An Israeli Soldier Just Died in the West Bank for No Reason

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israeli soldiers wear face masks as they carry the coffin of Israeli army Staff Sgt. Amit Ben-Yigal during his funeral in Beer Yaakov, Israel, Tuesday, May 12, 2020.
Israeli soldiers wear face masks as they carry the coffin of Israeli army Staff Sgt. Amit Ben-Yigal during his funeral in Beer Yaakov, Israel, Tuesday, May 12, 2020.Credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The video is hard to watch: armed soldiers leaping and shouting in near-religious ecstasy, forming a circle around their comrade, swaying as in some sort of ritual. “Who’s crazy? I’m crazy!” they shout, led by the soldier in the center, their voices hoarse.

Brainwashed and coursing with hormones, “poisoned” as they affectionately call it for some reason in Israel, their dance is violent, as are the words they yell.

Who’s crazy? I’m crazy. The meaning is clear: Don’t test us. We’re crazy. It’s a scary sight. It’s not hard to imagine how this group, the Golani Brigade reconnaissance unit, operates in the occupied territories. This is what their purpose is. They have no other way to act except with violence and intimidation, and there’s nothing like this wild motivation dance to prepare them for the mission.

The soldier in the middle of the circle is Sgt. 1st Class Amit Ben-Yigal, of blessed memory. He was killed two days ago in Yabed. A Palestinian threw a rock on him from the roof of a house in the middle of the night and killed him.

Staff Sgt. Amit Ben Ygal.
Staff Sgt. Amit Ben Ygal.Credit: Amit Ben Ygal's Facebook account

Understandably, the media was immediately filled with a wave of sympathy for the bereaved family – heartbreaking interviews with the parents and a live broadcast of the funeral, after more than a year in which no soldier was killed in action. The jargon came from the usual propaganda lexicon: The soldier was a “fighter” and the youth who threw the rock at him is a “terrorist”; the village is “hostile” and the act is “murder.”

But we shouldn’t surrender to the pathetic media in the service of propaganda: The soldier may be a fighter, but not when he comes in the middle of the night to pull young men out of their beds. The operation is a policing operation, often intended as a drill for the forces and a show of power more than any other purpose. The “terrorist” is a youth defending his home and his friends and trying to repel the invader with the meager means at his disposal. A rock is a weapon, as the right wing correctly argued, but the rifle, machine gun and grenades that the soldiers have are weapons of a vastly greater kind.

The village is “hostile”; there is no village anywhere in the West Bank that is not hostile, nor could there be, with the exception of the despised villages of collaborators. There are villages that are more dedicated to the struggle and villages that are less so, and all of them are hostile, rightly so, to the occupation.

And finally, this is not murder. If Sgt. 1st Class Ben-Yigal was murdered, then 15-year-old Zeid Fadl Qasiya, who was shot to death by soldiers in the Al-Fawar refugee camp, was definitely murdered. If a rock-throwing terrorist is a murderer, then the fighter who shoots teenagers is also a murderer.

In the year and two months in which no Israeli soldier was killed, 150 Palestinians were killed by soldiers. Most of them were not endangering the soldiers’ lives. In any other time in history, the rock-thrower’s act would have been seen, by Israelis too, as a heroic action against an invader. In Yediot Ahronot, it’s murder.

But the language is just a means. The question is why this tragedy, in which an Israeli soldier lost his life for nothing, had to happen.

This time, too, the soldiers had come to arrest rock-throwers. In Yabed, they throw rocks on the road that leads to the Mevo Dotan settlement, which is smothering the village. The rock-throwers could be stopped in other ways, and in any case, these arrests will only give the rock-throwers more incentive.

These nighttime raids by the IDF are criminal and pointless. Ben-Yigal and his comrades shouldn’t have been in Yabed. There is nothing for them to do there.

The last time I was in Yabed was during Ramadan in 2017. Nof Anafi’at, a 15-year-old girl, had tried to stab a soldier at the Mevo Dotan checkpoint. The soldiers shot her. A hard-to-watch video showed them circling around her and cursing her as she lay on the road bleeding to death. Then, too, they were fighters and she was a terrorist. Then, too, they probably sang: Who’s crazy? I’m crazy.