The dehumanization of Palestinians has reached the IDF spokespeople. Even children no longer rouse human sentiment such as sorrow or mercy, certainly not in the IDF.
Israeli soldiers shoot children. Sometimes they wound them and sometimes they kill them. Sometimes the children wind up brain dead, sometimes disabled. Sometimes the children have thrown rocks at the soldiers, sometimes Molotov cocktails. Sometimes by chance they wind up in the middle of a confrontation. They almost never put the soldiers’ lives in danger.
Sometimes the soldiers intentionally shoot at the children, sometimes by mistake. Sometimes they aim at the children’s heads or the upper body, and sometimes they shoot in the air and miss, hitting the children in the head. That’s how it goes when a body is small.
Sometimes the soldiers shoot with the intent to kill, sometimes to punish. Sometimes they use regular bullets and sometimes rubber-coated bullets, sometimes from a distance, sometimes in an ambush, sometimes at close range. Sometimes they shoot out of fear, anger, frustration and a sense of having no other option, or a loss of control, sometimes in cold blood. The soldiers never see their victims afterward. If they saw what they caused, they might stop shooting.
Israeli soldiers are allowed to shoot children. Nobody punishes them for shooting children. When a Palestinian child is shot it’s not a story. There’s no difference between the blood of a small Palestinian child and the blood of a Palestinian adult. They’re both cheap. When a Jewish child is hurt, all of Israel shakes, when a Palestinian child is hurt, Israel yawns. It will always, always find a justification for soldiers shooting Palestinian children. It will never, never find a justification for children throwing stones at soldiers who raid their village.
For six months a boy named Abd el-Rahman Shatawi has been convalescing at the rehabilitation hospital in Beit Jala. For 10 days a relative of his, Mohammed Shatawi, has been at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, in Jerusalem. Both are from the village of Qaddum in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers shot them both in the head. They shot regular bullets from a great distance at Abd el-Rahman as he stood at the entrance to a friend’s home, they shot a rubber-coated bullet at Mohammed from a nearby hilltop as he tried to hide from them down the same hill. The army said he had set a tire on fire.
Abd el-Rahman is 10 and looks small for his age. Mohammed is 14 and looks older than he is. These are the children of the Palestinian reality, both hanging between life and death. Theirs and their parents’ lives have been destroyed. Abd el-Rahman’s father drives him home from Beit Jala to Qaddum once a week for a weekend in the village, Mohammed’s father doesn’t stray from the doorway of the neuro-intensive care unit at Hadassah Ein Karem, where he’s alone facing his son and his fate. Neither of these children should have been shot. Neither should have been shot in the head.
After Abd el-Rahman was shot the army spokesman’s office said that “during the incident a Palestinian minor was wounded.” After Mohammed was shot the spokesman said: “A claim about a Palestinian who was wounded by a rubber bullet is known.” The office is familiar with the complaint. The army spokesman is the voice of the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF is a people’s army, therefore the IDF spokesman also speaks for Israel.
The spokespeople publish their bloodcurdling statements from a new office tower in Ramat Aviv near Tel Aviv, where the office recently moved. They refer to a 10-year-old boy as a “Palestinian minor” and remark that “the Palestinian claim is known” about a boy fighting for his life because soldiers shot him in the head. The dehumanization of Palestinians has reached the IDF spokespeople. Even children no longer rouse human sentiment such as sorrow or mercy, certainly not in the IDF.
The IDF spokesman’s office does its job well. Its statements reflect the spirit of the time and place. There’s no room to express any regret for shooting children in the head, there’s no room for mercy, an apology, an investigation or punishment, and certainly not for any compensation. Shooting a Palestinian child is considered less severe than shooting a stray dog, for which there’s still a chance someone will do some investigating.
The IDF spokesman announces: Continue to shoot Palestinian children.
Gideon Levy is a Haaretz columnist and a member of the newspaper’s editorial board.
Levy joined Haaretz in 1982, and spent four years as the newspaper’s deputy editor. He is the author of the weekly Twilight Zone feature, which covers the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza over the last 25 years, as well as the writer of political editorials for the newspaper.
Levy was the recipient of the Euro-Med Journalist Prize for 2008; the Leipzig Freedom Prize in 2001; the Israeli Journalists’ Union Prize in 1997; and The Association of Human Rights in Israel Award for 1996.
His new book, The Punishment of Gaza, has just been published by Verso Publishing House in London and New York.