West Bank Operation Turns From Farce Into Tragedy

It is ridiculous to think that one of the most advanced armies in the world is pursuing a 'war' against an army of barefoot peasants.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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IDF soldiers patrol in the village of Beit Kahil, near Hebron.
IDF soldiers patrol in the village of Beit Kahil, near Hebron.Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Operation Brother’s Keeper has entered its grotesque phase. If it didn’t involve the lives, the honor and the liberty of Israelis and Palestinians, one could almost laugh.

But in farce, as in farce - in the end, it always turns into tragedy. The events of the past week have long since passed beyond the sphere of concern for the kidnapped teens, and the grotesqueness of it all is only growing.

It is ridiculous to hear the goals of the operations as proclaimed with unfathomable gravity by politicians, generals and court commentators: “To pulverize the Hamas infrastructure” and “dismember the Palestinian unity government,” as if this were not a recurring nightmare that always ends with Israel losing the upper hand.

From Operation Cast Lead to Operation Pillar of Defense, from one operation to the next, Hamas only keeps getting stronger. It is ridiculous to listen to the finance minister talk of our “children” - why not “babies?” It’s ridiculous to watch as soldiers confiscate computers and office equipment from the offices of news organizations and charities and believe that they have the power to destroy this popular movement.

Ridiculous to watch them stop farmers from reaching their fields and to think that this will bring the yeshiva students home. Ridiculous to see the displays of confiscated weapons: a few knives and rusty rifles laid out on an army blanket. Ridiculous to think that one of the most advanced armies in the world is pursuing a “war” against an army of barefoot peasants. Ridiculous to hear the heroic theories and the glorification of the power of the Israel Defense Forces and to know that despite its name and its reputation it is mainly a police force, with a missing persons department and a traffic department that mans roadblocks.

It is both ridiculous and depressing to see the local news coverage. IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. (res.) Roni Daniel, also known as the defense correspondent for Israel Channel 2 news, recommends extending the military operation indefinitely, no less. A different, daring and co-opted reporter from the channel, embedded with a unit on a “deep raid,” describes what he sees as if it were the Invasion of Normandy.

It’s just Arura, a Palestinian village, described as the “Hamas capital of the West Bank” (I thought that was Hebron), during a wedding. “Is a wedding a good thing?” asks the brigade commander, Asher Ben Lulu, whose Kfir Brigade has a very checkered past of harassing civilians. So much for the wedding, but who cares. The brigade commander admits that his soldiers are now arresting “activists,” not wanted militants (he says they’ve all been taken into custody already,) and pulls out the doomsday weapon: “Every vase” (in the home of a wanted man who is in exile in Turkey,) says Ben Lulu, the assessor, “is worth a lot of money.” The man’s elderly mother was also arrested once. For what? “Terror.” But the soldiers get all it’s inhabitants out of the house before the cameras come, so as not to ruin the party of the televised raid.

A different reporter (from the Walla! news website) has a different sort of occasion in Jenin. He too has been conscripted for the propaganda effort; he calls the refugee camp there a “hornets’ nest,” even while noticing an ad for television sets, especially for the World Cup, targeting those vicious beasts. O, hornets’ nest, we have returned to you. And no one says a word about these people’s lives, which have once again been brutally turned upside down, about the anxieties of the children and the troubles of the parents. The Palestinian population is divided into “terror cells.” There are no terrified parents there, no children peeing themselves out of fear, no one with anxiety disorders.

An Israeli woman whose physician husband treats Palestinian children - how noble - suggests that he stop operating on them, and also casually recommends cutting off the power supply to Hebron. She is considered “leftist.” The killings of two Palestinian teens are considered a footnote to the main point, but who dares compare their lives (and deaths) with those of our yeshiva students.

“The sharp scent of za’atar rises from the earth,” rhapsodizes the Channel 2 reporter, against a background of images from the night’s operations, in a place that in my decades of covering I never smelled the sharp scent of za’atar. But I did smell the sharp scent of something else: of that cursed disease that is running rampant.

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