It was cold and misty, silent and rainy, on the evening of March 20, 2019, at the southern entrance to Bethlehem. A Palestinian driver stopped and got out to check his car while his wife and two infant daughters remained inside. A soldier observing them from the top of his protected watchtower at the end of the road shot and badly injured the man in front of his wife and children.
A car with four young men returning from a wedding stopped to help them. Three of them rushed the man to a hospital while the fourth, Ahmad Manasra, a student, remained behind to calm the terrified mother and daughters and to try to get them away from the hellish scene. The soldier kept on firing, aiming several shots at Manasra and wounding him. The student tried to run away, seeking shelter behind a concrete block on the side of the road. The soldier kept on firing and hit Manasra in the chest from 60 meters away, killing him.
During his investigation, the soldier, a shooting instructor, admitted to aiming at Manasra’s chest – shooting to kill. A female soldier in his unit testified that “he looked as if he wanted to use his weapon. If anyone came along, he would shoot him, knock his head off. He talked a lot about wanting to kill Arabs.”
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Attorney Shlomo Lecker wrote in Haaretz (June 28) that the soldier, T.A., was put on trial for murder, a rarity for an IDF soldier killing a Palestinian. In a plea bargain, the defendant was sentenced to three months’ community service. He escaped any real penalty, in part because 12 senior army officers came to his aid.
One of these was retired Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, who in the past has warned about certain “processes” unfolding in this country that recalled other scenes in Jewish memory. In his brief to the court, Golan wrote that the soldier was no criminal and should not be charged with any crime. When Lecker attempted to show Golan that he was mistaken, presenting him with the evidence against the defendant, Golan didn’t bother to answer him. Golan is now a candidate for the leadership of Meretz.
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Perhaps one could forgive Golan for all his years as an enthusiastic servant of the occupation army. Perhaps even for initiating the illegal procedure of using relatives or neighbors of suspects as human shields when he was commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, a procedure for which he was reprimanded. One could have forgiven him if he had repented for at least some of his sins. A handful of courageous officers have done so, and none of them wanted to lead a left-wing Zionist political party, the most left-wing Zionist one there is.
Golan delivered one courageous speech in his life, the one about “processes.” He also, on one occasion, called the violent settlers at Homesh "subhumans," as they should be called. The rest of the time he has appeared to espouse the usual mantras of the IDF and of left-wing Zionists at their worst. He was in favor of more violent operations in Gaza, of the shameful “carrot-and-stick” policy towards the Palestinians and against the BDS movement. He, and at least some Meretz voters, believe this is sufficient to become the party’s leader.
The problem of course is not Golan, but his party and its voters, who think that this is the way to establish a left wing. While the right wing is only becoming more extreme, its power increasing as its positions grow more determined and extremist, the pusillanimous left hides behind the backs of generals to survive. Meretz should learn a thing or two from Itamar Ben-Gvir on how to build a political powerhouse: not by blurring positions but by highlighting them; not by timid mumbling but by resolute statements; and not by fleeing the main issues to the comfort zone of fighting for the environment and gay rights, but by touching the most terrible fire of all. While Ben-Gvir openly states his truth, Meretz talks about surrogacy.
Next time Golan gives a fiery speech about processes, he should add a passage about another gravely dangerous process: how Meretz has become the leader of Israel’s left wing, and the absolver of murderous soldiers has become a candidate for its leadership.