Every Israeli Soldier Has a Name

The soldier hiding behind the army places full responsibility on the most moral army in the world.

What happened on the evening of April 3 at the foot of the guard tower of the Einav checkpoint, at the entrance to Tul Karm, seems to have been an execution; no other term can describe it.

Four young Palestinians were approaching the checkpoint on foot. The Israel Defense Forces began monitoring them when they were still as much as two kilometers away, watched them approach while trying repeatedly to ignite the Molotov cocktail they carried and did nothing to stop them. When they finally threw the device at the tower’s concrete wall − to protest the death from cancer, the previous day, of Maysara Abuhamdieh, a Palestinian prisoner incarcerated in Israel − two soldiers emerged and shot at the four.

Amer Nassar died on the spot; Fadi Abu Assal, who was shot in the hand, fled; Diya Nassar was apprehended. But that was not enough for the soldiers: They pursued Naji Balbisi into the yard of a nearby leather factory where they shot him in the back, apparently at close range, killing him.

At no point were the lives of the soldiers, in their fortified tower, blackened from previous incendiary devices, in real danger. They certainly were not in danger after the young Palestinians began to flee.

The Palestinians should not have been killed; they could have and should have been captured, as Diya Nassar was on the spot and Abu Assal was a few days later. But one ‏(or two‏) soldiers decided to teach Balbisi a lesson, to punish him and execute him.

The military police are investigating. Diya Nassar and Abu Assal ‏(whom I met‏) were arrested. No soldier was arrested. Time is of the essence when it comes to arresting whoever threw the incendiary device, but not at all so when it comes to the soldiers suspected of the atrocious act.

“When the investigation is over, the IDF spokesman recited as usual, “its findings will be turned over to the military prosecution.” That will happen a long time from now, and the end is a foregone conclusion. Perhaps the case will be closed for lack of evidence; perhaps a “severe” reprimand or even demotion; perhaps the soldier will be dismissed from the unit or spend a few days or weeks in military jail, who knows.

But behind this act is a soldier, a young Israeli everyman. Not only is he unlikely to be properly punished, his name might never be released. He will continue to walk among us. He may even be invited this week, as an “outstanding soldier,” to the President’s Residence. Soon he will get out of the army and get on with his life, and the memory of his killing will fade in his consciousness. He certainly was crazy about the army, the kind of soldier people love to be impressed with. He may have told his family what he did; they may have been proud of him. His commander and his fellow soldiers probably did not turn their back on him. His conscience probably is not troubling him now.

If he had visited the Balbisi family in Anabta, perhaps he would feel something. He will continue to be an anonymous soldier, without a name, without guilt and without responsibility. Thus has the IDF assumed full responsibility for the soldier’s actions. The soldier hiding behind the army places full responsibility on the most moral army in the world. If that is the case, then this incident cannot be considered an exception, but rather as an inseparable part of a system that allows such an execution, retroactively legitimizes it and even encourages it by keeping silent and covering for the soldier involved. A symbolic and ridiculous punishment, as is usually meted out, will not erase this. The IDF that did not arrest the soldier immediately and bring him to court is an organization that encourages such actions in the future.

The incident at Einav happened a few days before Israel’s “national week.” The coming days will be replete with stories of heroism and sacrifice, heroism and grief. To these stories must be added the story of the soldier who ran after a young unarmed man fleeing for his life, after he and his friends threw a Molotov cocktail that hit no one. The soldier aimed his rifle at the man as he fled, and shot him in the back in the darkened yard of a leather factory, where no one could see. That soldier is also part of the IDF; he is also part of the IDF’s heritage.