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Most of the ills of the occupation and the policy of untrammeled force the Israel Defence Forces is conducting in the territories converged in the incident last Thursday in which two security guards were killed by Israeli forces.

Regretfully - because this time the victims were Israelis - the appalling tragedy of errors illustrates the tactics the IDF is actually using against the Palestinians.

The killing of the guards - Yoav Doron and Yehuda Ben-Yosef - naturally shocked many people in Israel: innocent and helpless, one was gunned down as he stepped out of the security vehicle south of Hebron, the other killed by an anti-tank missile fired from a pursuing helicopter.

The guards themselves endangered no one and did not fire a shot; they were not given a proper warning or the opportunity to identify themselves. They had no chance.

Here's some news for all those who are shocked: To the Palestinians, the incident evoked hundreds of similar events that were never of the slightest interest to the overwhelming majority of Israelis.

No one should be surprised that, this time, two Israelis were killed - the real surprise is the rarity of such incidents. If the IDF has killed no fewer than 50 Palestinians in the past 13 days alone (according to the figures of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group), some of them civilians, no one need be taken aback if Israelis, too, have fallen victim to the wholesale shooting.

Just look at the ease with which soldiers opened fire on a Haaretz car last August in Tul Karm and the car of the security guards, riddled with about 200 bullet holes, to understand the spirit that is driving the IDF today and the nature of the orders being given to troops in the field.

As reported last Thursday in Haaretz, the IDF itself admits that 18 percent of the Palestinians who have been killed in the current confrontation (since September 29, 2000) were innocent civilians, 235 adults and 130 children below the age of 16. The actual number of innocent civilians killed is probably higher.

If there are so-called "sterile" zones, where every Palestinian is marked for death, if the rules of engagement (procedure for opening fire) do not necessitate a warning and allow the immediate use of intensive fire, if targeted assassinations have long since ceased to be targeted and are now of a mass character, and if hardly any case of killing has been investigated, the conclusion to be drawn is that the danger of being hit applies to everyone in the territories, be they Israeli or Palestinian, armed or not.

The difference is, when it comes to Palestinians, it can always be claimed that they posed a mortal danger - no one will check the claim.

Since the onset of the period of liquidations - there have been 123 so far - the warning has been sounded that, once a policy of death sentences without trial is introduced, it will not be possible to stop the deterioration of the situation. From this point of view, the killing of the security guards showed Israelis the true reality in the territories in its all its cruelty.

In contrast to cases in which innocent Palestinians are killed, this time the IDF will investigate the incident, of course. This time it was Jewish blood that was shed.

But even this investigation will focus on the marginal questions: what the observer saw, what the radio operator reported and what the territorial brigade headquarters knew.

An inquiry along these lines will not prevent the next inquiry. Until the IDF understands that what happened last Thursday was not only a terrible mistake of identification and a specific operational hitch, nothing will change. Dozens of Palestinians will continue to be killed for no reason and Israelis, too, will be killed from time to time.

It wasn't an "optical mistake," in which two ridges appeared to be one, that brought about the death of the two guards. It was a distorted perspective that will inevitably give rise to these consequences.

Guarding a settler outpost that should never have been established, in an area of remote settlements that should have long since been dismantled, Ben-Yosef and Doron fell victim to the IDF's policy that rests on the intoxication of power.

In the past few months, the IDF has adopted, first under Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz and now even more intensively under his successor, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon, an approach that holds that anything that is not accomplished with force will be accomplished with the use of more force. The mass killing in the past few days only demonstrates this.

It was not by accident that the soldiers pumped a couple of hundred bullets into the Israeli security vehicle, where one warning shot would have been enough. Nor was it by chance that a helicopter fired a rocket at a guard who tried to escape in open terrain. This is the only language the IDF now speaks in the territories: to shoot and kill as much as possible, almost indiscriminately.

Those who thought only Palestinians would become victims of this criminal policy have now, regretfully, been proved wrong.