Guest Post by YEHUDA SHAUL
In November 2012, Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip called “Amud Anan”, the literal English translation of which is, “Pillar of Clouds”. Though, the official name in English was deemed, “Pillar of Defense”. A few days ago we launched another operation named, “Mighty Cliff”, which is officially called, “Protective Edge”. Both chosen titles are highly defensive in their essence. When I hear the names given to military operations in Gaza – especially the versions chosen for an international audience – I am reminded of my military service as a combatant in the Israeli army, whose full name (both in Hebrew and English) is: the “Israel Defense Forces” (IDF).
These days, I am reminded of the gap I discovered during my military service between the ethos represented by the name of the IDF, and the actual military operations that we carried out in the West Bank. Officially, the task before us was defensive. We performed “preventative” operations, such as prevention of terrorism. But my friends and I learned that “prevention” was nothing but a code name for a bunch of actions, many of which were offensive operations in any case. Bogui Ya’alon, then Chief of Staff and today the Defense Minister, called on us to “burn the Palestinian consciousness”. In the spirit of this call, we were sent to intimidate and punish an entire civilian community systematically. This was grounded in the assumption that its members would refrain from revolting if they were hurt, oppressed and scared enough. Frightened consciousness is, in other words, “burned consciousness”.
In order to “thwart”, my friends and I learned to look at every Palestinian as an enemy and, as such, a legitimate target for attack. When we went on operations in order to “demonstrate our presence”, our objective was to frighten and confuse the civilian population in order to make them understand that they are always under our control. We achieved this objective through patrols on city streets and through entering homes randomly, at all hours of the day and night. No actual intelligence information guided us during these operations.
Other times, we “prevented” terror through the collective punishment of innocent Palestinians. Such was the operation to which we were sent after a Palestinian murdered a little girl from the Adora settlement. A few hours after the murder, we laid siege to the village of Tufach near the settlement of Adora. For an entire day we entered, one after the other, every single house in the village. We raided the houses and sent all the men in the village for questioning at the local school, which became our interrogation facility. We did not find anything, but looking back, that was not the objective. Through mass arrests and invasion of the houses, we sowed fear and “punished” the community of Adora. The logic that guided us was that if we punish everyone now, they will be afraid to do something in the future.
The rocket fire from Gaza has succeeded in murdering two Israeli civilians inside Israel. This is a horrendous deed that has no justification and cannot be justified. It threatens the lives of men, women and children in the entire country, and has even injured several citizens. But the shooting of rockets does not turn all of the residents of Gaza into legitimate targets for collective punishment, just as the murder of the child should not have turned all of the residents of Tufach into legitimate targets for arrest and indiscriminate searches. Moreover, in spite of our collective mourning of the heartbreaking and tragic loss of 18 Israeli soldiers in the operation in the Gaza Strip, we cannot be debilitated by our losses and must still abide by the rules of war. About 500 Palestinians have been killed thus far as a result of the Israeli operation, among them many civilians. In the name of defense, these days we are also harming the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli control throughout the year.
Even after the disengagement in 2005, we still control the airspace and territorial waters of Gaza, buffer zones inside the Gaza strip, and the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza – almost completely. Gaza’s population registry is controlled by Israel, and in order to obtain an ID card at the age of 16, Israel’s approval is required. This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. One of the characteristics of such control is seen in periodic military operations, causing terrible damage not only to the para-military infrastructure, but also to civilians, men, women and children that live in Gaza.
This reality was not forced upon us. It is the product of choices made by our leadership every day, to maintain control over the Palestinian territories and the population that resides there. I know the consequences of this choice well, because as a soldier and commander I took part in its implementation. I learned that the preservation of such control requires the constant exercise of force. I learned that is impossible to forcefully enforce a foreign government’s rule on a population of millions of people for decades, ethically.
Designating the repeated attacks on Gaza with defensive names will not change the nature of the operations. Significant change will come only on the day the occupation ends. In truth, it is difficult to know whether the threat to southern Israeli towns and communities will cease if the occupation ends. Though we do know that the occupation has not ceased thus far, and if nothing changes, we are all condemned to undergo another bloody operation, similar to the current one, in a year or two. Semantics will not change this reality, in which Israel is not only defending itself but also attacking – not only during these difficult days, but every day. Instead of trying to explain and justify it, we must act to change it. These are the days when we have to say: it’s time to end the occupation.
Yehuda Shaul served as an infantry combat soldier and commander in the IDF, and is a founding member of ‘Breaking the Silence‘ – an organization and network of Israeli soldiers who have served in the IDF and are opposed to the occupation of Palestine by the State of Israel.