Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Latest from Amira Hass

The recent article by Israeli journalist Amira Hass, known for her knowledge of Arabic language and intrepid muckraking reporting. If journalists could be called "prophets" in the traditional sense--those passionate excoriators of moral lassitude and protestors of spiritual indifference--I'd say Hass qualifies.

Last update - 02:50 17/03/2009

The writing on the wall
By Amira Hass

We came to annihilate you; Death to the Arabs; Kahane was right; No tolerance, we came to liquidate. This is a selection of graffiti Israeli soldiers left on the walls of Palestinians' homes in Gaza, which they turned into bivouacs and firing positions during Operation Cast Lead. Here and there, a soldier scribbled a line of mock poetry or biblical quote in the same sentiment. There were also curses on the Prophet Mohammed and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, along with shift schedules and favorite soccer teams.

When the homes' owners returned, they usually found widespread devastation - whether from the first shells the Israel Defense Forces fired to chase away the inhabitants, or from break-ins and the destruction of furniture, clothing, walls, computers and appliances. Frequently the breached homes remained standing in a neighborhood whose other houses were turned into rubble by bulldozers. The residents also found the trash the soldiers left behind.

In Israel, research institutes count every abusive slogan scrawled on Jewish cemeteries abroad and document every problematic article, to monitor the upsurge in anti-Semitism. The media attributes importance to every piece of graffiti against assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. But the everyday racism - both institutionalized and popular, declarative and practical - against the Arabs of Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank are usually cautiously and frugally covered.

No wonder the Hebrew graffiti, whose writers were also destructive, on walls in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods were not picked up by Israeli antennae, always so sensitive to racism against Jews.

The military spokespeople could dismiss the reports and testimony of the killing of many civilians at short or long range as fabricated or manipulative, or could answer generally that the terrorists were responsible because they were hiding nearby. Israeli society, from whose view Cast Lead has been buried in a closed archive, is always ready for any trick to explain how righteous and morally superior its army is.

But the photographic evidence of the Hebrew graffiti is hard to deny or call fabricated; all the more so when it appears alongside the names of army units and individual soldiers. Indeed, the military spokesman said the graffiti contravenes the values of the IDF, and the IDF views it gravely.

Not all the soldiers wrote graffiti, but the comrades and commanders of those who did neither stopped them nor erased what they scrawled. So this is where we can praise the soldiers' sincerity and integrity. They felt free to write what they did because they - like the pilots and operators of the missile-bearing drones - knew they had received from their government and commanders a free hand to attack a civilian population. Why then should there be a problem with the words they chose? What they wrote on the walls reflects their understanding of the spirit of their mission.

Unlike the older commanders, who are permitted to speak to certain journalists acceptable to the army, and who recite carefully what the IDF's legal advisers and the State Prosecutor's Office tell them to say, the writers of the graffiti - soldiers in the regular army who grew up with the occupation and Israel's military superiority - have not yet understood that the world makes more than weapons. It also makes laws, rules and human norms.

Their commanders permitted them to contravene norms they are obviously unaware of. Unlike those who formulate the IDF Spokesman's responses, the young, unsophisticated soldiers are inexperienced at covering up the army's actions and its mission, their mission, with words that blur the truth.

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