In his speech on the eve of Memorial Day, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said that soldiers’ behavior “should be a model of good citizenship, an educational ideal and a model to emulate for their entire family, their school, their community and their town.” These are nice words, and Kochavi was praised for his ethical speech.
But the chief of staff’s words are one thing and his soldiers’ actions are another. Soldiers’ behavior at the Gush Etzion Junction earlier this week, which resulted in the death of a 60-year-old Palestinian woman from the village of Husan, is the diametric opposite of everything Kochavi advocated. It’s a badge of shame for the Israel Defense Forces, and for the country as a whole.
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Video footage of the incident shows an elderly woman wearing a mask against the coronavirus trudging with visible slowness toward the armed soldiers at the site. Her drooping hand is loosely holding a knife. The soldiers shout at her to put the knife down again and again, and also fire in the air. The woman refuses to put down the knife and continues plodding toward them, until two shots are fired. According to the IDF, she was hit in the lower body. But according to the official medical report from Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, she was shot in the stomach. She was pronounced dead a few hours after being shot.
This was a display of weakness, stupidity and lack of proportion. It’s a clear case of excessive use of force – strong young men armed with guns facing a lone, weak, elderly woman who apparently had emotional problems. The use of excessive force against a threat like this is an expression of weakness. And this weakness was preceded by bad judgment and automatic, thoughtless obedience to the rules of engagement. The soldiers’ conduct attests to the anxiety felt by forces in the field, but it’s not clear what the source of this anxiety is – whether it’s the enemy, their commanders or both.
If this footage wasn’t enough to make it clear to Kochavi that the army has a problem of being too quick on the trigger, he should listen to the woman’s brother. According to him, she was in bad emotional shape and suffered from depression and anxiety. She tried to commit suicide a few weeks ago by taking pills, and a report by the mental health clinic that examined her a day before the shooting said she had suicidal thoughts. Therefore, it’s possible that the woman simply replaced one method of suicide with another, more effective one – instead of taking sleeping pills, she took IDF bullets. The IDF’s quick trigger finger has turned it into a euthanasia factory – all you have to do is hold a knife in your hand, and the IDF will do the job.
This incident should keep the chief of staff awake at night, along with the entire army and all of Israeli society. Kochavi and the entire IDF command must take steps to ensure that soldiers won’t be so quick on the trigger. The Israel Defense Forces must not become the Palestinian Suicide Forces.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.