Why All Israelis Are Cowards

Israelis can no longer be indifferent to murderous acts, nor make use of the army and debase it to make murderousness the norm.

Tal Niv
Tal Niv
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Palestinian kneels by body of Mohammed Abu Daher, killed in clash with IDF in Beitunia, May 20, 2014.
Palestinian kneels by body of Mohammed Abu Daher, killed in clash with IDF in Beitunia, May 20, 2014.Credit: AP
Tal Niv
Tal Niv

What do you call a soldier who, from a range of 80 meters, shoots at two youngsters – not yet 18 – who are passing by? What do you call the soldier who took aim and fired? And what do you call the public from which that soldier came, a soldier who shoots people as though death were a knock-down target in a shooting gallery at a country fair? Who shoots people from such a long distance, nameless beneath his helmet, shooting at people with names who fall to the ground? They won’t be going to school anymore. Their mothers will never talk to them again. Their fathers will say nothing to them anymore.

What do you call a soldier who shoots two teenagers who are passing by, dozens of meters from him, schoolbags in tow? Is he supposed to shoot, even if their heads are covered with the colors of Palestine? Even if they support the army’s expulsion from the territories? What do you call that soldier?

You call him a coward.

And the Israeli public – the same public from which people stand up to defend “David the Nahalawi,” the Israeli soldier who in April threatened to kill a Palestinian youth in Hebron and aimed his rifle into the youth’s face; the same public that watches a soldier named Effi promising Issa Amro in Hebron last month, “The first chance I get, I will shoot you,” this after a settler invaded Amro’s home and he asked for her to be removed – what is the right word for the Israeli public? The public who will not watch the video shot by Bilal Tamimi from Nabi Saleh, which documents Israel Defense Forces soldiers implementing the “mapping” procedure by waking up his children at night in order to photograph them, and to compare those images with film the army took during demonstrations? What do you call that public?

What do you call a public that wants to hear from the defense minister that maybe it’s not true, that what they saw on the video shot in Beitunia on May 15 – when the two teenagers died during Nakba Day protests – never happened? That those who died did not really die. Or maybe they did die, but not in connection with us, that maybe it’s a show.

What do you call a public that is unwilling to understand that what is shown in the film – shot by a security camera that offers no security – is murder? Assassination, not from the air, not with a bomb from the sky, but using a new method of collective indiscrimination. Shooting “toward.” Murder, for which there is no charge or trial, because they are others, not us. What do you call a public that watches an execution – the death penalty – and does not lower its gaze? That does not demand an immediate investigation. That does not cry out?

Consider the concept of the différend: a situation in which a person has no language in which to speak his complaint, because the court does not exist, does not speak his language. “A case of différend between two parties takes place when the ‘regulation’ of the conflict that opposes them is done in the idiom of one of the parties, while the wrong suffered by the other is not signified in that idiom,” Jean-François Lyotard wrote in “The Différend: Phrases in Dispute” (translation: Georges Van Den Abbeele).

And now we have the film from Beitunia, which by its very existence establishes a court in which the Israeli society will be judged, as will its army, and as will each and every one of us. For the film shows, in a manner not susceptible to denial or deconstruction, that the other side too has the ability to speak, that the other side has testimony, and that its language is understandable to everyone. For how is it possible not to understand what one sees? By what language can it be denied?

The public can no longer be indifferent to murderousness, nor any longer make use of the army and debase it to make murderousness the norm. Today, everyone – particularly once it was known that the IDF investigated but did not say anything, or reached no conclusion – must ask what he himself did at that instant when we saw the two teenagers, Nadim Siam Nuwara, 17, and Muhammad Mahmoud Salameh, 16, fall to the ground. Dead or dying. Has the différend for each of us disappeared? Have we finally, all of us, grasped that something has happened? That Israelis will never be at home in the Land of Israel if the murder does not stop. If we do not stop it now. That what people like us are called is cowards.

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