Abstract Death, Noted in Passing

The deaths of Palestinian civilians caused by IDF troops - in their homes, on their streets and on the way to work - is an abstract matter for most Israelis. Palestinian grieving, the empty chair in a Palestinian classroom, is missing from the Israeli perception of reality.

Anwar was 12 and her aunt Kamela Abu Sa'ad was 40 when they were killed Saturday by IDF fire. The Sa'ad family lives east of Gaza's El Bourej refugee camp, about 800 meters away from Israel's border. That afternoon, they took their sheep out to pasture, to land the family owns near the border. About a year ago, the IDF "flattened" the plot - meaning they uprooted its trees and raked the ground. Now, the shaved land is sprouting grass between the dried remains of a few uprooted trees.

The two suggested that Anwar's brother stay home, so the soldiers wouldn't suspect him to be a terrorist and shoot at him. "The soldiers will never shoot at us," they told him, assuming the soldiers had binoculars and would be able to identify them as a woman and a girl herding their sheep. That's what the brother told a field investigator for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. When the boy was about 400 meters from the border, he saw an armored vehicle and some jeeps suddenly enter the area. Some soldiers got out of the jeeps and began shooting. The boy hid, and when he got the chance, without knowing what happened to his sister and aunt, he ran home to call for help and an ambulance. Suddenly, the shock waves of shells struck the air. A fire broke out in the dry field. The shooting stopped, but the troops remained in the field, so the ambulance crew was afraid to approach. Only two hours later did it enter the field, where it found the scorched bodies of the woman and girl. It's impossible to tell if they were killed by the shooting, or were wounded and trapped by the fire.

The IDF expressed its regrets. The deaths were mentioned in passing by the Israeli media. The deaths of Palestinian civilians caused by IDF troops - in their homes, on their streets and on the way to work - is an abstract matter for most Israelis. Palestinian grieving, the empty chair in a Palestinian classroom, is missing from the Israeli perception of reality.

On May 16, 7-year-old Amid Abi Sir was killed inside his family's home in the Askar refugee camp. IDF armored cars going in and out of the camp's main road is routine, and goes unreported. Children threw stones. Soldiers fired from inside the armored cars. Amid, who was getting ready to go to prayers at the local mosque with his father, was killed by an IDF bullet that pierced the walls of their house and ended up in his chest.

Waked al Khutub, 50, was shot in his bedroom Saturday night when an IDF force went into Tul Karm, as it has been routinely doing lately, and fired for a few hours. There was no exchange of fire. Presumably, the IDF's was deterrent fire. But it was lethal. And Bashir Ya'ish, a TV repairman from Balata, was killed walking in the street on May 22, when the IDF assassinated three members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in the camp.

What's abstract death for us is not abstract for the Palestinians. It is counted, added up. That's why about half the Palestinian public still supports the suicide bombings. For them, suicide attacks, with their declared purpose to harm Israeli civilians in their streets, their work places, their cafes, is only a reaction of someone who doesn't have tanks and helicopters. That doesn't convince the Israelis, and every terror attack strengthens their view that it is part of a grand scheme to evict them from the country. In the Palestinian areas, every reinforcement of the Israeli army, every fatal shooting, every tightening of the screws of the internal closure, does not convince the Palestinians that Israel's goal is only to fight terror. It strengthens their assumption that the Israelis want to perpetuate their rule over them - or push them out of the country through transfer.

Sometimes, in talks with Israelis, when Palestinian dead are mentioned, a logical argument comes up: The Palestinian suicide bombers intend to sow death and destruction where they blow up. The Israeli soldier has no such intentions. That's true, when the individual soldier is put next to the lone bomber and his controllers. But the Israeli soldier is not alone. He is part of a chain of command that serves the policies of occupation and settlement that have been held by all Israeli governments, including Ehud Barak's, and which these days serves the clearly ideological politics of the Israeli right wing. In other words, paving the roads, in its fullest meaning, is done to guarantee Israeli control over most, if not all, the West Bank and Gaza.

That the international border will be eventually determined by the locale, size, strength and resilience of the settlements is at the heart of that policy. But this is an anachronistic ideology. The army protecting this ideology is comprised of individual soldiers convinced that they are defending their homes, and wanting to go home. But their personal wishes don't turn the army's mission into something less ruthless. Unlike the murder of grandmother Ruth Peled and her baby granddaughter, Sinai Kenan, in Petah Tikva this week, the killing of the girl and her aunt in Gaza was the result of a mistake or negligence. But it was the natural outcome of the army's purpose, which serves a policy that regards the Palestinians as excess baggage in the land.