Legal Targets

How frustrating, sad and - especially - frightening it was to read Yedioth Ahronoth's latest weekend supplement. "Once a sniper from one of the outposts hit a young boy at a distance of 150 meters," Shuki Sadeh, an Israel Defense Forces reservist officer, told Haim Tal (Yedioth Ahronoth, Jan. 25).

How frustrating, sad and - especially - frightening it was to read Yedioth Ahronoth's latest weekend supplement. "Once a sniper from one of the outposts hit a young boy at a distance of 150 meters," Shuki Sadeh, an Israel Defense Forces reservist officer, told Haim Tal (Yedioth Ahronoth, Jan. 25). The meaning of "hit" is not sufficiently clear in a first reading; however, later on in the article, you realize that the boy was killed.

"What angered me at the time," Sadeh relates, "was that our soldiers said `Well, that's another Arab who's disappeared.'" There is a procedure for firing warning shots at Palestinian children, explains Sadeh. When a child is 100 meters away from the outpost, a soldier must fire 50 meters to the child's right or left. However, IDF soldiers do not always observe this procedure.

Ariel Shatil, also interviewed in Tal's article, is another reservist who has served in the Gaza Strip. He is also one of the signatories on the petition of IDF officers who refuse to serve in the territories. "People say," Shatil notes, "that `the Palestinians shoot first and we just respond.' This is untrue. One officer there told soldiers doing guard duty in the lookout posts: `If things are too quiet or if you don't feel certain about the situation, just let off a few rounds.' Shots were fired every night. We would start shooting and they would fire back."

David Sonnschein talks about a company commander (with leftist views) and a sniper who identified a "legal target" (whom soldiers are permitted to shoot at) at a distance of 2.5 kilometers. "These are not targets!" Sonnschein tried to tell his colleagues. "These are people. Did this person endanger you? Did you see him trying to do something? How can you tell a sniper, a young fellow like you or me, to pull the trigger? After all, you know that you don't really know who's really out there."

Three soldiers, three incidents that are not isolated but which are really part of the same set of phenomena. If the incidents were not part of this set of phenomena, these soldiers would never have contacted one another.

How frustrating that, apparently, the focus of attention has shifted to the cyclical denial of the legitimacy of refusing to serve in the army. There are grounds for the fear that public and media attention will not even center on the difficult phenomena these soldiers are pointing to. The killing of children who did not endanger and do not endanger the lives of Israeli soldiers; shots fired by the IDF (which wound, kill and always generate fear) that have provoked and provoke Palestinian gunfire; false reports that the Palestinians had initiated the gunfire; Israeli snipers firing from great distances at people identified as "legal targets" and subsequently "recognized as terrorists."

How sad and frustrating that these are not new phenomena and that they are phenomena that could have been publicized before the Israeli officers came out with their stories. From the very first days of the present Palestinian uprising, one could hear the voices of those who were pointing out these phenomena. Palestinian physicians who reported children and young people who had been shot in the upper part of their body and who had not presented any danger to the lives of Israeli soldiers; the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights, which, well before B'Tselem, paid attention to Palestinian testimony from the field; European activists in non-governmental organizations who witnessed incidents that never found their way into the Israeli media or which were presented in that media as "exchanges of gunfire" between combat forces of equal strength; Amnesty International investigators who were astounded by Israel's excessive use of military force against rock-throwers; journalists, primarily foreign correspondents, who were on the "battlefields" and who saw at close range the topography and technology that maintain the IDF's superiority and which could have prevented the killing of rock-throwers were it the intention of Israeli policies to extinguish the flames.

How frustrating that reports on these phenomena, which reached the newscasts and news sections of the newspapers immediately after they occurred but were presented in a highly abbreviated form, were pushed to the margins of the collective Israeli consciousness, which has been captured by the PR-oriented manufacturing of reality by IDF personnel, by military intelligence assessors and by Israeli cabinet ministers.

This reality-manufacturing created concrete molds for this consciousness, and it was impossible to shake these molds with reports of any other kind. This apparently solid information became Knowledge. The Knowledge that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat planned everything after he rejected Israel's generous gestures at Camp David; the Knowledge that the "Palestinians are shooting at our forces" (which just happen to be stationed above and opposite residential Palestinian neighborhoods); the Knowledge that every dead Palestinian was killed in compliance with procedures; and the Knowledge that those procedures are meticulous and strict. Finally, there is the crystallization of the Knowledge that every Palestinian attack is terrorism for its own sake and intended to kill Jews simply because they are Jews.

How sad, frustrating and frightening to read the words of the officers who refuse to serve in the territories. Frightening because it is impossible to analyze the ever-increasing phenomenon of terror attacks in Israel without taking into account that the collective Palestinian memory includes those unarmed, defenseless children, women and men who were killed or wounded during the past 16 months because they were "legitimate targets" in the eyes of Israeli soldiers.