In the Six-Day War, hundreds of Israeli soldiers were murdered while storming the Sinai desert, the West Bank and the Golan heights.
In the Yom-Kippur War, more than 2000 Israeli soldiers were murdered in the defense of the conquered territories.
In the 18 year long Lebanon War, more than a thousand Israeli soldiers were murdered while conquering and occupying South Lebanon.
They would have been surprised to learn that they were “murdered”. Perhaps they would have been insulted. After all, they were not helpless Jews in the ghetto who were killed during a pogrom by drunken Cossacks. They fell as soldiers in war.
Now we are back in the ghetto. Again we are poor, fearful Jews. Even when we are in uniform. Even when we are armed to the teeth. Even when we have tanks, airplanes, missiles and the nuclear option. Alas, we are murdered.
The application of the verb “murder” to combat soldiers who fall in action is a semantic novelty of the present intifada in the Sharon era. It was very conspicuous last week, in the wake of two military incidents.
In the Palestinian village of Ein Yabroud, three soldiers were ambushed and killed. Their job was to safeguard the road to the nearby settlement Ofra, north of Ramallah. They were patrolling the main street of the village on foot, following their regular route. On the way back, three Palestinian fighters lay in wait for them, killing three and wounding one. The attackers got away.
A classic guerilla engagement. Not terrorism. Not an attack on civilians. The action of guerilla fighters against armed soldiers in an occupied area. If it had involved German soldiers in France or French soldiers in Algeria, nobody would have dreamed of saying that they were “murdered”. But on our television, military correspondents talked of the three being “murdered” by “terrorists”.
A few days later, an even more shocking event took place. One single Palestinian fighter cut through the fence of Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Strip, entered a military camp and killed three soldiers–one male, two female. He was pursued and killed.
In connection with this event, too, the military correspondents said on TV, without blinking, that the three were “murdered” by “terrorists” in a “terrorist” action.
Murder? Terrorism? Against soldiers in uniform? Inside a fortified settlement?
It is worth analysing this incident in order to understand the current military campaign as a whole.
Netzarim is a small, isolated settlement on the sea shore, in the heart of the Gaza Strip, far from any other settlement. It was implanted in the middle of a Palestinian population of a million and a quarter, half of them refugees, in the most densely inhabited place on earth. A whole battalion of the IDF defends it, and that is not enough. To reach it from Israel, one has to cross the entire width of the Gaza strip. All traffic is by armored vehicles. Up to now, more than twenty soldiers have been killed in the defense of the settlement and the road leading to it.
Crazy? The settlers themselves maintain that it was the army that had demanded to set up the settlement as a base for observation and control. The fanatical nationalist-religious founders have since disappeared, their place taken by adventurers who risk their own lives and the lives of their children–not to mention the soldiers, male and female, who have no choice. The government sacrifices them on the altar of the settlement.
The Palestinians, of course, suffer more than anyone else. Any who come near the settlement are shot. Anything that was standing or growing nearby, or along the road, has been destroyed or uprooted long ago. This week, the army demolished two Palestinian high-rise apartment blocks, each 12 floors high, some hundreds of meters from the settlement, because from there the goings on in the settlement could be “observed”. This is typical: like a cancer in the body that gradually extends its malign influence, every settlement slowly destroys its surroundings in an ever-widening circle.
The process can be outlined as follows:
(1) On a hilltop, an “outpost” consisting of one or two mobile homes is set up without government permission.
(2) The government declares that it will not tolerate such illegal actions and talks about removing it.
(3) The army sends soldiers to defend the outpost, saying that it cannot leave Jews in a hostile region without protection as long as they are there, even illegally.
(4) For the same reason, the outpost is connected to the water, electricity and telephone networks.
(5) The discussion in the cabinet is postponed, and in the meantime the settlement expands.
(6) The cabinet decides to accept the accomplished fact and the outpost becomes a legal settlement.
(7) The Military Governor expropriates large stretches of cultivated land for the development of the settlement.
(8) A bypass road is build to allow for the safe movement of the settlers and soldiers. For this purpose, the army expropriates more stretches of cultivated land from the neighboring Palestinian villages. The road with its “security area” is 60-80 meters wide.
(9) Palestinians try to attack the settlement that stands on their land.
(10) To prevent attacks on the settlement, an area 400 meters wide around the settlement is declared a “security zone” closed to Palestinians. The olive groves and fields in this area are lost to their owners.
(11) This provides the motivation for more attacks.
(12) For security reasons, the army uproots all trees that might afford cover for an attack on the settlement or the road leading to it. The army has even invented a new Hebrew word for it, something like “exposuring”.
(13) The army destroys all buildings from which the settlement or the road could be attacked.
(14) For good measure, all buildings from which the settlement can be observed are demolished, too.
(15) Anyone who comes near the settlement is shot, on suspicion that he has come to spy or attack.
This way the settlement sows death and destruction in a ever-widening circle. The life of the Palestinian villages in the neighborhood becomes hellish. They lose the sources of their livelihood. Hundreds of such villages find themselves trapped between two or more settlements, which close in on all sides, sometimes right up to their courtyards. Their lives and their property are at the mercy of gangs of settlers.
This process has already been going on for decades all over the occupied territories. It is a slow, continuous, day-to-day offensive, unseen by Israeli eyes. Last year, the “separation fence” was added, a monster that snakes its way deep into the West Bank in order to “defend” the settlements. It makes the life of hundreds of thousand of Palestinians well-nigh impossible.
The fence is supposed to cost 10 billion shekels (more than two billion dollars). It is impossible to calculate the cost of the settlements themselves, which certainly runs into many billions of shekels every year.
It is much easier to calculate the price in human lives. The killing of the three soldiers in Netzarim has caused a shock. Many Israelis are beginning to ask–perhaps for the first time–Why? What for?
The father of one of the soldiers killed in Ein Yabroud has called this “Israeli roulette”. The mother of a female soldier killed in Hebron gave vent to her anger on TV: “She died because of the settlers!” There are many signs of a general sobering-up, even in the army command.
Is this the beginning of a change in public opinion? That could be.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.