There is no need to wait for God to avenge the blood of slain minister Rehavam Ze'evi - the Israel Defense Forces has already done it in His name. It's doubtful whether the demand of a bereaved son at his father's grave has ever before been fulfilled as expediently and as efficiently as was the call by Yiftah-Palmach Ze'evi to the prime minister at his father's funeral: "Arik, take revenge the way Gandhi [Rehavam Ze'evi's nickname] would have avenged you." And Arik did indeed do what Gandhi would have done, and the Ze'evi doctrine was reprised.
Even the appalling wish by journalist Ronel Fisher on the culture program of Channel 8, when he called for Israel to kill 50 Palestinians for every Jew who is murdered, was realized. More than 40 Palestinians, about half of them civilians - including four women and four children, have already been killed in the campaign launched by the IDF in the wake of the assassination. Dozens have been wounded; houses have been demolished; cars have been flattened; and tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned in terror, under a harsh occupation.
This is the price being exacted from the Palestinians for the assassination of a cabinet minister - a killing that was carried out by a small squad of people. The 186 Jewish victims of the current intifada, prior to the the Ze'evi assassination, including the victims - among them children - of the large-scale attacks in the centers of cities, did not induce the government to embark on punitive campaigns on the scale it has done following the murder of one of its members. This, too, has to be noted.
Israel's invasion of six cities in the West Bank can be described, primarily, as a revenge mission, because it is clear that there is no link between the capture, in Beit Rima and Azariya, of those who carried out the assassination and the reoccupation of the suburbs of Jenin and Bethlehem. One need not be a great expert on terrorism either to understand that assassins are not hunted down with tanks and that terrorism cannot be eradicated with armored personnel carriers (APC). In the spirit of another campaign of revenge - no less cruel - that the United States is conducting in Afghanistan, and that also has little to do with eliminating terrorism, Israeli forces penetrated deep into residential neighborhoods, whose inhabitant have nothing to do with terrorism, and imposed a regime of tanks and APCs.
The horror that grips residents of Beit Jala and their children when an Israeli tank or APC rumbles through their streets has to be witnessed so as to understand the impact. And what blame accrues to the residents of Ramallah, who are now captives in their own homes, with many of them lacking food and medicines? They had nothing to do with the assassination of Rehavam Ze'evi, and there are probably some among them who are against such actions.
But campaigns of revenge have a dynamic of their own: The "neighbor of the evil man" is punished too, as Ze'evi himself said in one of the last interviews he gave, in reply to a question about the killing of an infant girl by an IDF shell that was fired at her house in Gaza. Raniya Haroufi, 24, a mother of two children, was killed last week when she fled from a gun battle. Ayasha Abu Oudeh, a mother of eight children, was killed on the way to visit her family. They and many others were innocent victims; and in the eyes of the Palestinians, they were victims of terrorism.
The government's campaign of revenge was not confined solely to the depth of the Israeli incursion into Palestinian territories. It was accompanied this time by particularly brutal acts; for example, the IDF shot at Al-Hussein Hospital in Beit Jala - the only hospital in the Bethlehem region. The hospital was compelled to issue an announcement informing anyone who was hurt in the violence on that day to keep away from the institution because of the shooting. One young man was killed and another was wounded, just outside the hospital's emergency room.
The president of Physicians for Human Rights, Dr. Ruhama Martoun, who visited the hospital, reported that she had clearly seen the damage caused by the shooting and shelling on the walls of the institution and the ambulances parked next to it. The IDF also shelled a maternity hospital in Bethlehem. After the hospital endured a two-day long barrage, the premature infants ward was evacuated. Even in the darkest days of the previous intifada, the IDF did not open fire at hospitals.
There were also private, small-scale acts of retribution - for example, the cars that were parked on Beit Jala streets and were flattened by the tanks that moved through the village. What did that have to do with the war against terrorism? The same can be asked about the telephone poles that were ripped out by the tanks, cutting off entire neighborhoods from the outside world, in the midst of a time of fear and anxiety. The poles did not interfere with the tanks - the streets are wide enough - just as the parked cars did not have to be ground under the tanks' tracks. Their destruction was intended solely as punitive revenge, and perhaps to fulfill the soldiers' desire for retribution. In the meantime, however, such actions are planting more seeds of hatred in the hearts of the residents.
Look at the infuriating photographs in the Friday edition of the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth - the smiling soldier sprawled out on a bed in a Bethlehem hotel, the chuckling soldiers sitting contentedly in armchairs in the living room of a Palestinian home next to Tul Karm.
"The worst part of it is that it's not completely clear what it was all for," a senior officer told Ha'aretz military correspondent Amos Harel on Thursday. "Everyone knows that in the end, we will leave with our tail between our legs... So what did we gain and what exactly do we hope to achieve thereafter?"
The answer to the senior officer's questions are, in fact, clear enough: Last week, the IDF launched a campaign of revenge at the order of the government, and in the spirit of the infamous reprisal raids of Unit 101 (under the command of Ariel Sharon) during the 1950s. This time, too, the mission was executed successfully and the goal was achieved in full. The Israel Defense Forces became, at least last week, the Israel revenge forces.
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