Pub. by Haaretz 21 April 2012
Paradoxically, brutality is the only one of the three traits that is prominent in our life today, especially in the occupied Palestinian territories. It happened on Route 90, a highway that is the main road of the Jordan valley, which our government aims to annex. It is reserved solely for Israeli traffic and closed to Palestinians.
A group of young international pro-Palestinian activists decided to demonstrate against the closure of the road. They invited their Palestinian friends to a jolly bicycle ride along it. They were stopped by a unit of the Israeli army. What happened then was shown on a video clip taken by one of the protesters. It is clear, unambiguous and unequivocal. The officer, a lieutenant-colonel, is standing opposite a fair-haired young man, a Dane, who was just looking on. Nearby, protesters and soldiers are standing around. No sign of violence anywhere.
Suddenly the officer raises his rifle and drives the squared-off end of the magazine hard into the young Dane's face. The victim falls backward on the ground. In the evening, Israeli TV showed the clip. By now, almost every Israeli has seen it a hundred times. What was unusual in this case was that it was caught on camera. The officer must have been aware of this. He just did not give a damn. The hero of the affair is Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner. Far from being exceptional, he seems to be the quintessential Israeli army officer.
The army Chief of Staff condemned the officer and promptly suspended him. All senior officers followed suit, the Prime Minister himself spoke out. As is well known, our army is “the most moral in the world”, so what had happened was the unpardonable act of a single rogue officer. There will be a thorough investigation, etc
He did not take the rebukes lying down. He fervently insists that he did the right thing. After all, he did break up the demonstration, right? But he was not entirely without remorse. He publicly admitted that it “may have been a mistake to act this way in the presence of cameras”. With this the army and many commentators wholeheartedly agreed: they did not criticize his brutality, but his stupidity.
Eisner typifies many officers who come out of the military melting pot. And not only in the army. To paraphrase Jabotinsky: our educational system now produces “a race / stupid and mean and brutal”. How could it be otherwise after 60 years of relentless indoctrination and 45 years of occupation? Every occupation, every oppression of another people, corrupts the occupier and makes the oppressor stupid.
While still a teenager I worked as a clerk for an Oxford-educated, Jewish-British lawyer, many of whose clients were members of the British colonial administration. I found them mostly nice, intelligent and courteous with an engaging sense of humor. Yet the British administration acted with an astonishing lack of intelligence. At the time I was a member of the Irgun, whose aim was to drive them out of the country. At my home there was an arsenal of guns, which were used to kill them. Living between the two worlds, I constantly asked myself: how can these nice English people behave so stupidly? My conclusion was that no colonial masters can behave intelligently. The colonial situation itself compels them to act against their better nature.
As a matter of fact, during the first years of the Israeli occupation, it was widely praised as “enlightened” and “liberal”. The then Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan, gave orders to treat the Palestinians as generously as possible. He let them trade with the enemy and listen to enemy broadcasts to their heart’s content. Behind this policy there was no benevolence – just a belief that if the Arabs were allowed to live their daily lives in peace, they would not rise up, but put up with an eternal occupation. Indeed this worked more or less for some 20 years. Until a new generation started the first intifada and the occupation became – well, stupid, mean and brutal. Along with the officers in charge.
Two days ago, Israel observed the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. In this connection, I would like to quote Albert Einstein, a Jew and a Zionist: “Should we be unable to find a way to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing during our two thousand years of suffering and deserve all that will come to us.”