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Settler Violence and the Military's Complicity Can't Be Blamed on a Single Israeli General

avner gvaryahu
Avner Gvaryahu
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Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai.
Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
avner gvaryahu
Avner Gvaryahu

Haaretz's lead editorial of August 11, one of the most scathing in recent years, called on IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi to dismiss Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, the head of the Central Command.

Yadai should indeed pay with his job for the 40 Palestinians killed by the army in the past three months, and for the symbiotic relationship between soldiers and extremist settlers. A price must be paid for this disregard for human life. But the higher-ups must also pay.

While Yadai bears direct responsibility for what happens in the territories, the disregard for human life long preceded him. It was not Yadai who decided to permit the use of .22 caliber Ruger bullets against protesters, even when funeral after funeral proved the absurdity of calling them “non-lethal.” It was not Yadai who conceived the army’s craven, cowardly policy toward the “hilltop youth,” the Kahanists of Hebron or the settler leadership in general. He was preceded by a long list of generals and politicians, many of whom still serve in positions superior to his.

It was the chief of staff and the defense minister who chose to say nothing when a settler was filmed firing at Palestinians with a military weapon. They chose to say nothing when soldiers stood alongside masked settlers who fired live rounds at Palestinians; and when soldiers were filmed standing alongside settlers setting fire to fields, throwing rocks, attacking with iron bars. The soldiers are not the only ones who stood by in these situations. So did their commanders and their commanders’ commanders. Yadai is just the highest one in the chain.

One shudders to think that Kochavi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are not really disturbed by the extent of the cooperation between the army and the masked hoodlums from Yitzhar and Givat Ronen, or worse, that they are afraid of them. It’s depressing to think that they, too, know that there is a political price to pay for seriously addressing settler violence and the failures that allow it to flourish; that in its campaign on behalf of Elor Azaria, while the right may not have helped Azaria, who was convicted and incarcerated, it did make clear to his commanders the price they would pay for another trial of that nature.

Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF chief of staff at the time, understood this. “If anyone wants a gang ethos, let him say so,” he said then. The answer, evidently, was “yes,” for just a few years later, his successors seem willing to accept such an ethos.

So what if live fire was used against Palestinians? There really is no political cost. Unlike the right, we haven’t learned to exact such a price; because Palestinian bloodshed is not a media-worthy item, and so it is not on the political agenda either. While MKs stand in line to explain to Ben & Jerry’s that the settlements are a “community in Israel,” most would prefer to know as little as possible about what goes on in their new Greater Israel.

Yadai was not dismissed. He served out his tenure. Palestinian blood remains as cheap as ever, and we continue to think about dozens of Palestinians killed as nothing more than a “risk of escalation.” The incoming head of Central Command, Yehuda Fuchs, will command the same sector under the same conditions: He, too, will know that you don’t report settler violence, that you don’t create a media or political crisis, that evacuating unauthorized settlement outposts, arresting settlers and upholding the law would become a crisis that would dog him for months.

When 100 soldiers wrote to the defense minister, demanding tools to address settler violence, Gantz replied: “Most of the settlers in Judea and Samaria are normative, law-abiding people.” He was bothered by the term “settler violence,” which describes a factual reality that cannot easily be denied.

This term also bothered Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King, who sought to remove a billboard we put up in Jerusalem. Maybe they’re right. The more precise term would be “hate crimes.” Hardly a week goes by now without soldiers being filmed providing armed security for hate crimes, or the defense minister and chief of staff saying nothing about these crimes, as do most news broadcasts and newspapers.

If only the head of the Central Command were the problem, if only there was one person to justifiably pin all the blame. We all allowed this reality to come into being, we all allow it to go on, and it is time we looked it straight in the eye.

Avner Gvaryahu is the executive director of Breaking the Silence.

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