March 24, 2009

‘We came, we saw, we destroyed’

Posted in Israel-Palestine tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 8:29 pm by Mazin

‘We came, we saw, we destroyed’

Linda Heard I

ISRAEL’S recent onslaught on a defenseless population under siege has robbed it of its status as an eternal victim — a status it has carefully preserved for decades to elicit global empathy and protect it from criticism. Moreover, Israeli officials can no longer claim that its wars are waged solely out of defense concerns or that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is the most morally-driven on the planet.

The Israeli government made every effort to obscure the truth about “Operation Cast Lead”, which robbed 1,434 — mostly civilians — of their lives. It orchestrated a massive worldwide propaganda exercise involving an army of spokespersons and ambassadors. At the same time, the international media were prevented from going into Gaza until the dust had settled.

The absence of impartial eyes meant reports from Palestinian journalists could be discounted with accusations that they were Hamas sympathizers or that they had been intimidated to fabricate stories.

However, despite the lack of coverage that Gaza received from the supine mainstream media that pretended they are being scrupulously impartial, Israel’s barbarity has finally been exposed, ironically, by Israelis themselves. Dozens of stomach-churning, first-hand testimonies from IDF officers and soldiers have triggered a public relations nightmare.

The warm and fuzzy bubble with which Israelis surrounded their nation’s “finest” was burst forever when a deputy commander and founder of the Yitzhak Rabin Pre-military Preparatory Program Danny Zamir invited former graduates to talk about their experiences in Gaza.

Zamir admitted that the action had “sowed massive destruction among civilians” and said he considered the “discussion necessary because this was, all told, an exceptional war action in terms of the history of the IDF, which has set new limits for the army’s ethical code and that of the State of Israel as a whole”.

However well intentioned, Zamir couldn’t have known he was about to unlock a Pandora’s box that would shake Israelis and their overseas cheerleaders alike besides chopping the legs from under his country’s well-oiled propaganda machine.

Many of the testimonies are chilling, such as this from a young soldier, which disproves the “bad apple” theory:

“One of our officers, a company commander, saw someone coming on some road, a woman, an old woman. She was walking along pretty far away…If she was suspicious, not suspicious, I don’t know. In the end, he sent people up to the roof to take her out with their weapons. From the description of this story, I simply felt it was murder in cold blood.”

Another recounted that after his platoon had sequestered a home and ordered the family to leave, they forgot to tell a sharpshooter positioned on the roof. In the event, he opened fire on a mother and her two children without hesitation and without remorse because, after all, he was only following orders. A third described the religious fervor with which the mission was embraced by some soldiers. “The Rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles, and…their message was very clear. We the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war”.

Others spoke of the way every resident of Gaza was considered a “terrorist” along with the willful destruction of personal property, the deliberate vandalism of homes as well as the widespread daubing of slogans and insults on walls.

“To write ‘death to the Arabs’ on the walls, to take family pictures and spit upon them, just because you can…is the main thing in understanding how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics,” said one.

Zamir could hardly hide his disgust. “I haven’t heard all that much about you being shot at,” he said. “It’s not that I’m complaining, but if you’ve spent a week in a home, clean up your filth”. With respect to graffiti left behind, he said, “That’s behaving like animals”.

“I think it would be important for parents to sit here and hear this discussion,” said Zamir in conclusion. “I think it would be an instructive discussion, and also very dismaying and depressing. You are describing an army with very low value norms, that’s the truth…” In fact, the soldiers’ testimonies disclosed only the tip of the iceberg.

Found later in one of the homes occupied by Israelis was a paper headed “Situational Assessment” written by a platoon commander. Under the subheading “Rules of Engagement” was “Fire also upon rescue”. This confirms what Palestinian rescuers and Red Cross personnel were saying all along. Whenever they attempted to retrieve the wounded and the dead, they were attacked. This resulted in many unnecessarily bleeding to death and corpses rotting in the street.

Officers who served in previous wars said this is not the IDF we knew. Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy writes: “Change will not come without a major change in mindset. Until we recognize Palestinians as human beings, just as we are, nothing will change. But then, the occupation would collapse, God forbid”.

Levy has hit the nail on the head. Israelis live in a culture that dehumanizes Palestinians as employees of the Advic fabric-printing shop in Tel Aviv know only too well. According to Haaretz, soldiers regularly request printed T-shirts, baseball caps, jackets and pants embellished with images of dead Palestinian babies, weeping mothers, and guns pointed at children. One image is of a bulls-eye on a pregnant Palestinian woman together with the slogan “1 shot, 2 kills”. A shirt ordered for an entire battalion has the words “We came, we saw, we destroyed” together with images of a Palestinian village with a ruined mosque. Unbelievably, these items are approved by commanders.

In answer to these uncomfortable revelations, IDF chief Gabi Askhenazi told new recruits, “I can say the IDF is the most moral army in the world”. And the moon really is made of cheddar cheese! Surely Israel has a comedy club more suited to this guy’s talents.