The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Victory of Brutality

Gideon Levy, Haaretz, Mar 14, 2004

A new species of officer is achieving greatness in the Israel Defense Forces. These people did most of their service as occupation officers, and their excellence is a function of the degree of violence and brutality they exercise against the Palestinians. The most striking example of this trend is Brigadier General Gadi Shamni, a graduate of Lebanon and Hebron, who last week concluded his tour of duty as commander of the Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip and was promoted to head of the Operations Division in the General Staff, a post which is a major step on the way to becoming a major general. The promotion of an officer of this type speaks volumes about the IDF’s value system and its order of priorities, far more than what it says about Shamni himself.

Perhaps not since the days when Ariel Sharon was a serving major general has the Gaza Strip seen an officer as violent, as boastful and as brutal as General Shamni. If Shamni’s predecessor, Brigadier General Yisrael Ziv, only mounted numerous useless operations against the lathes of Gaza, which also resulted in nothing more than unnecessary bloodshed but didn’t prevent the firing of Qassam rockets at Israeli targets, along came Shamni and initiated a series of showcase operations – totally pointless and only generated even more killing.

In the last of these operations, the one that resulted in the killing of 15 Palestinians last week, Shamni even articulated a new IDF doctrine: “stimulus and response.” The purpose of the operation, it was reported, was “to stimulate the armed individuals to come out and then kill them off.” This method, which led to the killing of innocent people, including children, drew no critical reaction. No one asked why every armed Palestinian is marked for death and why it’s necessary to “stimulate” armed people in Gaza altogether. Shamni decided, executed and was promoted. Some in the IDF also explained that the latest operation was actually meant to be a “farewell party” on the eve of the ceremony of the handover of command.

The widespread death and destruction that Shamni left behind from his 14 months of service in Gaza did not prevent his promotion, and may have even contributed to it.

The new species of officer, of which Shamni is the most prominent example, balks at no means of killing, never expresses sorrow or regret (not for the killing of innocent people and not for pointless operations), articulates clear political positions, and is rarely anything but arrogant in his speech. That’s the recipe for promotion. “We are winning in this confrontation every day, a few times,” Shamni boasted the day after the last operation in an interview to Haaretz.

Winning in Gaza? Winning what? Against whom? It’s hard to believe that in this day and age there are still officers in the IDF who talk like this. We’ve been “winning” in Gaza for 37 years, Shamni even wins a few times a day, but no lesson has been learned. The results of the victory: 1.5 million people imprisoned and destitute, living in subhuman conditions, whose hatred for Israel is only increasing.

To ensure the victory, Shamni introduced an operational routine of an invasion every few weeks using armored forces, straight into the heart of the refugee camps and the slum neighborhoods, on every occasion leaving behind dead Palestinians, many of them innocent passersby. No one is able to explain the point and purpose of this brutal presence, this constant delivering of more and more blows to an already downtrodden population. No one has been called to account for the terrorism that sprouted and will continue to sprout from these futile operations.

In Israel we count only the number of terrorists who are killed, never the terrorists who are born as a result of IDF operations, and the number of the newborn is legion.

The conscience of officers like Shamni is always clean and polished. The blood of the innocent people does not torment them. It’s doubtful whether questions of morality even occur to them. They “do the work” and nothing will stop them. If in 1998 the IDF commander in the Gaza Strip, Brigadier General Zvi Poleg, expressed regret for the loss of an eye that a Palestinian baby girl suffered, the new generation of commanders will view any such remark as a sign of weakness. The eye of an infant? Who does that interest? We’re at war. A few months ago, when the IDF demolished the homes of seven families who had done nothing wrong, in Bureij refugee camp, Shamni labeled the action “surgical” without batting an eyelash; and when, among the ruins, a pregnant woman, Noha Makadama, mother of ten children, was killed before the eyes of her husband and children, he coldly said, “The IDF has no proof that the woman was killed.” Similarly, when his troops killed peace activists Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall and the photographer James Miller, in Rafah, Shamni did not find fault in their actions.

Knowing well which way the wind is blowing and well-versed in the dominant language of force, officers like Shamni do not hesitate to make political statements. None of them is brave enough to speak out against the continuation of the occupation, against the security damage caused by the checkpoints or against the security price of the settlements. “The withdrawal program is putting wind in the sales of the organizations,” Shamni said a few months ago. If the chief of staff can say so, then so can the divisional commander. But maybe it’s precisely Shamni’s operations that have put wind in the sails of the terrorists?

Having withdrawn from Lebanon, this occupation officer will not allow the scenes of the pullout to repeat themselves. “Look who we’re dealing with,” Shamni said in his farewell interview, referring to the terrorists whom he says use children as human shields. And who are we dealing with, at the very top of the IDF?