Amira Hass
November 24, 2010 - 1:00am

The Givati Brigade soldiers who were tried and convicted of risking the life of a non-combatant Palestinian child are entitled to feel like victims. But why shouldn't they feel patriotic pride? Their conviction essentially handed the post of chief of staff to Yoav Galant and bestowed legal immunity on political figures, in particular Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.

They were just small cogs who were brainwashed about the might of the enemy. Look at the statements other soldiers made to the organization Breaking the Silence; some of them quickly realized their commanders had filled them with lies before the ground offensive on the Gaza Strip on January 3, 2009. But even if the two convicted Givati soldiers had the maturity and judgment to realize this wasn't the heroic struggle for which they had been prepared, it's clear they acted out of fear when they ordered a 9-year-old boy to open bags. They grew up in an atmosphere that one could do anything to the Palestinians in Gaza. They didn't come up with that approach - they're the lower rank soldiers that the system put under the spotlight.

Unlike a soldier who stole a credit card and went to jail, these two did not have to serve time. Their peers, who demonstrated on their behalf, must know: They weren't the only ones who at gunpoint used civilians for military purposes. This practice was prevalent in the Golani Brigade. Civilians were bound, blindfolded and exposed to the cold so they could serve as human shields for soldiers in huge trenches and in houses that were turned into lookout points and from which soldiers opened fire. This was not the whim of an isolated few. There were soldiers who fired directly on civilians bearing white flags. On their commanders' orders, soldiers prevented Palestinian rescue teams from reaching the wounded, so an unknown number of people, including children, bled to death. The multiplicity of similar incidents shows that the soldiers were acting in accordance with uniform guidelines.

Internal military investigations tend to focus on the individual soldiers who took part in the ground offensive. But most of the Palestinian civilians killed by the Israel Defense Forces were killed as a result of computerized fire from afar, whether from the air, the sea or land. Children on the roofs of their homes were killed in just these kinds of deadly video games - by the push of a button pressed by our anonymous warriors, who will not be brought to justice.

Col. Ilan Malka, the commander of the Givati Brigade, appears to be the highest-ranking officer questioned by military investigators, due to his order to shell, from the air, a home to which his own soldiers had brought 100 civilians. The order was based on his interpretation of images received by a drone. But it is not Malka who came up with the instruction that any Palestinian caught by a drone, engaged in civilian activities like speaking on a cell phone near a window, baking bread in the yard, looking for water or riding a bike, is a suspect to be killed. That's why so many civilians were killed; they were hit by rockets fired from the air, not because they were caught up in a battle on the ground. It wasn't Malka who came up with the cult of military high-tech or its depiction as a tool that's never wrong. This cult greases the wheels of Israeli propaganda, which dismisses as a lie any Palestinian report of civilian deaths.

Malka is also not responsible for the concept that Israel must use force several times more deadly than the weapons the Palestinians have. So more civilians than armed combatants were killed? That's their problem.

When one or two soldiers are tried, it's easy for the military establishment to argue these are isolated exceptions whose actions are contrary to the spirit of the IDF. But the military establishment functions under the influence and authority of the civil establishment. Israeli society, for the most part, is indifferent to the killing of non-Jewish civilians. It supports the use of disproportionate force and is not interested in investigating all the incidents resulting in the deaths of Palestinian civilians. In such an investigation the incriminating evidence leads straight to the highest levels of Israel's military and political establishment.


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