The 'Gentle’ Voice of the Army

The aggressive soldier bullies with his gun, the enlightened one with orderly procedures and official exigencies.

Gideon Levy
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Soldiers holding up signs saying 'We also stand with David Hanahlawi (Hebrew slang for a Nahal soldier).'Credit: From the Facebook page 'I stand with David Hanahlawi '
Gideon Levy

Col. Einav Shalev is a manifestation of the Israel Defense Forces’ benign side. He is not the thuggish “David the Nachlawi” — the Nahal Brigade soldier videotaped cocking his weapon at a Palestinian teenager in Hebron, and later threatening to “put a bullet in the head” of another. Nor is Shalev the border policeman who killed two youths at the Beitunia border crossing, nor the soldier from the armored battalion who killed another youth from the village of Deir al-Asal. Col. Shalev, who currently commands Operations at the IDF’s Central Command, is a graduate of the National Defense College and a former commander of a reserve tank brigade. He has a soft look, a well-honed tongue and a gentle-sounding name (“Shalev” means peaceful in Hebrew). What else can be said of him other than that he is the salt of the earth?

A month ago, this exemplary officer, an IDF success story, came to the Knesset to report to a subcommittee of the Committee for Security and Foreign Relations, responsible for Judea and Samaria, on the war that this army, the most moral of them all, is waging against illegal construction. Reporting on this parliamentary event in the May 21 edition, my colleague Amira Hass quoted the polished colonel: “I believe that when there is movement of armored vehicles in these areas, as well as that of thousands of soldiers, people tend to move aside. In places where we significantly reduced the amount of training, weeds have grown,” he said, referring to Palestinian communities. “This is something that must be factored into the equation.”

Shalev’s words should indeed be considered as part of “the equation.” He admitted that one of the objectives of the IDF’s training in the Jordan Valley is to expel its inhabitants, the wild weeds which breed illegal construction. Let’s set aside for a moment the words of the only two (Habayit Hayehudi) MK’s who were at the session, our acquaintances Orit Strock (“how do you make sure a Bedouin is a Bedouin?”) and Mordechai Yogev (“there’s a difference between an Arab with a house in the town of Tubas who needs to be thrown back there and someone who is squatting in the area and that when you kick him out only moves over to an adjacent wadi”), whose words fit perfectly Amos Oz’s characterization of neo-Nazi-like behavior. Just imagine any European parliamentarian making similar comments about Jews.

Let’s just focus on the words of the senior officer. Col. Shalev’s “wild weeds’ are well known to me – Burhan Basharat and Hakam Abu al-Kabash, both of them shepherds; the residents of Khomsa and Khirbet Umm Al-Jamal, Khalat Makhoul and Khirbet Ein Karzilye. These are hardscrabble farmers whose living conditions are almost inhuman, as if they were living in an earlier century. There are thousands of Jordan Valley residents who have been there for at least dozens of years, whose houses and tents have been demolished by the army, leaving them, their flocks and their children to the mercy of the elements under open skies. I’m familiar with the brutal acts of destruction, the “firing zones” created near every tent encampment designed to scare them and expel them, the mounds of earth erected with the purpose of cutting them off from transportation and livelihood routes, and the piles of rubble that were once their villages. Col. Shalev is proud of these actions, “good procedures followed by the army” and he wants much more of the same.

In a video interview he once gave to the daily Israel Hayom, Shalev expressed pride in the assault power of his brigade, in its fire power and its military heritage. He once initiated the distribution of magnets to parents of all the soldiers in his brigade, with the brigade’s symbol and his personal email on them. That’s touching. In an article he wrote for the IDF’s bimonthly magazine Ma’arachot, called “Raising Military Leaders,” he wrote that “public confidence in IDF commanders will be restored after successes and decisions made by them in future wars” – standard military clichés.

Indeed, the IDF is concerned lately about the decline in its stature and in the image of its commanders. Senior officers complain that the army is taking one blow after another. The struggle over the IDF budget, you know, posits the sacred cow as a victim. But with regard to words uttered by one of its senior officers, with his reference to human beings as “wild weeds,” to the de-humanization of people scraping by in illegal housing and with regard to the use of the army to commit war crimes for purely political motives, namely the ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley, no one is dealing a blow to the army. This is precisely what Shalev and the IDF should be condemned for but it all passes quietly — even with appreciation. After all, Col. Shalev is on his way up. Remember the name – Einav Shalev.

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