Wednesday, September 15, 2004

 

Ehud Olmert

Ehud Olmert has a predictably hideous op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal. I was going to go through it point by point and try to tear it apart with logic, but at times you just lose the energy to do things like that. As an equally fruitful exercise, I have decided to post it paragraph by paragraph, each one with a quote from a recent exhibit in Tel Aviv featuring testimonies by IDF soldiers who had served in Hebron. The Olmert will be indented, the Hebron testimonies will not.
One might have imagined that we Israelis, after having endured more than four years of brutal terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians, would have become immune to the horrific tragedy that unfolded in Beslan. Indeed, the televised scenes of the tiny coffins and grieving families seem far too familiar, just as the boilerplate speeches of the politicians and standard condemnations by world bodies feels like the routine drill. Yet the fact that we still find ourselves distraught, and can so readily identify with the suffering of the Russian victims, shows that the world today is divided into two distinct camps -- the first which seeks to affirm life, the second hell bent on avowing vengeance, martyrdom and death regardless of its victims.
'First week, first time at the checkpoint, at the passage between the Palestinian area and a street where only Jews can go. Those guys have to stop, there's a line, then they hand you their ID cards through the fence, you check them, and let them through. This guy with me yells: "Waqif! Stop!" The man didn't understand and took one more step. Then he yells again, "Waqif!" and the man freezes. So the soldier decided that because the guy took this one extra step he'll be detained. I said to him: "Listen, what are you doing?" He said: "No, no, don't argue, at least not in front of them. I'm not going to trust you anymore, you're not reliable." Eventually one of the patrol commanders came over, and I said: "What's the deal, how long do you want to detain him for?" He said: "You can do whatever you want, whatever you feel like doing. If you feel there's a problem with what he's done, if you feel something's wrong, even the slightest thing, you can detain him for as long as you want." And then I got it, a man who's been in Hebron a week, it has nothing to do with rank, he can do whatever he wants. There are no rules, everything is permissible.'
In 1974, as a newly elected Knesset member, I watched the terrorist assault on a school in Ma'alot as it played out along Israel's northern border. Palestinian gunmen, ironically from a PLO faction funded by the Russians, infiltrated a high school and took dozens of students hostage. Before the army could free the children, the terrorists managed to kill 26 of them. At the time, the idea that a ruthless terrorist could deliberately murder Israeli children seemed almost beyond even our belief. What sort of desperate animals, we demanded, seek to advance their political agendas by slaughtering children? Surely the international order would insist that all the culprits be hunted down and punished.
'I was ashamed of myself the day I realised that I simply enjoy the feeling of power. Not merely enjoy it, need it. And then, when someone suddenly says no to you, you say: what do you mean no? Where do you get the chutzpah from to say no to me? Forget for a moment that I think that all those Jews are mad, and I actually want peace and believe we should leave the Territories, how dare you say no to me? I am the Law! I am the Law here! Once I was at a checkpoint, a temporary one, a so-called strangulation checkpoint blocking the entrance to a village. On one side a line of cars wanting to get out, and on the other side a line of cars wanting to get in, a huge line, and suddenly you have a mighty force at the tip of your fingers. I stand there, pointing at someone, gesturing to you to do this or that, and you do this or that, the car starts, moves towards me, halts beside me. The next car follows, you signal, it stops. You start playing with them, like a computer game. You come here, you go there, like this. You barely move, you make them obey the tip of your finger. It's a mighty feeling.'
But the world voiced only silence, and business went on as usual. Israelis were forced to learn that our tragedies were always going to be personal affairs, and that there would be no united international response to terror. Indeed, the democratic states in Europe provided the first cracks in the front, insisting on maintaining relations with the PLO after Ma'alot while accepting that there were no real consequences when it comes to Arab terror.
'That morning, a fairly big group arrived in Hebron, around 15 Jews from France. They were all religious Jews. They were in a good mood, really having a great time, and I spent my entire shift following this gang of Jews around and trying to keep them from destroying the town. They just wandered around, picked up every stone they saw, and started throwing them in Arabs' windows, and overturning whatever they came across. There's no horror story here: they didn't catch some Arab and kill him or anything like that, but what bothered me is that maybe someone told them that there's a place in the world where a Jew can take all of his rage out on Arab people, and simply do anything. Come to a Palestinian town, and do whatever he wants, and the soldiers will always be there to back him up. Because that was my job, to protect them and make sure that nothing happened to them.'
The distance from the school in Ma'alot to the school in Beslan should be measured not in miles but in historical perspective. The seeds of terror planted by the Palestinians in 1974 has come to complete fruition in a school house in Russia 30 years on. Terror attacks like the recent ones in Madrid, Jakarta, Be'er Sheva and Bali, as well as the genocide of African Muslims by Arab Islamic extremist in Darfur should all be seen as Yasser Arafat's legacy.
'Once a little kid, a boy of about six, passed by me at my post. He said to me: "Soldier, listen, don't get annoyed, don't try and stop me, I'm going out to kill some Arabs." I look at the kid and don't quite understand exactly what I'm supposed to do. So he says: "First, I'm going to buy a popsicle at Gotnik's" - that's their grocery store - "then I'm going to kill some Arabs." I had nothing to say to him. Nothing. I went completely blank. And that's not such a simple thing, that a city, that such an experience can silence someone who was an educator, a counsellor, who believed in education, who believed in talking to people, even if their opinions were different. But I had nothing to say to a kid like that. There's nothing to say to him.'
Last week marked three years since America was viciously attacked by radicals bent on the destruction of America's cornerstone values of freedom and justice. The images of 9/11 have left a permanent mark on Americans and freedom-loving people around the world, including myself. They seek to remind us of the dire consequences of terror and reinforce the need to never again allow terror to go unabated.
'It was Friday night, and the auxiliary company, which was stationed with us in Harsina, eliminated two terrorists. Friday night dinner was, of course, a very happy affair, and the whole base was jumping. As I was leaving dinner, an armoured ambulance arrived with the terrorists' corpses, and the two terrorists' corpses were held up in a standing position by three people who were posing for photographs. Even I was shocked by this sight, I closed my eyes so as not to see and walked away. I really didn't feel like looking at terrorists' corpses.'
This week, Jewish communities everywhere will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, our inauguration of the New Year. But more than merely noting another year on the Hebrew calendar, Israel's sages teach that Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the actual birth of the world. It is interesting to understand that according to our tradition, the recorded date of the start of time is not when the Creator fashioned the Earth and stars, but rather on the fifth day of creation, when Adam and Eve were brought into being. So cherished is human life that only on the birthday of the first couple are we told that the world truly began to exist.
'When I served in Hebron, for the first time in my life I felt different about being a Jew. I can't explain it. But the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the ancestral city, it did something to me. I don't know if I was defending the State of Israel, but I was defending Jews who were part of the state, and in a city where the controversy is different from other Arab cities. It was the worshippers' route. One day, out of the blue, a group of about six Jewish women with six or seven little girls simply started running around, started kicking stalls and turning them over, and spitting on Arabs and elderly people. One of the women picked up a rock and shattered the window of a barber shop. A man comes out, and I find myself, on the one hand, trying to take the rock away from her, and on the other hand, defending her, so that they won't beat the shit out of her. So on the one hand you say to yourself, fuck it, I'm supposed to guard the Jews that are here. But these Jews don't behave with the same morality or values I was raised on. If they're capable of writing on the Arabs' doors "Arabs Out" or "Death to the Arabs," and drawing a Star of David, which to me is like a swastika when they draw it like that, then somehow the term "Jew" has changed a little for me.'
The stark moral contrast between the ushering out of this past year with images of murdered school children and our high hopes for the New Year and the future of humanity is difficult to assimilate. However, these days, the two seem to be relentlessly entwined. Countries that are determined to protect their citizens and safeguard their security now understand that they can no longer remain passive in the face of evil. The threat of terrorism no longer recognizes national borders and no country remains immune. Either democratic states will bury the terrorists and their patrons, or they will bury us.
'Once I was in Hebron, when from a gate near our post that leads to the Kasbah, and from which it is forbidden to enter or exit, came a man in his fifties or sixties with a few women and small children. You walk up to him and say in Arabic: "Stop, there's a curfew, go home." And then he starts to argue with you. And he gets bold, like he believes that he'll get through in the end. He's not trying to weasel his way through, he really believes that he's in the right. And that confuses you. You remember that actually you would like to let him pass, but you're not supposed to let him pass, and how dare he stand there in front of you . . . Finally the patrol shows up, and from an argument between two soldiers and ten people, it becomes an argument between ten soldiers and ten people, with an officer who, naturally, is less inclined to restrain himself. Weapons are cocked, aimed, not straight at him, but at his legs. "Get the hell out of here, enough talk!" I was standing closest to him, about a metre or two. He was all dressed up, wearing a suit and a kaffiyeh, he looked really respectable. And I was standing there with my weapon, close to my chest, trying to defend myself, protect myself. I was afraid that he was going to try something. And the atmosphere was charged, more than usual. Then he sticks out his chest, and both his fists are tightly closed. My finger moves to the safety catch, and then I see his eyes are filled with tears, and he says something in Arabic, turns around, and goes. And his clan follows him. I'm not exactly sure why this incident is engraved in my memory out of all the times I told people to scram when there was a curfew, but there was something so noble about him, and I felt like the scum of the earth. Like, what am I doing here?'
Although human-rights groups are quick to point out infringements of civil liberties as security services, law-enforcement agencies and armies around the globe engage the terrorists, they have no answers or words of consolation for the victims and their families. Indeed, those innocents maimed and killed also once had rights that were violated and can never be restored. In the balance of things, the temporary difficulties caused by fences, administrative detentions and interrogation techniques pale in the face of a tragedy like Beslan. It is easy to isolate and paint lifesaving government policies as "draconian." But the larger peril cannot be ignored.
'Our job was to stop the Palestinians at the checkpoint and tell them they can't pass this way any more. Maybe a month ago they could, but now they can't. On the other hand there were all these old ladies who had to pass to get to their homes, so we'd point in the direction of the opening through which they could go without us noticing. It was an absurd situation. Our officers also knew about this opening. They told us about it. Nobody really cared about it. It made us wonder what we were doing at the checkpoint. Why was it forbidden to pass? It was really a form of collective punishment. You're not allowed to pass because you're not allowed to pass. If you want to commit a terrorist attack, turn right there and then left.'
As outlaw regimes such as Iran and North Korea race to acquire nuclear arms, the terrorist danger escalates. The camp of nations that chooses to hold life sacred must actively engage and disarm the camp of terrorist regimes and organizations at all costs. In Israel, we have learned that you can either fight the perpetrators in their cities and villages or you can turn your own streets and schools into a war zone. Pre-emptive operations can be utilized effectively in pinpoint strikes against terrorists and can incapacitate their leadership.
'Whenever we feel like it, we choose a house on the map, we go on in. "Jaysh, jaysh, iftah al bab" - "army, army, open the door" - and they open the door. We move all the men into one room, all the women into another, and place them under guard. The rest of the unit does whatever they please, except destroy equipment - it goes without saying - and there's no helping yourself to anything: we have to cause as little harm to the people as possible, as little physical damage as possible. If I try to imagine the reverse situation: if they had entered my home, not a police force with a warrant, but a unit of soldiers, if they had burst into my home, shoved my mother and little sister into my bedroom, and forced my father and my younger brother and me into the living-room, pointing their guns at us, laughing, smiling, and we didn't always understand what the soldiers were saying while they emptied the drawers and searched through the things. Oops it fell, broken - all kinds of photos, of my grandmother and grandfather, all kinds of sentimental things that you wouldn't want anyone else to see. There is no justification for this. If there is a suspicion that a terrorist has entered a house, so be it. But just to enter a home, any home: here I've chosen one, look what fun. We go in, we check it out, we cause a bit of injustice, we've asserted our military presence and then we move on.'
All those concerned with the freedom and survival of humanity must join in this struggle against the terrorists. Indeed, we must act to eradicate these organizations and never permit them to threaten us again. On this Jewish New Year, we are commemorating the birthday of humanity. We are also painfully reminded of the forces of destruction. Let us work to ensure humanity's survival -- and let us not fail.
'There's a very clear and powerful connection between how much time you serve in the Territories and how fucked in the head you get. If someone is in the Territories half a year, he's a beginner, they don't allow him into the interesting places, he does guard-duty, all he does is just grow more and more bitter, angry. The more shit he eats, from the Jews and the Arabs and the army and the state, they call that numbness but I don't, because serving in the Territories isn't about numbness, it's a high, a sort of negative high: you're always tired, you're always hungry, you always have to go to the bathroom, you're always scared to die, you're always eager to catch that terrorist. It's a life without rest. Even when you sleep, you don't sleep well. I don't remember even once sleeping well in Hebron. It's simply an experience that no human being should have. It fucks with your head. It's the experience of a hunted animal, a hunting animal, of an animal, whatever.'

Comments:
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You are a fucking asshole.
Wait til they come to blow up your family, I hope it's soon
 
hey buddy, thanks for the cheery thoughts. glad you took the time to let me know, because otherwise i'd be stuck here wondering "gee, i wonder if [too much of a chickenshit to leave even an internet name] wants my family to die or not." anyway, keep on strong with that terrorism thing, i hear its a budding field these days -- you seem perfect for the job.
 
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