Saturday, December 15, 2012

Who has shot and who has there fallen

Mount Gilboa is darkened
A horse gallops from shadow to shadow.
A screaming voice cries high
From the fields of the Jezreel Valley.
Who has shot and who has there fallen
Between Beit Alpha and Nahalal?

What, what of the night?
Silence over Jezreel
Sleep, Valley, land of glorious beauty
We stand guard over you.

Who has shot and who has there fallen? Nathan Alterman, who wrote these words, left the question open and unanswered. He wrote it in 1934, as a young man making his first steps as a poet. Most of us were not yet born then, and the very old among us were children. The State of Israel was not yet created, and the Israel Defense Forces not yet been established, but the war in which we are involved today was already going on.

Just a year ago, December 9, 2011 there was not much doubt as to who shot and who fell at the village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah in the West Bank. Like every Friday, villagers along with Israeli and international activists had embarked on a protest march towards the fresh water spring which the villagers had used until in 2009 it was taken over by settlers from the nearby settlement of Halamish. As always, their way was blocked by soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces, and as always there soon developed a confrontation in which soldiers fired tear gas and Palestinians threw stones, and as always it was difficult even for eye-witnesses to determine with any precision "who had started it".

But on this Friday something unusual did happen there, a bit different from the normal weekly routine. A soldier fired a gas grenade at close range directly to the head of a protestor. Firing tear gas grenades at close range can be lethal and therefore military orders explicitly prohibit to shoot like that. Indeed, this time the shooting was fatal.

The photographers who were present took photos of Mustafa Tamimi in real time, just after being hit, lying on the ground in a pool of blood. A gut-wrenching photo, and there is an ongoing debate on whether or not it should have been published.

But who had aimed and shot him at close range, directly to the head? Actually, this should not have been so much of a mystery, either. Photographer Haim Schwarzenberg documented the shooter at the very moment of shooting. His name and rank and all the details are well known to the IDF, but the military censor does not permit their publication. (A few days ago I saw a facebook page where the hidden name was published, but that page no longer exists. Someone had taken care to  remove it.  But searching in websites which are not based in Israel and not subject to Israeli censorship might still turn it up.)

It so happened that all this took place exactly on International Human Rights Day, when thousands of activists marched through the streets of Tel Aviv to mark this date. The soldiers probably never heard of such a day. What the anonymous shooter should have known is what are the military orders which he was violating.

The Military authorities, who do know this unknown soldier's identity, were supposed to interrogate and prosecute him. If not for murder or manslaughter, at least on a lesser charge such as a breach of military orders, or an improper use of firearms, or conduct unbecoming. At the very least, an offense which carries a sentence of a few months' suspended imprisonment. To date, nothing of this happened. The B'Tselem Human Rights group approached the Military Prosecution several times, and each time got the same answer: "The investigation is still underway."

A week ago, with Human Rights Day coming around again, a group of activists tried, maybe a bit naively, to arouse the conscience of Israeli society. Under the title "Who Killed Mustafa Tamimi?" they campaigned online and on Facebook and distributed leaflets in the streets and explicitly mentioned the name of the unknown shooter and also the names of those above him in the chain of command up to and including the Army Chief of Staff and the record each one of them has with regard to the killing of civilians. It is not always easy to get citizens of Israel to listen to messages of this kind (more on that later).

The Israeli media were not really interested in the story of a Palestinian resident who was shot and killed precisely a year ago and a of a soldier who shot to kill in contravention of the military orders and was not even slightly punished.  Editorial offices where bombarded with press releases prepared by activists and Human Rights organizations alike, but not a single word on the printed page nor on the air waves.

The media had no space for such moral stuff.  It just didn’t fit. These days they were in the mood of asserting again and again that IDF soldiers are fleeing before Palestinian demonstrators, and that this is a disgrace and an insult to national honor.

What made headlines were soldiers complaining about the military orders forbidding them to shoot demonstrators. These orders, they said, are too strict and harsh. They are being sent to "fight with tied hands" and their commanders are restraining them out of fear and apprehension of the photographers present at the arenas of clashes with Palestinian protesters and of the images which these photographers distribute worldwide. One soldier who is a fan of American  comics compared the photos taken by these photographers to kryptonite, the green substance which is the single weak spot of the otherwise mighty superhero Superman.

"A soldier symbolizes the sovereignty of the state. Throwing stones at him is an injury to national honor. National honor is power, hitting it hurts the country's very spine. The photographers documenting these events and distribute them are gravely damaging the position and power of the IDF" stated Former Chief Army Rabbi Avichai Ronsky. For his part, the once liberal columnist Dan Margalit demanded that the Army Chief of Staff no longer allow soldiers to retreat from protestors, but rather instruct them to open fire "even if the photos would not be good for Israel's public relations."

The most unequivocal was Avigdor Lieberman, just two days before he was forced to resign as Foreign Minister because of the affair of his underhand dealings with the Ambassador to Belarus. The Foreign Minister stated that "The open-fire regulations by which the IDF operates in Judea and Samaria do not contribute to calming the area but further fan the flaming passions. It is unacceptable that Palestinians who attack IDF soldiers will get out alive."

Certainly, all this talk had an impact. The immediate result of several days'  passionate calls upon soldiers to open fire in order to save the national honor of the State of Israel could be seen in a banner on the front page of the mass circulation "Yediot Ahronot": "Border Guard Fighting Woman Liquidates  Terrorist in Hebron. " And under it the details in smaller characters: "A young Palestinian attacked the Border Guard position at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a woman fighter responded cool-headedly, fired three bullets and liquidated him, the army is apprehensive that the wave of incidents would deteriorate into a Third Intifada." And a photo of the fighter appeared, her face blurred, under the caption "The Border Guard Heroine".  (As is well known, the Border Guard is at the forefront of promoting women's equality and has already given several of them ample opportunity to take part in the daily maintenance of the  occupation and show that they can be just as tough and brutal as their male colleagues.)

Buried deep in the news item was the information that the weapon in the hands of the dangerous dead terrorist had been in fact no more than a toy pistol.  Was it true, as the Heroine of the Border Police claimed, that he made very threatening gestures with it and that she had acted swiftly in order to save the life of a fellow fighter from a perceived real danger? Or is the correct version that of his family, who said that he was a boy celebrating his 17th birthday and going out to buy a cake rather than attack soldiers or border guards? Perhaps he had simply taken the plastic pistol out of his pocket to get to his ID card.

Human Rights organizations sent researchers to Hebron, trying to locate reliable witnesses and crosscheck and get a real idea of what did happen there. But it is unlikely that the papers would publish the results of the inquiry – certainly not in a banner headline on the front page. Most citizens of Israel already know exactly what happened: a warrior heroine killed a terrorist bastard, three cheers.

And in this case, who has shot and who has there fallen? The one who fell was Muhammad Salim, killed on his 17th birthday (on this, at least, there is no disagreement). The one who shot was a Border Guard fighter whose name starts with an N', whose identity we might or might not find out once upon a time. In the near future, during the elections campaign for Israel's  Knesset, there is likely to be a lot of shooting and a lot of people falling, there in the territories under Israel's military government over the past forty-five and a half years. As all experts say, every shooting incident helps to focus public attention on security issues, which directly facilitates the elections campaign of Binyamin Netanyahu and his partner Avigdor Lieberman. But what if the Third Intifada will indeed break out? Sufficient unto the day, first of all the Nationalist Camp must win the elections and form the next government.

And who killed Mustafa Tamimi? Really, who is still interested in such ancient affairs from a year ago?


Michal Vexler is one of the activists attempting to arouse interest among the citizens of Israel in the death of Mustafa Tamimi - and in the fate of the Palestinians under occupation in general. With her permission I publish here her story

On the Refinement of the Soul
By Michal Vexler

Right after the Human Rights Parade I met a hippie who knew me from Facebook, at the organic falafel stall opposite the Rabin Square. Young, sweet and smiling, full of light and love. She jumped at me a stormy hug windy and shook hands excitedly. At the questioning look on my face she explained that we know each other from Facebook, and some group called "The Academy for Superheroes", a group full to bursting with positive energies, seeking to improve the world by expanding concentric circles – first the superhero himself and his inside, then the community and finally the whole world.

I asked her if she enjoyed the parade, and she said she had skirted around it since "All these angry demonstrations are just not the right thing". As far as she was concerned, the parade was "full of negative energies."

I shrugged and walked away, but I kept thinking about her reaction. Perhaps the large turnout in the parade made me optimistic, or I believe in the ability of superheroes to at least listen and use their brains and emotion. One way or another, I decided to return to the falafel and talk to her, try to explain why I and a lot of other people are angry and why it is legitimate to be angry.

I tried to tell her how a year ago, just at the time of last years' parade, there was man -  somebody whom I know, with whose family I was friendly – demonstrated a few meters from his home, in his own village and ...

She stopped me:
"I don't want to hear."

"... But ... a,"

" I don't want to hear. It is rude of you to force me to hear things which have nothing to do with my life."

"It IS your life. It is your country, your army!"

"But it really does not interest me. Stop it!"

Then I did something that I had not planned to do, and I slammed on the table the shot of the bloody mangled face of Mustafa Tamimi -
"Bon appetit"
And I went away.

It was a bad and violent thing to do, like giving this photo of horror to a small girl.

Hippies with a developed spiritual awareness such as this girl make enormous efforts to preserve the tranquility  of their minds – never get angry, positive thinking, searching everywhere only for the light and pushing  the darkness as far away as they can. The soul of that hippie thing was probably the most pure and immaculate thing in that spotlessly clean Falafel stall.

Until that moment I did not understand how the term "Refined Souls" (Yefey Nefesh) had become such a pejorative term, but now I'm beginning to understand: A Refined Soul is someone who hovers above us like an angel, not tainted by our hatred because her life is very protected and insulated. I hate her because her soul is refined while mine in injured. I must remember that I too might become a  Refined Soul , and that wallowing in the sweat and blood of others will not automatically make me immune of arrogance and insensitivity. I pray to the Jewish God – the vengeful and implacable and furious God: Give me the strength to live in the harsh world you have made, in it and not above it.