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The Israeli Incitement Won’t Feature in the Report

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A protest in support of Elor Azaria outside the military court in Tel Aviv, January 2017.
A protest in support of Elor Azaria outside the military court in Tel Aviv, January 2017.Credit: Ilan Assayag

There was no real reason to hold your breath in anticipation of the state comptroller’s report on the 2104 Gaza War, aka Operation Protective Edge. The pure truth, namely the “facts,” was well-known before it was published. Soldiers, commanders, politicians and, obviously, the residents of Gaza were well familiar with these “facts.” The debate was and still is over their interpretation, namely about the narrative. This is that wily monster, whose role is to fabricate lies, twist the facts and grind to dust the terrible consequences to the point at which an easily digestible mush is concocted.

The narrative is meant to be cathartic, finding one or two guilty parties while planting the impression in people’s minds that even if mistakes were committed they were made in good faith, in the service of a sacred cause, and anyway, the lessons have been learned and applied. Anything that would make the doctrine itself, the strategy and the manner in which decisions were made appear rational and perfect. The work of the comptroller is in itself part of the mechanism for sustaining the intactness of the system.

His investigation focused on the manner in which decisions were reached after the military operation began. He examined military moves and the quality of intelligence reports that preceded and accompanied the operation. But was this operation necessary? Was it a revenge operation or a war intended to eliminate Hamas?

The trading of shots between past and present senior commanders and politicians, and among themselves, is not meant to illuminate the truth. It is meant to destroy some narratives while saving others and, no less importantly, save some butts from the flickering flames.

By the same token there is no point in waiting for the report by the Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers on the double killings at Umm al-Hiran. It’s expected that the unit will confirm that the deaths of the policeman and civilian were not caused by a terror attack, but by a string of operational and command failures.

But the report will not deal with the public lynching the al-Kiyan family was subjected to, with the wild inflammatory statements made by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, who in his eulogy for Erez (Amedi) Levi, the dead policeman, called Yakub Abu al-Kiyan a terrorist, noting the ties between the school he taught in and ISIS. Nor will the report refer to comments made by the prime minister who, in a briefing to journalists in Australia, said that he had checked three times with the police before calling the incident a terror attack.

The public received critical information on the incident from the media, not from those charged with law enforcement. The contrition that began with belated and limp remarks by Erdan and Netanyahu, who retracted their inciting words (“If we made a mistake we’ll have to say so”), cannot smooth things over.

Both the incitement and the “apology,” just like the gap between the way Amona was evacuated and the demolitions in Umm al-Hiran and Kalansua, or the disparity between the murder of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif by Elor Azaria and its depiction as an act of bravery – all of these reflect a fusion of deep-rooted values and entrenched political conceptions, which have turned attacks against Arabs, in Israel or the territories, into part of “the national struggle for the state’s survival.”

The result of this is that these three incidents, as well as Operation Protective Edge, are perceived as anomalies. According to prevailing conceptions, Azaria should not have been brought to trial, Amona should never have been evacuated and Abu al-Kiyan should, in the public’s eye, have remained a terrorist who killed a policeman, while Operation Protective Edge was inevitable.

The failure, according to this view, is in “the system” that failed in upholding the values espoused by “the street.” This is a failure of an army that “betrayed” a soldier and put him on trial for no reason, a failure of the police in successfully concealing facts and of a government who sent settlers to some rocky hill and then broke its promise to keep them there. In all these cases the policy and its attendant “values” remain intact. The envelope of the law will continue to protect the distortions, and where the law stumbles, a new one will replace it.

These “anomalies” come with a bloody price tag. However, it seems that the price is tolerable. It is meant to preserve confidence in the “justness of our path” while protecting the trail guides. No report will talk about that.

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