Opinion |

One Violent Military Unit Is Not the Problem. The Occupation Is

Dror Sadot
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The entrance to Netzah Yehuda base, in February.
The entrance to Netzah Yehuda base, in February. Credit: Emil Salman
Dror Sadot

Soldiers from Netzah Yehuda weren’t the ones who broke into a house in Hebron, stood the children in a row and said, “Say cheese” before taking their picture.

Netzah Yehuda soldiers also didn’t shoot and kill 44-year-old Amal al-Taramsi, and 222 other Palestinians, while al-Taramsi participated in the March of Return protests in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

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The pilots who launched the bomb that killed 8-year-old Zeid al-Kolak and 21 of his relatives during the Hamas-Israel fighting in 2021 weren’t from the battalion, either. Neither was the sniper who killed 20-year-old Malek Hamdan near Salim last year. Nor were the soldiers who killed 17-year-old Mohammed Tamimi.

Mohammed al-Alami, 11, was killed when soldiers fired at the car he was riding in – a car driving quite some distance away from them. Those soldiers weren’t from Netzah Yehuda, either.

It’s easy and convenient to say that any act of violence in the Palestinian territories is “anomalous,” to vow “That’s not us,” and to assert “We’ll bring those responsible to justice.”

So every few years the army and the Israeli public find a new scapegoat, usually in the form of a low-level soldier, and they load all the injustices of the occupation on his shoulders. We may be imposing a military occupation on millions of people, but we’re doing it the way it should be done: pleasantly, with clear regulations.

But the people who are truly responsible are never investigated: the politicians, the senior officers, the people who are now tut-tutting and expressing “regret” over the death of Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad.

Also evading scrutiny are those who wrote and approved the rules of engagement and the military orders that allow any soldier to enter any home, to stop cars on the road and to detain any individual. As are the Supreme Court justices who approve each order and regulation.

The West Bank settlement of Kedumin, in August. Credit: Moti Milrod

The narrative on Netzah Yehuda is reminiscent of Israel’s attitude toward the settlement outposts. In this case, too, Israelis frown at the huts and “agricultural farms” on hilltops, but not at the luxurious villas with red tile roofs that Israel has been fervently building and funding for decades. Because we may be taking Palestinian lands, but we’re doing it the way it should be done – through carefully delineated plans.

Here, too, nobody has ever been investigated or called to account: not the senior army officers who assign soldiers to guard the outposts day and night, nor the people ultimately responsible for the larger policy of settling occupied Palestinian land and designating it for Jews only – the planners, the funders, the people who invented the legal justifications and the Supreme Court justices who utter “tsk, tsk” about a few isolated outposts, thereby legitimizing all other settlements.

It’s easy for politicians, the media and the Israeli public to only focus on the extreme examples. The problem, they will say, is a handful of violent settlers, not the policy. The outposts, not the settlements. The problem is temporary in any case, you know; this occupation will end very soon. The problem certainly isn’t the desire for Jewish supremacy under an apartheid regime.

The problem, they say, is this battalion, with its ultra-Orthodox right-wing soldiers who sing “Kahane lives” on base and then go out to beat up Palestinians. But the truth is that, for more than 50 years now, soldiers wearing a wide variety of colored berets have been beating up Palestinians. It’s not Netzah Yehuda. It’s the occupation, stupid.

Dror Sadot is the spokeswoman of B’Tselem.

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