What Qualifies a Soldier to Shoot a Palestinian Child in the Knee?

Yossi Klein
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A confrontation between IDF forces and Palestinians near Hebron, last month
Yossi Klein

What kind of soldier does the IDF need? The kind who will sit near a computer and launch missiles at Iran, or the kind who’ll run after kids in the alleys of Hebron? What does the army prefer? The kid with the mind open to computers, or the one with strong legs good for chasing people?

The question isn’t what the army needs, but what it wants to be. It needs the fighter with the strong legs, but wants to be identified with the soldier whose head is stronger than his legs. It wants the image of the chilled European military, when it’s actually a sweaty Middle Eastern army. It wants to speak about the “battlefield of the future,” as if it were a kind of Star Wars, but not about the killing of children in the territories. Meanwhile, only the politicians are launching missiles at Iran.

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The Iranian threat is distracting us from the real war. We’re talking about billions of dollars. Rocks in the territories won’t add this to the budget; centrifuges will. The IDF won’t get budgets to fight incendiary balloons and rockets from Gaza. For the Iranian threat it will.

We have confidence in the army. We send our children to it with a license to kill and be killed, and pray that they’ll end up in an air-conditioned office and not at a dangerous checkpoint. Most parents would say that Unit 8200, the army’s tech intelligence unit, is the most suitable place for their children. What could be bad about an easy, interesting job in the army that sets you up for life afterward? The kids also want to spend their service playing video games, and they can play them in the army if they’ve taken five units of mathematics or come from a prestigious school and have parents who can finance whatever the school was lacking.

But real life isn’t a computer game; it’s a 12-year-old with a big rock in his hand. All a soldier’s 12 years of study, the education he received at home, and everything the army has instilled in him during a few months of training is funneled into that moment, the moment in which the soldier sees the boy’s arm raised to throw that rock.

The soldier with the outstanding matriculation results won’t know what to do when facing a boy with a rock. Five units of math don’t help in such a situation. But the soldier whose parents didn’t have money for after-school clubs will know. He’s charged up with what the educational system did give him: the arrogance and contempt that the weak person feels for someone who is weaker than he is. Facing a child with a stone, he doesn’t need more than that.

The IDF needs soldiers like that, who will shoot if they even imagine that they’re in danger, or only because they don’t like how the kid looks. Who will take a soldier like that? The Border Police, not Unit 8200. We know what kind of skills are needed for Unit 8200, but what’s needed to shoot someone in the knees?

The IDF knows how to find that soldier. It has methods for screening and classifying people. A month ago the army changed its method of screening recruits according to education levels and psychometric exams. The method was culturally biased, and didn’t provide equal opportunities to children from wealthy Ra’anana and children from poor Ofakim. But don’t be fooled – it wasn’t canceled because of the discriminatory cultural bias or the harm done to equal opportunity. It was canceled because there’s no need for it.

The IDF doesn’t need testing. It simply assumes that someone who comes from Ofakim isn’t suited to computer work. The tracking hasn’t changed, only its name was changed. “The children of well-to-do families see the elite units as a springboard to prestigious and well-paying positions in the private sector,” said Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitkhak Brik (TheMarker, August 13). The percentage of soldiers serving in Unit 8200 from Ra’anana is more than three times their proportion of the population. In Netivot, the ratio is reversed.

There’s no equality in education, which is why there is no equality in the army. There’s no equality between the virtual Iranian threat and the real combat in the territories. Class A Israel will sit in front of computers, while Class B Israel will run through the alleys.

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