Opinion

Gaza Killings? Don't Believe a Word Israel Says

Let's face it. If being a 'central inciter' is grounds for capital punishment, Netanyahu and his cabinet would have to hold their weekly meetings on Death Row

People who hate Israel will tell you that all you need to know about the country is embodied in a newly viral video clip. The clip shows an IDF sniper taking aim at and shooting a Palestinian - apparently unarmed, standing stock-still on the Gaza side of the border fence – to the raucous congratulations of the marksman's comrades.

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Video posted on April 8 showing motionless Palestinian being shot by sniper to sound of cheers

I'm a person who loves Israel, and I'm telling you the same thing.

Here's a sample: Soon after the army realized to its horror that the clip had been posted to social media and was then shown on nationwide news broadcasts, the IDF spokesman's office tweeted the following:

"Regarding the short video showing the soldiers on the Gaza Strip border – this appears to be an incident which took place several months ago. The incident will be investigated and examined in a thorough manner."

Excuse me?

Either the army is saying that months have gone by and the incident has not been investigated, or it's saying that it was investigated but in a slipshod manner. Or the army is saying that the shooting never merited investigation at all, until it ignited social media and took embarrassing center stage on the evening news.

In practice – and anyone who's been in the army knows this – if no one is caught on film, the chance of a thoroughgoing investigation of a shooting of this sort is slim to none.

But let's go on. At the heart of the issue here, and, especially, in the high casualty figures among unarmed demonstrators in mass protests last week and the week before on the Gaza border, is not the soldiers themselves, nor even their commanding officers.

The crux of the matter is Israel's political leadership, the ones who set the tone, hand down the orders, decide on the rules of engagement, and who share – at the same time that they deny – responsibility along with Gaza's Hamas rulers, for the horrors that pass for daily life in the Strip.

These are the leaders – in particular Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister Avigdor Lieberman – who did everything in their power to undermine the army and its rules of engagement by glorifying and embracing army medic Elor Azaria, court martialed after he was filmed killing an incapacitated terrorist in Hebron two years ago.

These are the leaders who have turned aside the IDF's pleas to ease the plight of Gazans. These are the leaders who drag their feet on measures like spurring foreign governments, under supervision, to help rehabilitate Gaza's war-ravaged infrastructure, housing, electricity, and sewage, and allowing more Gazans to cross over to work in Israel.

This is the defense minister who - after IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned the cabinet in February that Gaza was on the verge of collapse and confrontation due to the worsening living conditions there – declared that "there's no humanitarian crisis" in the Strip, and that " as for rehabilitation, it can only be on one condition – demilitarization [of Gaza]."

And this is the same Defense Minister Lieberman who last week sneeringly cast doubt on whether veteran Palestinian press photographer Yaser Murtaja, shot and killed on Saturday while wearing a vest clearly marked "PRESS," was in fact a photographer at all.

In a statement later contradicted by the army, Lieberman accused Murtaja of having used a drone, saying  “I don’t know who he is, a photographer, not a photographer –  whoever operates drones above IDF soldiers needs to understand that he is endangering himself."

This is the same Netanyahu administration which - before knowing what actually happened – lined up this week to defend the soldiers who were seen on video whooping it up after shooting a Palestinian.

Conclusion: Gaza killings? Don't believe a word Israel tells you.

Much later, when army brass announced they had conducted a preliminary investigation, they said that the celebrating soldiers were unconnected to the sniper, that they should be disciplined, and that the marksman had acted according to long-established procedures of providing adequate warning to leave the area, having only then taken care to shoot the Gazan in the leg and not in the upper body or head. 

“The sniper deserves a medal, the photographer (the soldier who recorded the clip) deserves a court martial,” Lieberman said. "The IDF is the most moral army in the world."

This is the same Netanyahu administration whose house newspaper, Yisrael Hayom, hints darkly, and with zero basis, of foreign and subversive Israeli influences on the Gaza demonstrations. Wrote columnist Amnon Lord on Monday:

"The question is: What are the Israeli Left, the New Israel Fund and Haaretz doing behind the Shiite barricades?"

This is the same Netanyahu administration which has been warned repeatedly and for years that the army lacks adequate non-lethal means for riot control and has insufficient barriers to marchers seeking to cross into Israel. This is the administration which preferred to invest its energies elsewhere.

This is the same Netanyahu administration who decided on the far-reaching opening-fire orders for the current demonstrations.

The orders for use of live ammunition included not only "physical harm to infrastructure on the security fence, and penetration into the territory of the state of Israel," but also identification of the potential target as a "central inciter" – armed or not.

Let's face it. If being a "central inciter" is grounds for capital punishment, Netanyahu and his cabinet would have to hold their weekly meetings on Death Row.

"At this point we know how to identify Palestinians by their faces," an officer in a Gaza Division field reconnaissance tower unit told Ynet this week.

"To know in advance which person is okay and is not coming to do harm like one who is carrying a flag or a sign; someone who is, in fact, a shepherd; where there is a group of children; and who is a terrorist."

Nonetheless, by using sophisticated technology to identify unarmed "central inciters" in demonstrations, Israel is compelling its soldiers to act not in self-defense but as assassins.

This is the same Netanyahu administration who, as the Gaza demonstrations continue, has worked desperately this month – this month of the Passover festival of freedom and the Yom Hashoa Holocaust Remembrance Day – to do everything it can to throw African asylum seekers out of the country and dump them someplace they are not wanted and may be endangered.

For all kinds of reasons he may not have intended, the former chief of the Shin Bet, Carmi Gillon, was right in suggesting that when the prime minister forces his way next week into speaking at the opening ceremony of Israel's 70th Independence Day, Israelis should shut off their television for the duration of the speech.

But that's next week. This week Netanyahu will be speaking everywhere he can about the lessons of the Holocaust.

Turn him off this week, too. You won't be missing a thing.