For Israeli Soldiers, Every Arab Is an Arab, Even a Lawmaker

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Ahmad Tibi outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem a few weeks ago.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Three lawmakers from the largely Arab Joint List conducted a tour of Hebron last week. At one of the roadblocks, a soldier from the Golani Brigade blocked lawmaker Ahmad Tibi and barked at him: “Who do you think you are? Nobody gets by me.”

The IDF backed the soldier, Channel 12 scolded Tibi, Knesset Speaker and Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy backed Tibi with unusual courage, the soldier’s father filed a complaint against Tibi and Tibi filed a complaint against the soldier. There you have it, a map of Israel 2021. Except for Levy, who wouldn’t have been expected to support Tibi – after all, the latter is an Arab lawmaker and from the Joint List, to boot – everyone filled their roles.

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Tibi and his colleagues visited a place where most Labor and Yesh Atid lawmakers have never visited. You can’t be a serious Knesset member without paying at least one visit to this bastion of Israel’s apartheid. Most Israelis have never been there either. You can’t be a fair citizen without exploding with anger over what’s happening there.

I’m sure that Tibi came to his encounter with the soldier fueled by anger and frustration. I’ve never been in Area H2 (where Israel has full military control) in Hebron without having these feelings. It’s impossible not to. For me, it’s accompanied by a feeling of shame and guilt toward the occupied and expelled population, a feeling that the Palestinian Tibi is spared.

In a place where there are no human beings the Joint List lawmakers tried to be human beings, but the Golani soldier told them they had no business being there. The soldier from Golani said no one gets by him. Right after the incident, Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier convicted of killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in 2016, arrived on the scene for a well-covered visit in support of the soldier, who had taken a picture with far-right activist Baruch Marzel as a souvenir.

For most Israelis, including two former Israel Defense Forces spokesmen, Oded Ben-Ami and Nir Dvori, who chided Tibi on television, the soldier is the hero of the story.

In the media, they call him a “Golani combat soldier.” He’s not a combat soldier. There are no Israeli combat soldiers in Hebron because there’s no war in Hebron. In Hebron there’s a brutal occupation and there’s a cruel army of occupation that maintains it. Every soldier in Hebron behaves brutally; it’s impossible not to, that’s the job and somebody has to do it. When the Golani soldier barks at Tibi “nobody gets by me,” he was fulfilling his role. No Arab will get by him, that’s the job.

It’s good that the army backed him up because he’s stationed there only to do that job of the fearsome soldier and see to it that no Arab gets by him. It’s clear that if a settler faces him, “nobody gets by me” becomes “everybody gets by me,” because the soldiers in Hebron are trained to be fearsome only toward the occupied population, never toward the occupier.

We live, let’s remember, in the Jewish state. To expect a 19-year-old soldier to distinguish between an Arab Israeli and a Palestinian, between an Arab Knesset member and a terrorist, is of course an excessive and needless demand. Such high resolution is for bleeding-heart liberals, not combat soldiers for whom every Arab is an Arab.

The media also fulfilled its expected role. The military correspondent Dvori preached to Tibi about assaulting the soldier and said that if Tibi wanted to exert an influence, he should join the coalition.

“Tibi is a provocateur,” Dvori tweeted. Tibi is the provocateur, not the occupation. That’s obvious. That’s what the viewers want to hear. That’s what their television has been telling them for years. Ben-Ami defended Dvori and said the soldier was faithfully doing his duty. And that too, is as precise as can be – Dvori’s role is to protect the army and stop any criticism and indeed, this is what he did.

A bullying soldier blocks Tibi’s path, and the soldier has the upper hand. A bullying soldier blocks a lawmaker and Israel cheers the soldier.

What more is there to say?

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