Gideon Levy, Haaretz, Nov 30, 2003
Quietly, far from the public eye, Israeli soldiers continue killing Palestinians. Hardly a day goes by without casualties, some innocent civilians, and the stories of their violent deaths never reach the Israeli consciousness or awareness. If there is one consistent piece of data in the current intifada, it is the number of Palestinian casualties: dozens a month, unceasingly.
There were 30 in November, 57 in October, 33 in September. In May and June, the number of casualties reached 60 a month (all data supplied by B’Tselem). While Palestinian terror shocks us with its brutality, the daily killing of innocent Palestinians in far greater numbers is ignored – unless it is a case of an army operation as in Nusseirat refugee camp in October.
Here’s a list of victims from the last month, taken from the margins of the daily newspaper chronicles: A 32-year-old motorcyclist shot to death in the chest after soldiers said he tried to escape a checkpoint near Iskar refugee camp; a 10-year-old boy from Sejaya in Gaza who was bird hunting with a slingshot near the separation fence around Gaza, killed by a tank shell fired at him; an eighth-grader from Barukin, near Jenin, who threw stones at soldiers, shot dead; a youth shot to death during “disturbances” after the funeral of his friend in Jenin; a taxi driver and father of six shot to death in Tul Karm by soldiers who thought he was trying to get away; a 15-year-old killed in Yata during some arrests; a nine-year-old killed by IDF fire in Rafah; and three Palestinians who were on their way to the holiday dinner last Wednesday in Gaza, killed by soldiers who claimed they thought the three were an armed cell.
The IDF admitted the next day that they were “accidentally” killed. But a day later, Brigadier General Gad Shamni, commander of the Gaza forces in the Strip hurried to say the soldiers actually behaved correctly. Even though three innocent people were killed, he didn’t even think it was a mistake.
Life in the killing fields of Rafah, for example, is as cheap as the hundreds of houses that have been demolished there for various, strange reasons. Just a few days ago, the IDF demolished the home of someone in their custody whom the army claimed was responsible for the smuggling tunnels. There’s no need for blood on the hands to justify demolishing a person’s house in the current intifada. Only someone who has lately visited Rafah can understand how cheap life has become in this remote place, where there’s practically no building that has not been damaged.
Last weekend, the BBC broadcast a program titled “When the killing is easy” about the killing of British TV cameraman James Miller, the death of International Solidarity Movement volunteer Rachel Corrie under a bulldozer, and the shooting of ISM peace activist Tom Hurndall, who has been rendered a vegetable by his injuries. All three incidents happened within a few weeks in Rafah.
The TV cameras caught Miller walking in the night to his death: wearing a flak vest marked with fluorescent ink identifying him as a journalist, white flag in hand, walking slowly and cautiously, calling out to the soldiers in the armored personnel car facing him so they calm down. Then, the sound of a shot in the dark, and then another and Miller falls, dying in the dirt. The single bullet that struck his neck was well-aimed.
The soldiers in the APC had the best night vision equipment and it is difficult to assume that they were unable to identify their victim as a journalist. Maybe they did not want to kill a journalist, maybe they thought it was a Palestinian pretending to be a journalist, but there is no doubt he was not endangering any of their lives inside the APC. They could have warned him to halt, they could have only wounded him. Hurndall was also an innocent victim of the easy fire. A bullet struck him in the head and he’s now a vegetable.
In effect, there is no difference between how Miller was killed, how Hurndall was wounded and how the three Palestinians were shot dead last Wednesday, except for the fact that a movie was made about Hurndall and Miller, because they are not Palestinians. When soldiers know they will not be prosecuted – and usually no investigation will even take place – for killing an innocent foreign photographer or innocent Palestinians on their way to a festive dinner, they are getting a license to kill from their commanders.
In the eyes of a soldier’s commander, at most he made a mistake. When Brigadier General Shamni announced his soldiers operated “correctly” by killing three unarmed residents, he paved the way for the next unnecessary killing.
If there’s no investigation and no punishment, it means nothing wrong happened. If the pilots are allowed to kill 10 civilians for a single wanted man, obviously the killing of a single innocent resident is inconsequential. Thus the line blurs between killing and murder. What was the sniper’s bullet that struck Miller in the neck? In the complacent response, the IDF’s senior command sends a worrisome message to its soldiers. No instruction booklet about what is allowed and not allowed and no day of discussion about “respecting human dignity” that certain units in the territories have lately taken will erase the damage of the sweeping license to kill that the IDF grants 19-year-olds in the territories.