Collecting Bodies

Haaretz Editorial
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An Israeli earth mover along the Israel-Gaza border east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, February 23, 2020.
Haaretz Editorial

Every Israeli ought to be worried by the video clip of an army bulldozer dragging the body of a Palestinian who was killed by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. This isn’t the behavior of an army that is strict about upholding purity of arms and claims to exemplify morality in combat.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the Palestinian was shot after he and another man, acting on behalf of Islamic Jihad, planted a bomb by the Israel-Gaza border. But the army’s explanation – that the bulldozer was used for fear that other members of the cell had additional bombs that could be detonated near the soldiers remotely while they were removing the body – shows that the goal of taking the body sanctifies its desecration.

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It was none other than Defense Minister Naftali Bennett who revealed the sick logic behind the soldiers’ behavior and publicized the motive for the bulldozer’s activity: “I’ll be crystal clear: My policy of collecting terrorists’ bodies and collecting live terrorists will continue.”

Bennett’s utter contempt for what he termed “the left’s hypocritical criticism of the ‘inhumanity’ of using a bulldozer” leaves no room for doubt: The IDF’s action and the full backing given to it by the defense minister are a direct continuation of what Bennett said in numerous interviews earlier this month. Ever since he took office in November, he says, “We’ve been picking up Hamas members to use as bargaining chips” and “amassing the bodies of terrorists to hurt and pressure the other side,” in an effort to promote the return of the Israeli civilians and the bodies of Israeli soldiers that are being held in Gaza.

This policy is also consistent with the order Bennett gave the IDF and the rest of the defense establishment a few weeks after his appointment – to “prepare for a complete halt” to the return of terrorists’ bodies, regardless of the organization to which they belonged.

With persistence and determination, Bennett has succeeded in warping Israel’s standards and those of the IDF – which had already been declining – a little bit more. Obviously, Bennett didn’t invent anything here. For years, holding Palestinian bodies as bargaining chips was Israeli policy. But Bennett, in line with his own worldview, apparently also wants to “stop apologizing” for this.

The logic that holds that if terrorists don’t obey the laws of war, the laws of war must be adapted to the war on terror, ignores the fact that a country that does so undermines the very thing that distinguishes its army from a terrorist organization. An expanded panel of the High Court of Justice contributed to this in September, when it overturned a smaller panel’s decision that the state has no authority to hold onto bodies, and allowed the state to refuse to return terrorists’ bodies in cases where this might help secure the return of Israelis from Gaza.

Now the IDF has evidently embarked openly on a mission to “collect” bodies, with backing from the defense minister. The video clip published this week offers a rare glimpse into the IDF’s new modus operandi and the steep slope down which Israel is sliding.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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