Thursday, January 01, 2009
Our finest young men are attacking Gaza now. Good boys from good homes are doing bad things. Most of them are eloquent, impressive, self-confident, often even highly principled in their own eyes, and on Black Saturday dozens of them set out to bomb some of the targets in our "target bank" for the Gaza Strip.
They set out to bomb the graduation ceremony for young police officers who had found that rare Gaza commodity, a job, massacring them by the dozen. They bombed a mosque, killing five sisters of the Balousha family, the youngest of whom was 4. They bombed a police station, hitting a doctor nearby; she lies in a vegetative state in Shifa Hospital, which is bursting with wounded and dead. They bombed a university that we in Israel call the Palestinian Rafael, the equivalent of Israel's weapons developer, and destroyed student dormitories. They dropped hundreds of bombs out of blue skies free of all resistance.
In four days they killed 375 people. They did not, and could not, distinguish between a Hamas official and his children, between a traffic cop and a Qassam launch operator, between a weapons cache and a health clinic, between the first and second floors of a densely populated apartment building with dozens of children inside. According to reports, about half of the people killed were innocent civilians. We're not complaining about the pilots' accuracy, it cannot be otherwise when the weapon is a plane and the objective is a tiny, crowded strip of land. Our excellent pilots are effectively bullies now. As in training flights, they bomb undisturbed, facing neither an air force nor defense system.
It is hard to judge what they are thinking, how they feel. It's unlikely to be relevant, anyway. They are measured by their actions. In any event, from an altitude of thousands of feet the picture looks as sterile as a Rorschach inkblot. Lock onto the target, press the button and then a black column of smoke. Another "successful hit." None see the effects on the ground of their actions. Their heads must surely be filled with Gaza horror stories - they themselves have never been there - as if there aren't a million and a half people living there who only want to live with a minimum of honor, some of them young like themselves, with dreams of studying, working, raising a family but who have no chance to fulfill their dreams with or without the bombing.
Do the pilots think about them, the children of refugees whose parents and grandparents have already been driven from their lives? Do they think about the thousands of people they have left permanently disabled in a place without a single hospital worthy of the name and no rehabilitation centers at all? Do they think about the burning hatred they are planting not only in Gaza but in other corners of the world amid the horrific images on television?
It was not the pilots who decided to go to war, but they are the subcontractors. The real accounting must be with the decision makers, but the pilots are their partners. When they return home they will be welcomed with all the respect and honor we reserve for them. It appears that not only will no one try to provoke moral questioning among them, but that they are considered the real heroes of this cursed war. The Israel Defense Forces spokesman is already going over the top with praise in his daily briefings for the "wonderful work" they are doing. He too, of course, completely ignores the images from Gaza. After all, these are not sadistic Border Police officers beating up Arabs in the alleys of Nablus and the center of Hebron, or cruel undercover soldiers who shoot their targets point-blank in cold blood. These, as we have said, are our finest young men.
Maybe if they were to confront the results of their "wonderful work" even once they would regret their decisions, they would reconsider the effects of their actions. If they were to go just once to Jerusalem's Alyn Hospital Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Center, where for nearly three years Marya Aman, 7, has been hospitalized - she is a quadriplegic who runs her wheelchair, and her life, with her chin - they would be shocked. This adorable little girl was hit by a missile in Gaza that killed almost her entire family, the handiwork of our pilots.
But all of this is well hidden from the pilots' eyes. They are only doing their job, as the saying goes, only following orders like bombing machines. In the past few days they have excelled at this, and the results are there for the entire world to see. Gaza is licking its wounds, just like Lebanon before it, and almost no one pauses for a moment to ask whether all this is necessary, or unavoidable, or whether it contributes to Israel's security and moral image. Is it really the case that our pilots return safely to base, or are they in fact returning to them as callous, cruel and blind people?
Gideon Levy is an Israeli journalist for the Haaretz newspaper, where he is also an editorial board member. He is a prominent left-wing commentator. He formerly served as spokesman for Shimon Peres from 1978 and 1982.