine. The testimony on the third boy was reported by the Tel Aviv weekly Ha'ir, citing a reserve soldier who was an eye-witness to the event.
The IDF has totally shaken off any and all moral responsibility for the killing of these children. According to the army spokesman, one boy was a "chief inciter" (and therefore deserved to die?). No "complaints" were received about another (and therefore there are doubts about whether he was killed?). The third took part in "riots" (and therefore the verdict against him, death by shooting, was valid?).
In not one of these cases did the IDF spokesman take the trouble to do the minimum human necessary thing - to express sorrow at the death of the children. The only conclusion is that the IDF is not sorry about their killing. That is the message to those who did the killing and to the families of those who were killed. No less grave, the IDF did not even contemplate investigating the circumstances of the deaths.
When this is the reaction of the IDF spokesman to the killing of children and when the IDF's juridical system doesn't lift a finger to investigate the incidents, the message that trickles down to every soldier is perfectly clear - killing children does not result in any sort of investigation, so no harm will come to a soldier the next time he shoots a child in the head, whether the child is throwing stones or running for his life.
The wave of harsh testimonies by reserve soldiers who refuse to serve in the territories, which has inundated almost every media outlet recently - and is the most important achievement of this group so far - has again brought to public attention atrocities that are being perpetrated in the occupied territories. The fact that these testimonies come from Israeli soldiers - and not from "dubious" Palestinian testimonies, reports of "extreme" human rights groups or articles by a handful of "one-sided" journalists - has given them greater credibility.
More important, the testimonies indicate that these are no longer exceptional events but policy with a clear, if twisted, goal - to embitter the lives of the residents so that they will put pressure on their leaders to fight terrorism. That is what Israel did in Lebanon and it is displaying the same behavior in the territories. The women in labor who are not allowed to go through the roadblocks, the terminally ill patients in ambulances who howl in vain in traffic jams at roadblocks, and the children who are shot - if the IDF senior command truly wanted to, it could put a stop to events such as these.
The soldier who a few weeks ago told Rada Zakin from the village of Yamoun, whose wife was in labor and bleeding in the car, that he had the right to kill them but no right to let them through the roadblock, expressed well the terrible reality that the IDF high command has brought into being. The days of seminar that various units occasionally hold on the subject of "human dignity" become effectively meaningless if the spirit underlying the orders is that now, since we are at "war," everything is permitted.
The fact is that not everything is permitted. When the IDF wanted to prevent immoral and illegal actions, it was able to do so. There are two offenses that IDF soldiers have rarely committed during the years of the occupation - sexual harassment and looting. The main reason for this is that the IDF fought with determination against both types of deplorable behavior. Soldiers knew that they faced severe punishment if they engaged in looting or rape. This is not the case with soldiers who open fire with such intolerable ease at children, prevent the ill from passing through roadblocks or abuse residents of the territories.
These offenses are no less grave than rape or looting, but they are considered less grave by the IDF. If in the perception of IDF senior officers the killing of unarmed children - an act that former Shin Bet security service chief Ami Ayalon has called "flagrantly illegal" - does not merit investigation, denunciation or contrition, it is no wonder that a soldier who was manning the Kalanya roadblock a week ago Saturday opened fire, in the midst of a conversation with his buddies, at a group of children who were throwing stones from a distance at which the soldiers were out of range. This time no children were killed.