Opinion

Israel's Fear of Empty-handed Palestinian Demonstrators

Empty hands mock soldiers with their bullet-proof vests and helmets. Empty hands instill doubt. Empty hands make a mockery of ‘the few against the many.’

Palestinians shout during clashes with Israeli troops during mass protests along the Israel-Gaza border, March 30, 2018.
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

I’ve never tried to, but I imagine it’s no easy matter to kill someone who isn’t threatening your life. Killing civilians and children armed with stones is no longer a complex matter, it’s plain murder. Murder is not something one brags about. The IDF spokesman doesn’t show photos of the shooters and you won’t read about them in weekend magazines or see them interviewed on the news.

Until they reached Gaza they were good kids. My kids and yours, the kind who heard all the right things at home. In Gaza, all is forgotten. In Gaza they are nameless. In Gaza they are “IDF forces.” They’re young. They only have a brief past and possibly a glorious future, but they won’t get there whole.

They don’t know they’re wounded. This is internal bleeding, invisible, untreated. Their attitude towards human life is damaged. When they leave the army they won’t leave the damage behind. They’ll take it with them to work, to their families, expressing it as road rage. Someone who learned how to kill Arab demonstrators will learn how to kill Jewish demonstrators as well. They only have to be persuaded that the demonstrators are enemies.

But they will be afflicted with doubts. At some point, after killing five people and wounding 10 they’ll ask if their actions were justified. When they don’t find any justification they’ll be told that none was needed. Justification is an excuse made after action is taken without preceding thought. A soldier looking for justification is a damaged soldier. A soldier who kills and then regrets it is a soldier feeling shame. He finds it hard to deal with the shame; it weighs on him like a stone. A soldier feeling shame is an ineffective soldier.

A soldier who kills civilians is an ineffective soldier. A soldier who detains a 3-year-old child is an ineffective one. He’ll carry that picture with him all his life. It will bother him. We’ll forget but he won’t. His face is hidden in the photograph but his parents and friends can identify him. They’ll always remember how he arrested a 3-year-old child or how he was slapped by a girl or how he just shot and wounded and killed. The shame will follow him.

His commanders replace the shame with anger. Anger cancels out shame. Shame blocks and anger propels forward. When you’re angry it’s easier to kill. When you’re angry, civilians become threatening enemies. Their hands are empty but their intentions are evil. They are “an incited mob,” they’re monsters. It’s easier to shoot monsters as long as they don’t come empty-handed. It’s better if they come with explosive devices we can blow up or with Qassam rockets we can intercept. Let them come with grenades, not rocks.

Let them come with something in their hands. Empty hands frighten us. Empty hands mock soldiers with their bullet-proof vests and helmets, planes and submarines. Empty hands raise questions and instill doubt. Empty hands make a mockery of “the few against the many.” After all, there are rules and regulations. According to these rules, they are always the ones who threaten and we are always the defenders. They are Goliath and we are David. But the shooters need justification. Without justification there is no war. We have to be impeccably just. The playwright Hanoch Levin had Golda Meir insisting she had searched for flaws in herself but found none, insisting she was just. She says in one of his plays that even though one day she may find herself in the wrong, she keeps waking up every day to find that she is still right.

Our society is just but sick, one with a strong stomach. We’ve already swallowed 44 dead demonstrators and could easily digest 400 more. The question is, how many do we have to kill before we vomit? We want them to go wild, to breach the fence and threaten us. The last thing we want is non-violent civilians. We insist that they don’t all of a sudden impersonate Gandhi.

But it could be worse than Gandhi. Let’s imagine that someday there was some Abu Mazen or Khaled Mashal who offered total capitulation, with no return of refugees and a full recognition of Zionism. Capitulation in exchange for a state. (A nightmare! The very thought makes me shudder.) Let’s imagine he wasn’t assassinated by his own people. What would we do in such a scenario?

First we’d ignore the offer and then, for lack of choice and with no other solution in sight, perhaps with a heavy heart, we would (according to foreign sources!) have to eliminate whoever needs to be eliminated, hoping that no one remembers his offer. Is this imaginary? For 70 years we’ve been reiterating how much we yearn for peace. If that isn’t imaginary, I don’t know what is.