The Israeli Army’s First Commandment

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators clash in the village of Beita, West Bank, July 28, 2021.
Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators clash in the village of Beita, West Bank, July 28, 2021. Credit: Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Stop saying “Soldiers fired for no reason” or “a Palestinian boy was killed for no reason.” First of all, because there is a reason, and second, because this kind of phrasing only entrenches the representation of reality that the government wants people to adopt.

Let’s start with the second point. When they say “soldiers fired for no reason” on the car in which Muayad al-Alami and his children Mohammed, Anan and Ahmed were riding, it’s like saying that all is normal and there is nothing amiss with armed foreign soldiers being stationed 24/7 in the heart of a civilian population.

LISTEN: Israeli settlers call the shots as Palestinian fatalities mount

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This is what the IDF and the government want us to think, this is what the platoons of settlers tell us and what Jewish Israelis who pop over for a quick visit to Yesha-stan come to think. The phrase “fired on/was killed for no reason” contains within it the premise that it is the behavior of a certain Palestinian or of the Palestinian population as a whole that must be scrutinized, because they must certainly be the ones who deviated from the rules that the soldiers expect them to uphold. And for each new platoon, the Palestinians are like new recruits who have been brought into an Israeli military facility and need to learn its rules.

This premise means that if Mohammed, not quite 12 years old, did not give the soldiers a reason to kill him, his father Muayad must have given them a reason to kill his son. How did he have the audacity to drive in reverse as the soldiers watched? And when it also turns out that the driving in reverse is not a sufficient reason for killing a child, there are still all the other people killed with all the reasons they gave the soldiers to kill them, and which enable the Israeli people to support the killing: the residents of Beita protesting the theft of their land; the residents of Gaza protesting their life imprisonment; the farmers who have the gall to live for decades alongside brand-new outposts and resist the violence of the thugs who live there.

But there is nothing normal about a military occupation force controlling a civilian population for 54 years and counting. So it is unfortunate that without even noticing, B’Tselem and the news site Siha Mekomit normalized the army’s presence by writing that surveillance camera footage proves that “there was no reason for the gunfire” that killed Mohammed al-Alami. Words reflect a perception of reality and also shape the way people see reality. Deeply-rooted, consistent leftists should not use words and phrasing that participate in distortion.

And now back to the first point. The soldiers and police in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) have an ongoing reason to shoot and kill Palestinians, which stems from their role as protectors of the settlements’ well-being. This is the first (and only) commandment that was given to them upon their enlistment. The slightest movement that arouses concern that something might disrupt the continued grab and takeover of the land and water sources – this is a reason to shoot. Every Palestinian man and woman going about their lives in their land and their home is thus found guilty from the start, until it is proven that they did not intend to harm a settler. Or the soldier who protects him.

The reason soldiers shot the three Al-Alami children and their father is that the soldiers’ immediate job is to defend the Karmei Tzur settlement to the south and the Beit Bracha settlement to the north, and to ensure they continue to prosper at the expense of Beit Umar and Al-Arub. The soldiers’ mission is to guard the upscale suburbs and the roads that connect them, which embody the success of the Israeli policy of bisecting and destroying the Palestinian geography.

In protecting the settlements and settlers, in keeping with the first and only commandment, the IDF is ensuring that more Jews will move into the West Bank, in violation of international law, and thus expand the number of people directly involved in the governmental and privatized theft. The larger the number of thieves, the stronger the legitimacy, they believe, to continue cramming the Palestinians into cramped, hidden enclaves desperate for land and water.

Soldiers fired on a pickup carrying a father and three children who were headed for a picnic because their commanders, teachers and parents trained them to see Palestinians’ lives as a footnote to the success story of Jewish colonialism.

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