Opinion |

Son of a Bitch, What a Video

We should thank the soldiers in that video for sharing their genuine emotions and rejoicing at the sight of an unarmed Arab flying in the air after being shot

Gideon Levy
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חיילי צה"ל עומדים מול המפגינים הפלסטינים ליד גדר הגבול עם עזה
Israeli soldiers standing near the Israel-Gaza border during the "March of Return" protests. Credit: אלכס ליבק
Gideon Levy

Let’s say the soldiers in that video clip didn’t cheer and hoot, using foul language. Let’s say they recited Yehuda Amichai’s poem “God has pity on kindergarten children” before kneeling to take aim at demonstrators, and that after using live fire to shoot an unarmed protester they recited “El Malei Rachamim,” the Jewish prayer for the soul of the dead, assuming the protester had been killed like dozens of others. Let’s say the soldiers were shocked, meeting later for soul-baring talks into the night to discuss values.

Let’s imagine some of them required psychological aid for trauma or post-trauma, with a few joining Breaking the Silence, confessing their deeds and repenting. And then a leftist filmmaker would make a movie about them, showing how deep was their sacrifice, how agonizing their suffering, just like in “Waltz with Bashir” or “Foxtrot.” How beautiful we could be. And then came this video and ruined everything.

Let’s say the sharpshooters were value-driven soldiers, who had to carry out their duty while suffering wrenching pangs of guilt. Would that make them better human beings? More humane? More moral? They would tug at our heartstrings much more than those lowlifes in the video. No scandal would erupt and the beautiful soldiers would continue aiming at and shooting protesters.

Half the country was shocked for a moment by the video. This was after two Fridays in which army snipers had killed and wounded hundreds of unarmed people who endangered no one, with Israel remaining silent. The country lived in peace with the massacre, justifying it in unified chorus. Then came the video and halted the celebrations for a moment. Is that how one talks? Is that how one takes photos? Not nice, soldiers. Even the campaign’s commander Avigdor Lieberman said that the soldier who took the pictures should be demoted. A miniature scandal over etiquette. Soldiers are allowed to kill and wound civilians to their hearts’ content but one doesn’t talk like that and one doesn’t film it.

One should learn from the pilots. This wouldn’t have happened to them. When they dropped a one-ton bomb on a residential building in Gaza they didn’t cheer in the cockpit and they didn’t curse. Their language is as pure as the driven snow. You won’t hear them saying: “The son of a bitch. What a clip. Wow, we got someone in the head, he flew up with his leg in the air. Go, you sons of bitches.” That’s not their style. Some of them actually squirm during the debriefing session, even though they never the see the whites of their victims’ eyes, like their brothers-in-arms, the snipers, do. Maybe that’s why pilots are more value-driven.

We should thank the soldiers behind the video for the genuine emotions they expressed so precisely, and for deciding to share their feelings, putting an end to hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness. This was a genuine joy for them, seeing an Arab flying in the air with his leg like that. It was a cause for celebration, seeing an Arab hit in the head. What did we think, that a soldier aiming at civilians and hitting one wouldn’t be happy? That he’d see them as human beings? There is no way he’d fulfill his mission that way. He has to believe that facing him are a bunch of insects running around, which he has to exterminate, or possibly terrorists that have only one thing coming to them. Otherwise, who would shoot? That work can’t be left to nerds with pierced ears.

And when one succeeds in hitting a cockroach who is also dangerous, it’s obvious that joy erupts. After all, that’s why they were brought over to the sandy hills near the fence, in order to shoot, to kill and wound. If that wasn’t the case, one could have used non-lethal methods.

The soldiers in this video did not “shoot and cry” [as some soldiers in the 1967 war claimed]. What exactly should they cry about? Israel wants them to shoot innocent civilians, the defense minister gives them a citation for every fatality and injury, their commanders tell them to use live fire against demonstrators, and our correspondents and military commentators tell us how heroic they are. So what exactly did we want? All we wanted was for them to speak politely, to not disturb our peace with their foul slurs, with “son of a bitch.”