Opinion

Israeli Army Was Just Caught Lying, Twice

The Israeli army's Spokesperson’s Unit may believe that by lying, they are protecting soldiers but in fact they are protecting crime

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Ramallah, December 10, 2018.
Majdi Mohammed/AP Photo

In the past two weeks, the Spokesperson’s Unit of the Israel Defense Forces was caught in two lies. Neither led any news broadcasts. Perhaps we don’t expect more from the IDF spokesperson, perhaps the lies touch on the lives and dignity of Palestinians. I’m not sure which is worse.

This week, Mohammed Husam Khabali was shot to death in Tul Karm. The IDF spokesperson said soldiers used riot-control methods and live fire to disperse a public disturbance. But security camera footage found by B’Tselem shows that Habali was shot in the head from behind, on a quiet street where there was no disturbance. Habali, 23, had physical and cognitive disabilities.

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Last week, the IDF spokesperson denied Palestinian reports that tear gas and stun grenades were thrown at an elementary school in Hebron, only to stammer out a response when this incident, too, turned out to have been captured on video. School officials displayed a carton filled with dozens of empty tear gas grenades they had collected — an elementary school, where young children study.

Naftali Bennett, the self-styled future defense minister, has yet to comment on the incidents, presumably because they show how ludicrous was his astonishing claim that Israeli soldiers fear the military prosecution more than they do Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar. This was nothing new. Politicians have been making it for years, and it wins support is only because the IDF spokesperson apparently doesn’t understand his job.

The spokesperson’s job is to provide reliable information about the army’s activity. We send our children to the army, where they risk their lives. Afterward they must do reserve duty and spend their money (through taxes) on the defense budget, which continues to rise even as draftees still earn less than minimum wage. This army is ours. It has no mandate to lie to us, certainly not on matters of life and death.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit staff may believe that by lying, they are protecting soldiers. They are not. They are protecting a crime. We send soldiers to face the Palestinian civilian population while endangering their own lives. They are called upon to carry out complex missions among civilians whose few rights are a carrot that can instantly be taken away from them, and who do not even have the right to a fair trial. It’s a cruel situation that inevitably leads to cruelty, violence and theft. That much is obvious. The only question is why the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit thinks its job is to whitewash this.

The chief of staff responded to Bennett’s comments, explaining that “in the past three years, the IDF has had to employ live fire tens of thousands of times, and one soldier was brought to trial. There are dozens of investigations and that’s fine.” Three years, tens of thousands of incidents, and just one soldier did not behave properly. Such a wonder could only occur in the world’s most moral army.

This is how you protect a crime, not soldiers. If soldiers are in fact firing tear gas into Palestinian schools, they do so not because they are sadists, but because these are the norms of our military rule in the territories. When the IDF hides this from the public, this is what it is telling the soldiers: We’ll send you on policing missions in the heart of a hostile population, missions that will require the daily use of violence, and we are behind you. Just don’t get caught.

These lies are a breach of the public trust. Their goal is to make it possible to continue sending soldiers to serve in the shadow state in the territories and at the same time to not know, see or hear what they are doing there, and certainly not to be aware of the price that they, we and the Palestinians are paying for it.

“Quiet, we’re shooting.” For 51 years now.