The mistake made by the armed soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda battalion was that they allowed cameras to document their bestiality and cowardice while attacking a brave Palestinian civilian, armed with a visor cap and T-shirt, last Friday. For this error, their commanders punished them this week by meting out negligible disciplinary punishments. Their commanders couldn’t punish them for their crude assault, their loss of control, their arrogance or their abuse; you don’t punish a person for something that is the social norm, as well as a metaphor for the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians.
Had it not been for the cameras, the eyewitness reports about the four to seven armed soldiers who beat Shadi al-Ghabashi, who is older than they are, would have been dubbed “allegations,” meaning statements whose credibility should be doubted. It’s doubtful that the Israel Defense Forces would have rushed to question the soldiers, to wonder if they might not be lying, or to impose even negligible punishments on them had it not been for the cameras. Most Israeli media outlets wouldn’t have even bothered to report the “allegations.”
Journalists’ reports, based on a clip from Palestinian television, stressed that the soldiers were filmed beating a Palestinian after they had already “gotten him under control.” The reports also emphasized the curses they showered him with. If there were a hidden camera at every arrest, we would have to admit that soldiers beating Palestinians whom they have already “gotten under control” is not unusual. And curses? There are Palestinians who conclude, from their run-ins with soldiers, that Hebrew consists of only eight words. Five of them are curses, and the other three are “halt,” “scram” and “forbidden.” All eight are barked out, like the videotaped barks and growls of the Netzah Yehuda soldiers.
Israeli society, as the collective parents of all the soldiers, doesn’t hear their/its barks and growls. In its view, beating an unarmed civilian with a rifle butt constitutes noble restraint and gentleness on the part of the soldier-victim. Or in other words, on its own part.
For a long time already, the question of “What were the soldiers doing there, on the road near the Jalazun refugee camp?” hasn’t been asked. After all, if they weren’t there, nobody would have thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at them. If they weren’t there, nobody would have tried to remind them that they are invaders. But they are there because the illegal settlement of Beit El is there, and the IDF’s job is to perpetuate the illegality and ensure that it flourishes.
The Hebrew-language reports about the soldiers who beat a Palestinian in front of the cameras missed one obvious fact that arises from the video clip: Ghabashi’s courage. He went out to the soldiers to protest the tear gas grenades they threw into his house in the Jalazun refugee camp while they were facing off with the young people from the camp, who demonstrate there every week against the occupation, the army, the settlement of Beit El. Ghabashi knows very well what armed, nervous soldiers can do to a Palestinian who dares to argue with them and disobey them when they order him to get lost; curses, punches and arrest are the least of it. They could also have shot him, and then invented some excuse. The valiant Ghabashi represents a Palestinian norm.
The standard media reports range from presenting the Palestinians as victims to presenting them as aggressors, between wretchedness and dangerousness. But the real story is their courage. And one more thing: The Palestinians know something about actual soldiers of every rank, and also about soldiers as a metaphor for Israeli society, that Israeli society isn’t willing to know about itself: The ugliness of the people’s army that is protecting an illegal policy is a natural result of the reality. And this is the weak point that is exposed to Palestinian eyes.
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