On a day when bodies of children were being stuffed into a big refrigerator used to store potatoes, and when thousands of homeless people were fleeing for their lives (some of them refugees rendered homeless for the second or third time), life in Israel went on as usual, as though what was happening in Rafah was not being done in the name of the country's citizens. Such apathy renders all of us responsible - and yet there are some who bear a heavier burden of responsibility. In a climate less lax than the one which has gripped Israel in recent years, they would be ostracized.
When Ariel Sharon was found guilty of indirect responsibility for the massacre in Sabra and Chatila, he was denounced by wide sectors of Israel's public. Demonstrators denounced him as a "murderer," and some of his personal friends turned their backs on him and cut off relations with him. Like his predecessor Moshe Dayan after the Yom Kippur War, during the Lebanon War, Sharon was ostracized. Nobody thought to fete and honor him. For his part in the killing of Israelis and Palestinians in Lebanon, he paid a heavy personal price, beyond his removal from the post of defense minister.
Some 22 years later, Sharon again bears direct responsibility for bloodshed, but this time nobody considers ostracizing him. He continues to be perceived as a sympathetic figure, one who enjoys an image as a friendly farmer and grandfather. Whatever he does, he does not encounter a hostile public. Benjamin Netanyahu, who caused far less serious damage to Israel and the cause of peace, is the scourge who is loathed by the left.
Nor have the two other architects of the bloody IDF operation in Rafah and of the brutal policies in the territories in general - Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon - paid a personal price for their acts. On the contrary: last week, Mofaz received an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University; a few days before that, he was the guest of honor at the annual Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat. Why, exactly, was an honorary doctorate conferred on Mofaz? Why did lawyers pay tribute to a figure whose actions are deeply problematic in moral and legal terms?
As the heads of Bar-Ilan University and of the bar association (two bodies whose acts exert a normative influence in Israel's society) see it, the fact that Mofaz serves as defense minister is enough to warrant the conferral of honors on him, no matter what he actually does. Sharon has also received two honorary doctorates - from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (a few lecturers raised their voices in protest) and from Bar-Ilan.
In past years, these three generals - Sharon, Mofaz and Ya'alon - have been responsible for a long list of despicable acts. At the end of last week, Haidar Hasuna told an investigator from B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, about bulldozers that began to demolish his home in the besieged Tel Sultan neighborhood in Rafah, when he was sitting with his wife and children in their living room. When he tried to leave the house, he was floored by tank fire. Miraculously, the family survived.
Members of the Mantsur family from the Brazil neighborhood told Haaretz's Amira Hass how they fled barefoot from their home as the IDF began to demolish it. A few months before this incident, a pregnant woman was killed during similar house demolition circumstances in the El Bureij refugee camp, in plain view of her children. Somebody is responsible.
The mass demolition of innocent civilians' houses in Rafah is considered a war crime under criteria accepted around the world - despite the fact that the High Court has given the demolitions its typical stamp of approval. And this crime is no orphan; it has parents. And these parents must no longer be indulged. It's wrong to continue to blame the errant tank shell, and the tunnels and the terrorists themselves, for every lethal blunder committed by the IDF.
The virtual imprisonment of the Palestinian people, the prevention of medical care, the mass arrests, the assassinations, the needless killing, the bombing of residential neighborhoods - the prime minister, the defense minister, the IDF chief of staff and other top officers all bear responsibility for such acts.
They should pay a price for their acts, at least in the public-social spheres. The time has come, at last, for Mofaz to feel the heat of public pressure, for Ya'alon to experience what it's like to be denounced and for him to display some sense of shame, and for senior IDF officers to worry about their public futures. Anyone who thinks Israel is committing crimes against the Palestinian people must demand that those responsible for the crimes pay a price.
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