The Rifle Blow to the Head That Reminded Israelis of the West Bank

With one swing of his rifle, Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner drove a hole into the separation wall that blinds Israelis to reality on the other side, that allows them to be indifferent.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

The truly interesting aspect of the story in which a senior IDF officer brutally smashed his rifle into the face of a pro-Palestinian demonstrator is the extraordinary buzz it has caused in Israel. This has been a classic case of the exception proving the rule. It is difficult to remember the last time a story from the occupation grabbed the headlines so dramatically and remained there so many days.

The doubters now clucking their tongues are correct: The scandal is being treated as a housekeeping matter. Attention is focused tediously on the image of the Israel Defense Forces and on one specific event that was photographed by chance, instead of focusing on the bigger picture.

Yet there is also a welcome aspect to all this fuss over the brutal attack. With one blow, Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner drove a hole into the wall.

When the separation fence was built, it was depicted as a physical barrier that would prevent terrorists from entering areas within the Green Line. It was described as a vital security necessity. Civilian life in Israel had become impossible as terrorists blew themselves up in population centers.

But hidden from the eye at the time of the fence's construction was the tremendous negative effect it would have on Israeli consciousness. Since then it has become clear that the separation wall also makes it possible to be blind, to repress awareness and become indifferent.

It is very good that Israeli citizens have stopped dying in terrorist attacks because of the wall. It is very bad that the wall also makes it possible to ignore reality over there on the dark side.

In the judgment of history, when the total price is calculated, it is not clear in which direction the balance will tilt. For most Israelis, the great strategic question has turned into an empty debate, exhausting and almost academic. The issue no longer lies "five minutes from Kfar Sava" but light years from it.

The urgent affairs of the day require slogans. There is the "occupation" and the "territories" and "Palestinians" and "settlers" and "left-wing activists" and all of these exist under the blessed jurisdiction of the IDF, far from our eyes and hearts. The Israeli mainstream is cut off from the occupation and loves it. Only in the Israel pacified by the separation fence is it possible to imagine that the head of the Labor Party, a declared candidate for the prime ministership, refuses religiously to utter a word about the country's political future.

It is only in that walled-off Israel that idealistic social activists like Daphni Leef and Stav Shaffir, as good as their intentions may have been, can get hundreds of thousands to march in the streets demanding social justice and changes in priorities without even hinting at the occupation and its moral, economic and diplomatic costs.

The wall blinds the Israelis and sometimes even stupefies them. Time and again they boast of being the chosen ones of "the only democracy in the Middle East" without understanding that this claim, too, has been blocked by the separation barrier.

There is no democracy east of the wall. There is the rule of a military occupier, an apartheid-like mechanism of discrimination, and more than two million Palestinians who are denied basic civil rights. The damage caused by the wall is enormous. It was meant to serve as the basis for Israel's permanent eastern border, but because of it, Israelis are no longer in a hurry to draw permanent borders and to return to the family of nations. The diplomatic talks this week between representatives of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority amounted to an exchange of letters.

At the time of the wall's construction, the slogan of its supporters was, "They over there, we over here, and peace upon Israel." Thanks to the wall, the people of Israel can forget about the unnecessary peace. It is only on rare occasions that some officer like Eisner bursts forth and with one blow reminds us that under all this contentment lurks a deep despair.



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