14 April, 2009
On June 19, 1977, the Sunday Times marked the 10-year anniversary of the occupation with a wide-ranging expose on the torture of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The report concluded that torture was so widespread and systematic that it was impossible to dismiss these deeds as “‘rogue’ cops exceeding orders. It appears to be sanctioned as deliberate policy.”
Israel’s denial was, of course, adamant. No Israeli newspaper addressed the accusations directly. Our ambassador in London said the morality of the prophets does not permit torture, and therefore these charges were baseless. It was Menachem Begin of all people, who had just formed his government, who expressed shock and ordered the Shin Bet to cease and desist.
Yet the logic of occupation and the defense establishment were stronger than the shock of the former underground leader. Then came the Bus 300 affair and Izat Nafso, the Circassian Israel Defense Forces officer convicted of espionage in 1984, and it reminded all of us that the Sunday Times report was more accurate than the denials, and was more accurate even than Begin’s good intentions.
On the other hand, every Israeli poll about torture or atrocities would reveal, beyond a shadow of a doubt, simple truths: first, this can’t be so; second, it is right; third, they started it.
Anyone who thinks this logic belongs solely to bizarre internet talkbackers needs to read Ehud Barak’s initial reaction to the soldiers’ testimonies from Gaza: “The IDF is the most moral army in the world.” Fact.
Even the shelling of towns along the Suez Canal during the war of attrition, during bombardments of targets deep within Egyptian territory, included the destruction of a school during the school day and a steel factory during the workday, all under prime minister Golda Meir, and chiefs of staff and generals from the Labor movement. Not even this changed Israel’s self-image by one iota, and it is doubtful whether live Al-Jazeera broadcasts can do so, either.
Aided by a carefully crafted narrative (by intellectuals on the Zionist left) we have been built as a nation that makes no room whatsoever for a contradictory private narrative, or at least an argument about sacred cows. Everyone is marching to the same drummer. The symbols are always ready. Anything that did not fit the “nationalist” template was rejected. Exodus? Good enough for us. The Struma affair? Only for advanced researchers. Deir Yassin? It was not “us” who did it, but “dissidents.” The massacre of Sasa, Tiberias or Lod? A non-sequitor. Qibya? Forget about it! Sabra and Chatila? That can be remembered (Christians killing Muslims).
Ehud Barak is right. By all measures, we are the most moral. Because we have no peers.
And yet, perhaps the defense minister is referring to acts committed by the Americans. Their army really committed more horrific atrocities in the last 60 years, from Korea to Vietnam, Panama and Iraq. But it is in this context that the time has come to address the misdeeds taking place here, those committed by the state and its army against those it rules, including soldiers infected with a vicious virus, all with the approval of a collective unmatched in the democratic world.
All the atrocities committed by the IDF always take place under the purview of “the compulsory conscription law,” which is not only a law in the sense of income tax or driving on the right side of the road, but is a sanctified commandment. Only “crazies” do not go to the army, do not dip their hands into the ceremonial blood. This is the supreme, traditional norm of Israeli society, and it covers up everything, both in denial and in acceptance of one’s punishment.
Not only does the entire system – education, the army, the Shin Bet and of course, the media and literature – rule out any talk of struggle or of being sane and not belonging, it even rejects the possibility that something within it is fundamentally immoral. Thus it is natural for the defense minister to sum up the current round of denial by praising the Military Advocate General: “I am happy that these are the findings, and it turns out once again we are correct when we say the IDF is the most moral army in the world, from the chief of staff to the last soldier.”
Yes, this is the reality, one no satire can beat, even the words of Golda in Hanoch Levin’s 1970 “Malkat Ha’ambatiya”: “I’ve been examining myself for 71 years and God knows I discovered in myself a justice. And every day I am surprised anew. Right, right, right, and right once again. Once I took a nap in the afternoon and I said to myself, ‘What if I do something stupid while napping? So did I do something stupid while napping? I’m the last person who does something stupid while napping!”