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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=5/9/01&id=118965

Behind the tank shell is a soldier

By Amira Hass, Ha'aretz Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Behind the tank shell that killed a four-month-old baby girl, Iman Hijo, in the Khan Yunis refugee camp on Monday morning is an Israeli soldier. Behind that soldier are parents who are supporting him and giving him moral backing in the course of his compulsory military service. Behind those parents is Israeli society, which is convinced that the tank shell was justifiably fired in the defense of both the State of Israel and its citizens. Similarly, Israeli society justifies the hundreds of tank shells that have been lobbed over the past seven months, as well as the millions of live bullets and rubber-coated metal bullets and the hundred missiles that have been fired during this period.With a rather primitive pair of binoculars, the Israeli soldier who killed Iman Hijo could have seen the surroundings in which she died. The positions of the Israel Defense Forces in the Gush Katif area are located a few dozen or, at the most, a few hundred meters from the Palestinian refugee camps.

Those who are not satisfied with what they can see with their own eyes can use IDF aerial photographs. After all, the photographs are the reason why the IDF's pilotless planes constantly patrol the skies of the Palestinian refugee camps and why cameras have been mounted on watchtowers. This sophisticated military voyeurism produces an endless series of photographs, in which you can easily discern the dusty alleys; the small asbestos or corrugated tin roofs on which concrete bricks have been placed (to prevent them from flying off); the thin walls of the refugees' homes; some of the two-story houses that their inhabitants managed to build with their savings and which are today riddled with pockmarks after having been fired upon by IDF troops; the masses of people wandering the streets, looking for the cheapest tomatoes and dragging a bag of lentils (they are not hunting for jobs, because there are none available).

The soldier who fired the tank shell perhaps lives in Mevasseret Zion or Yehud or Karnei Shomron. He said goodbye to his parents, who are concerned for his welfare, last Sunday morning in their split-level home or in their small apartment. Many IDF soldiers find in the settlements, between whose lawns IDF positions are spread out, a standard of living or a lifestyle with which they are unfamiliar. Nonetheless, all IDF soldiers have pledged to defend that standard of living or that lifestyle.

The soldier who fired the tank shell was born long after 1967 and thus see nothing wrong with a situation in which 6,500 Jews are living in incredibly comfortable conditions on 20 percent of the territory of the Gaza Strip, where more than 1.1 million Palestinians reside.

Undoubtedly, the soldier, his parents, his commanders and all of Israeli society, which stands behind them, know that Israel unquestionably has military superiority vis-a-vis the Palestinians. However, that fact in no way diminishes their trust in the justness of Israeli tactics aimed at putting an end to the Palestinian intifada which, as senior IDF commanders explain day in and day out, is not a popular uprising but rather a campaign of organized terror.

The soldier's parents can remember every mortar shell that has landed in Israeli territory or in the settlements. However, they have not the faintest idea how many Palestinian children below the age of 18 have been killed (on Monday, the figure was 148). The disclosure that the Israel Navy had discovered a fishing boat with a cargo of weapons and ammunition bound for the Gaza coast has only served to reinforce Israeli feelings of paranoia.

When the parents of the soldier who shot the fatal tank shell sent him to his base, they had full confidence in the official Israeli version of the history of this intifada. According to that version, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and his officials planned the uprising in order to achieve political goals: The Palestinians attacked the Israelis first and they were the first to use firearms against the Israelis. While the IDF only retaliates, uses its deterrent force and employs preventive tactics, the Palestinians are constantly on the offensive.

Perhaps the parents of the Israeli soldiers who will fire more tank shells that will kill, wound and destroy should remember what the Mitchell Commission has said about the events of the last seven months. The commission is dealing with the recent past in order to prevent escalation in the near future. Established under American aegis, the commission has come out with some harsh criticism of the PA. (It blames the PA for its failure to exert control over its own security agencies, over the shooting coming from residential areas, and over the actions of demonstrators, and for its failure to prevent terrorist attacks.)

The commission also describes how the present intifada unfolded and its description sharply differs from the official Israeli version (or from the American version, which is extremely similar to the Israeli one). According to the Mitchell Commission, the uprising was not planned in advance by the Palestinians; the use of live ammunition by members of the Israel police last September 29 and the firing by IDF soldiers on unarmed demonstrators at the Al-Aqsa mosque in the days that immediately followed had a major impact on the subsequent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis.

Israel made no attempt to avoid the use of lethal weapons against unarmed persons, and there was an exaggerated reliance on force and on lethal weapons from the very beginning. In the last three months, only about a third of the Palestinians' actions (2,900 in total) involved the use of firearms; nonetheless, the majority of Palestinians killed have been unarmed. In response to small arms fire from the Palestinians, Israel has used heavy arms fire. The commission has indirectly referred to this situation as "inappropriate or excessive uses of force."

The Mitchell Commission's conclusion is common knowledge: "Inappropriate or excessive uses of force ... often lead to escalation."

However, the parents who send their children to defend the settlements are convinced that it is the Palestinians who are the aggressors, who constitute the threat and who are escalating the conflict, whereas their children are merely engaging in defensive action

(c) copyright 2000 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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