The most important sentence written in Israel this
week was lost in the general tumult of exciting events.
Really exciting: In a final act of villainy, typical of his whole tenure as
prime minister, Ehud Olmert abandoned the captive soldier, Gilad Shalit.
Ehud Barak decided that the Labor Party must join the ultra-right government,
which includes outright fascists.
And this, too: the former president of Israel was officially indicted for
In this cacophony, who would pay any attention to a sentence written by lawyers
in a document submitted to the Supreme Court?
The judicial debate concerns one of the most
revolting laws ever enacted in Israel.
It says that the wife of an Israeli citizen is not allowed to join him in
Israel if she is living in the occupied Palestinian territories or in a "hostile"
The Arab citizens of Israel belong to hamulas (clans) which extend
beyond the borders of the state. Arabs generally marry within the hamula.
This is an ancient custom, deeply rooted in their culture, probably originating
in the desire to keep the family property together. In the Bible, Isaac married
his cousin, Rebecca.
The "Green Line," which was fixed arbitrarily by the events of the
1948 war, divides families. One village found itself in Israel, the next remained
outside the new state, the hamula lives in both. The Nakba also created
a large Palestinian diaspora.
A male Arab citizen in Israel who desires to marry a woman of his hamula
will often find her in the West Bank or in a refugee camp in Lebanon or Syria.
The woman will generally join her husband and be taken in by his family. In
theory, her husband could join her in Ramallah, but the standard of living
there is much lower, and all his life family, work, studies is
centered in Israel. Because of the large difference in the standard of living,
a man in the occupied territories who marries a woman in Israel will also usually
join her and receive Israeli citizenship, leaving behind his former life.
It is hard to know how many Palestinians, male and female, have come to Israel
during the 41 years of occupation and become Israeli citizens this way. One
government office speaks of twenty thousand, another of more than a hundred
thousand. Whatever the number, the Knesset has enacted an (officially "temporary")
law to put an end to this movement.
As usual with us, the pretext was security. After all, the Arabs who are naturalized
in Israel could be "terrorists." True, no statistics have ever been
published about such cases if there are any but since when did
a "security" assertion need evidence to prove it?
Behind the security argument there lurks, of course, a demographic demon.
The Arabs now constitute about 20 percent of Israel's citizens. If the country
were to be swamped by a flood of Arab brides and bridegrooms, this percentage
might rise to God forbid! 22 percent. How would the "Jewish
state" look then?
The matter came before the Supreme Court. The petitioners, Jews and Arabs,
argued that this measure contradicts our Basic Laws (our substitute for a nonexistent
constitution) which guarantee the equality of all citizens. The answer of the
Ministry of Justice lawyers let the cat out of the bag. It asserts, for the
first time, in unequivocal language: "The state of Israel is at war with
the Palestinian people, people against people, collective against collective."
One should read this sentence several times to
appreciate its full impact. This is not a phrase escaping from the mouth of
a campaigning politician and disappearing with his breath, but a sentence written
by cautious lawyers carefully weighing every letter.
If we are at war with "the Palestinian people," this means that
every Palestinian, wherever he or she may be, is an enemy. That includes the
inhabitants of the occupied territories, the refugees scattered throughout
the world, as well as the Arab citizens of Israel proper. A mason in Taibeh,
Israel, a farmer near Nablus in the West Bank, a policeman of the Palestinian
Authority in Jenin, a Hamas fighter in Gaza, a girl in a school in the Mia
Mia refugee camp near Sidon, Lebanon, a naturalized American shopkeeper in
New York "collective against collective."
Of course, the lawyers did not invent this principle. It has been accepted
for a long time in daily life, and all arms of the government act accordingly.
The army averts its eyes when an "illegal" outpost is established
in the West Bank on the land of Palestinians, and sends soldiers to protect
the invaders. Israeli courts customarily impose harsher sentences on Arab defendants
than on Jews guilty of the same offense. The soldiers of an army unit order
T-shirts showing a pregnant Arab woman with a rifle trained on her belly and
the words "1 shot, 2 kills" (as
exposed in Ha'aretz this week).
These anonymous lawyers should perhaps be thanked
for daring to formulate in a judicial document the reality that had previously
been hidden in a thousand different ways.
The simple reality is that 127 years after the beginning of the first Jewish
wave of immigration, 112 years after the founding of the Zionist movement,
61 years after the establishment of the state of Israel, 41 years after the
beginning of the occupation, the Israeli-Palestinian war continues along all
the front lines with undiminished vigor.
The inherent aim of the Zionist enterprise was and is to turn the country
at least up to the Jordan River into a homogeneous Jewish state.
Throughout the course of Zionist-Israeli history, this aim has not been forsaken
for a moment. Every cell of the Israeli organism contains this genetic code
and therefore acts accordingly, without the need for a specific directive.
In my mind I see this process as the urge of a river to reach the sea. A river
yearning for the sea does not recognize any law, except for the law of gravity.
If the terrain allows it, it will flow in a straight course; if not it will
cut a new riverbed, twist like a snake, turn right and left, go around obstacles.
If necessary, it will split into rivulets. From time to time, new brooks will
join it. And every minute it will strive to reach the sea.
The Palestinian people, of course, oppose this process. They refuse to budge,
set up dams, try to push the stream back. True, for more than a hundred years
they have been on the retreat, but they have never surrendered. They continue
to resist with the same persistence as the advancing river.
ALL THIS has been associated, on the Israeli
side, with an obstinate denial, using a thousand and one guises, pretexts,
self-serving slogans, and sanctimonious untruths. But from time to time an
unexpected flash of light shows what is really going on.
That happened this week, when one of the pre-military preparatory schools,
set up to educate future officers, convened a meeting of alumni, most of them
on active service or in the reserves, and encouraged them to speak freely about
their experiences. Since many of them had just returned from the Gaza War,
and the things were burning in their bones (as the Hebrew expression goes),
shocking details were disclosed. These quickly found their way to the media
and were published at length in newspapers and on television.
To the readers of this column, they would not come as a surprise. I have written
about them before, e.g., in my article "The
Black Flag Is Waving." Amira Hass and Gideon Levy have collected eyewitness
reports from Gaza inhabitants, telling much the same stories. But there is
a difference: this time the facts are disclosed by the soldiers themselves,
those who took part in the events or saw them with their own eyes.
The army was Shocked. Surprised. Revolted. The official Army liar, who bears
the title of Army spokesperson, had previously denied anything of the kind.
Now he promises that the army will investigate every incident "as the
case may require." The military advocate general ordered the investigative
arm of the military police to open an inquiry. Since the same advocate general
bragged in the past that his officers had been embedded throughout the war
in every front-line command post, one would have to be more than naïve
to take his statement seriously.
One can rely on the army to ensure that nothing tangible emerges from the
investigation. An army investigating itself like any institution investigating
itself is a farce. In this case it is even more than farcical, since
the soldiers must testify under the eyes of their commanders, while their comrades
are listening. In the alumni meeting, they spoke freely, believing that only
those present would hear. Even so, they needed a lot of courage to speak out.
And since each of them could speak only about what had happened in his immediate
vicinity, only a few cases were brought up. The army intends to investigate
But the picture is far wider. We have heard about many cases of the same kind,
and they clearly were a widespread phenomenon. A woman and her children were
evicted by soldiers from their home in the middle of the fighting and immediately
afterward shot dead at close range by other soldiers who had orders to shoot
everything that moved. Old people and children walking on open ground were
shot in cold blood by snipers who saw them clearly through their telescopic
sights, who had orders that everybody moving should be considered a "terrorist."
Homes were destroyed for no reason, simply because they were there. Belongings
inside apartments were vandalized just for fun, "because they belong to
Arabs." Soldiers slit open sacks of food intended by UN agencies for the
hungry population, because they "go to Arabs."
I know that such things happen in every war. A year after the 1948 war I wrote
a book about them called The Other Side of the Coin. Every fighting
army has its share of psychopaths, misfits, and sadists, side by side with
decent soldiers. But even some of the normal soldiers may go berserk in battle,
lose their sense of right and wrong and conform to the "spirit of the
unit," if it is such.
Something has happened to our army. Its commanders never tire of calling it
"the Most Moral Army in the World," and this has become a slogan
like "Guinness is Good For You." But what happened during the Gaza
operation testifies to a massive deterioration.
This deterioration is a natural result of the definition of the war as used
in the document submitted to the Supreme Court. This document must arouse shock
and condemnation and serve as a wake-up call for every person to whom the future
of Israel is dear.
This war must be ended. The river must be channeled into a different bed,
so that its waters will make the earth fertile before we become irreversibly
bestialized in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world.