Israeli Military Relinquishes the Role of 'The World's Most Moral Army'

The brutal video footage in which Border Policemen empty a magazine into a Palestinian last week proves that the IDF now needs to take 'defense' out of its name.

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Screen-grab from Al Jazeera video of Damascus Gate assailant being shot dead in Jerusalem's Old City
Screen-grab from Al Jazeera video of Damascus Gate assailant being shot dead in Jerusalem's Old CityCredit: Video / Al Jazeera
Tal Niv

“No one empties a magazine; we neutralize terrorists who are on a murder spree.” With these words – spoken while sitting in Channel 10’s TV studio at the weekend – Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tried to hide what anyone with eyes could see: firing cartridges into the body of a prone man, already riddled with bullet holes. Mohammad Abu Khalaf, 20, whose body could be seen in video footage broadcast on Al Jazeera, had wounded two Border Policemen before being shot and felled at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate last Friday. Then, Border Policemen stood around him in a semicircle and emptied their magazines. It’s not known who filmed the execution.

A few days earlier, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said he didn’t want soldiers emptying their magazines while shooting at someone who had already been disabled. But Erdan always aims for the lowest levels, targeting those sitting in the back rows – down below the threshold of reason. He is shown a magazine being emptied and he tries to deny what is clearly seen. He’s shown blood and calls it paint. He isn’t Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the talented demagogue; Erdan’s an amateur. Thus, when he denies what his eyes see, it’s obvious that many months after the start of the latest intifada, the clear response of this government is a lowering of standards to the point of losing our humanity.

What on earth should we make of Erdan’s attempts to deny – or, at least, to interpret in a manner favorable to his position – the video shown on Al Jazeera? One can understand that the current strategy of Israel’s government is a cruel one. Its method is to respond harshly to a harsh event (a suicide attack against policemen and soldiers). The government’s clear-cut response is extrajudicial execution, a lowering of standards to a situation in which might makes right – with no judge or jury and no law, whether military or otherwise. There is only one instruction: kill them all, while the justification is that this is the norm in these parts anyway. In their minds, this will scare our enemies to death – or our adversaries’ freedom fighters. The idea is to show we can be even crueller than all of ‘them’ put together.

If this is the strategy, what will become of Israel’s official position that the IDF is the most moral army in the world? Defense force? Better consign that to the dustbin of history. The decision has already been made: The position of the “most moral army in the world” has been distorted so much by Erdan that now it can be summarized as, “We’re just too strong.” This is all that’s left.

Erdan speaks to “the people,” whose intelligence he derides. He may also be dismissive of their humanity and ability to have a political vision. He speaks to the people partly in order to make them think justice has been served, despite the horrific sights of the execution.

The problem is that Erdan no longer represents or speaks for any type of justice. The video that documented the murder by a policeman of two female cousins who were waving scissors in the air, and the video shown by Al Jazeera last Friday, documenting the emptying of magazines into the body of an assailant at Damascus Gate, are like some archival images from the future showing the final days of Israeli democracy.

The TV studio from which the words of the public security minister were broadcast also showed a person who doesn’t understand that when one empties a magazine into the body of a person who’s already been taken down – even if he is a terrorist – there is no public security. There is no security for anyone, Gilad Erdan.