Israel Is Fussing Over the Wrong Kind of Land Grab

In regards to Yoav Galant, Israeli society is troubled more by a few dozen dunams of rocky soil than hundreds of people killed for nothing.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant must not become the Israel Defense Forces' next chief of staff. Indeed, he might not become chief of staff, but for the wrong reasons. The Galant affair only proves the eclipse that has darkened Israeli society, which is upset by (relatively) small matters and ignores the truly serious ones. A few dozen dunams of rocky soil trouble it much more than hundreds of people killed for nothing. Half-truths and lies about an olive grove infuriate it more than lies that are not white about phosphorus that is. The monstrous dimensions of the commander's palace produce a greater scandal than the monstrous destruction sown by that commander.

The preoccupation with the escape route from Estate Yoav has become our escape route from dealing with the real questions. Look how beautiful we are, we treat minor issues the same way we treat major ones. We won't allow a person who lied about his home's construction plans to become chief of staff. We also won't allow an officer who who lied about an all-terrain vehicle driven by his son to be a division commander. Neither will we allow another officer, who lied about his wife's driving, to be a division commander. We ignore their other sins.

The energetic investigations by the press, the Green Movement and Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan are praiseworthy. Our law-enforcement officials have been handling the investigations admirably. It's good we have them. But the commander of Operation Cast Lead was never worthy of being chief of staff because of senseless killings and destruction, suspicions of war crimes, and the twisted doctrine of no casualties at any cost. He wasn't worthy because of the senseless fear campaign before the operation about Hamas arming itself, Iranian weapons flowing through the tunnels and explosive devices awaiting the IDF everywhere. He wasn't worthy because of the IDF's lies and the spirit of its commanders, and even because of the false depiction of that attack as "war." Galant cannot and must not be chief of staff.

The culture of lying did not begin with Galant - neither did latching onto small things to blur what is most important. Brig. Gen. Moshe Tamir, whose name is mentioned now as an example of the army's harshness in dealing with its errant officers, was also punished for wrong and misleading reasons. As commander of the Golani Brigade, his soldiers twice shelled the market in Jenin and killed a number of children. Tamir went through a disciplinary hearing - and was cleared.

As commander of the Gaza Division he was responsible for Operation Autumn Clouds, another worthless and unnecessary killing operation in Gaza that cut short the lives of 70 Palestinians. For this, of course, he did not stand trial. Tamir was tried and punished because of an ATV. Galant is now being questioned over a house. Not over the thousands of houses destroyed for no reason under his command, but because he built himself a house under dubious circumstances.

It is enough to read the chilling probe by Haaretz's Amira Hass about the circumstances surrounding the killing of 26 members of the Samouni family in Gaza's Zeitun neighborhood during Operation Cast Lead (see opposite page). Read about the killing of those evacuating the wounded, the killing of someone who took a cell phone out of his pocket, of a young man who was cuffed, of people fleeing for their lives, people bleeding to death whom the soldiers did not allow to be evacuated. Above all, read about missiles fired from the air at a house that was to have been a safe place, in which the IDF killed 20 people, including women, children and babies.

Are those acts orphaned when it comes to responsibility? Are those criminal acts completely blameless? After all, there are people responsible for the conduct of the soldiers - the general in command perhaps first and foremost. And that general is of course none other than Galant. Promoting him, despite and perhaps because of his responsibility for what happened in Gaza, is a much more scandalous and audacious statement than promoting him despite the land affair.

It has now been two years since Operation Cast Lead. It stirred no self-criticism in Israel. While in world public opinion it was a fateful turning point, Israel went along its way, indifferent to reports, denying the investigations, complacent in the face of testimonies, as if these things had never happened. The chance that the commander of that attack will be appointed chief of staff, and even the chance that he will not be appointed because of his house, are the final sins in that terrible operation of sins.