Opinion |

The Writing on the Wall

Whoever wrote 'Death to the Arabs' in very small print letters did not intend to provoke the passersby – and yet, graffiti appearing on the wall of a military checkpoint has an address – the army

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Israeli soldiers at the site of the car ramming attack near Ramallah, West Bank, March 4, 2019.
Israeli soldiers at the site of the car ramming attack near Ramallah, West Bank, March 4, 2019.Credit: Majdi Mohammed / AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

There is no way to know how many of the Palestinian motorists who drive through the Beit El checkpoint, the eastern exit point from Ramallah, have noticed the words scribbled by someone in Hebrew on the wall of the soldiers’ position. And it’s hard to know how many of those who may have noticed the “Death to the Arabs” message could read and understand what the words mean.

Such graffiti, including its variations, such as “Kahane was right” appear on walls at bus stations for Israelis or on cement blocks positioned alongside West Bank roads. They are hard to miss. The writing on the wall inside the IDF checkpoint is almost hidden.

The letters aren’t dripping with red paint and there’s no accompanying illustration to clarify the point to those who don’t read Hebrew. Whoever wrote “Death to the Arabs” in very small print letters did not intend to provoke the passersby. He was simply expressing a personal viewpoint, a working assumption or an unhidden wish. And the writer is an armed soldier of the Israel Defense Forces. A soldier who spends a few hours each day with a loaded rifle, which he points at thousands of people leaving or entering the cage of Ramallah.

No one bothers to erase the inflammatory slogans in Hebrew from the settlers’ hitchhiking stops. Nobody bothers to look for the suspected writers of such slogans, in order to charge them with racist incitement, so as to signal to the public that such expressions are illegitimate. If it’s legitimate for the Civil Administration to seek to destroy Palestinian villages or prevent homes from getting connected to running water, if it’s legitimate for Israel to expel people from their homes and their land and then to hand the property over to settler associations dripping with money, what would be the point of being alarmed by a few nasty words scrawled on a cement block?

The hateful Hebrew graffiti does not figure in any index that measures and cautions against anti-Semitism, an issue that appears in the main headlines of international media. The eye grows accustomed to them, the same as it does to the rolls of ugly barbed wire atop the separation walls, to the pirate advertisements for settlement businesses and to the laborers who crowd the checkpoint at five in the morning.

So accustomed does the eye get to these sights that the temptation is great to ignore these words scribbled on the wall of a military checkpoint. Come on, really, some 18-year old boy who doesn’t understand much of anything was just bored and we’re making a big deal out of it.

And yet, graffiti appearing on the wall of a military checkpoint has an address – the army. It can be questioned. On Sunday morning, Haaretz asked for its opinion regarding the graffiti. On Sunday evening the army spokesperson’s office said: “The incident is inconsistent with IDF values. The slogan has been removed.”

We cannot know whether the person responsible for that graffiti participated Monday morning in the raid on Na’ameh village west of Ramallah. We cannot know whether he was among the soldiers who had to stop on the roadside when something went wrong with their jeep, after they had broken into houses, woken people up with frightening bangs on their doors and shouts, pulling them out of their beds and arresting a few of them, according to Palestinian reports .

But there’s a connection between the natural way a wish for genocide was scribbled on the wall of a military installation, and the automatic responses of soldiers when a Palestinian vehicle struck them. The soldiers shot immediately at the vehicle, deciding on the spot that the driver and the passengers merit the same fate – death. The IDF spokesperson also issued an automatic response: Terror attack. Automatically all the Israeli media report in unison that these were terrorists.

The possibility that the driver and passengers of the Palestinian vehicle had no idea that a military jeep had gotten stuck by the side of the road in an odd place, or that fog made for scant visibility and the driver lost control while attempting a sharp turn – in a spot where accidents often happen – does not exist in the litany of scenarios that soldiers and journalists have been trained to put forth. The values of the army, the state and Israeli society clearly say here: First thing you do is kill the Arab.

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