Good boys in Gaza
By LARRY DERFNER
Nov. 27, 2003
I wish everyone of the 13 million Jews in the world could read
Tismonet Mahsom â" Checkpoint Syndrome â" which was written up in
Hebrew press last Friday and is due to appear in the bookstores this
week. It would give them an idea of what too many Israeli soldiers
are doing to the Palestinians â" not to terrorists, but to unarmed
innocents passing through â" and what it's doing to them.
The author, Liran Ron Furer, was a sensitive, well-brought-up kid
from Givatayim who went to a high school of the arts and never got
into fights, and who intended to be a good, solid soldier when he got
to Gaza in 1997 at age 18. By the time he got out three years later,
he was quite the accomplished sadist, having beaten up, smacked
around and variously humiliated a stream of harmless Palestinians,
including fathers in front of their families.
And he was by no means unique. Toward the end of his duty, he
describes watching from his lookout post above a Gaza checkpoint as a
soldier examines the IDs of three Palestinians who have driven up.
"He makes sure that nobody sees him, goes up to one of the Arabs and
smashes him in the ribs with the barrel of his rifle. The Arab
collapses on the ground, and the soldier goes on standing there,
indifferent. I understand him. I know it's terrible, it's wrong, but
I also had my hands on Arabs like that and no one was around, it's so
tempting â" to smash them, it's so easy. The second soldier came out
of the guard post and starting talking with his friend, and didn't
even pay any attention to the Arab on the ground."
This is what Jews either don't know or don't want to admit: that
young Israeli soldiers who brutalize unarmed Palestinians (and it's
usually the young army regulars who do it, not the older reservists)
aren't acting out of fear, but rather the opposite â" they're trying
out their new power, they've got the guns and the Palestinian
standing in front of them doesn't.
Furer and his buddies at the checkpoint were bored, exhausted from
lack of sleep, hot and in a permanently rotten mood, and they took
out their frustrations on hapless Palestinians.
According to the publishers, this is the first time an Israeli
soldier has published a book detailing all the terrible things he did
on intifada duty. But the material isn't new at all â" it's nothing
that hasn't surfaced in countless human-rights reports, media
interviews with ex-soldiers, and conversations with Israelis about
what they did and saw in the territories.
I SAW it myself when I was on reserve duty in Gaza in the summer of
1990. A couple of border policemen attacked a line of cabs because
they were standing too near the base and didn't move off fast enough.
They punched one driver in the face, tore off antennas, and then,
after throwing their billy clubs at the taxis hurrying away, hugged
each other and started jumping up and down for joy.
A border policeman sitting in a jeep motioned over a Palestinian
sitting on a bench, and when the young man got close enough, he
slammed open his door in the guy's face. I told my platoon commander
about all this, and he said there was nothing he could do.
The summer before, during basic training in the West Bank, we dumped
a truckful of trash on a Palestinian woman's vegetable garden. She
started shrieking at us in Arabic, and the driver answered her in her
A soldier, as shamefaced as I was, translated for me what the driver
had said: "Shut up, you old whore." Not wanting to come off like
bleeding hearts in basic training, though, we didn't bring this to
our officers' attention.
How many Israeli soldiers are wantonly abusing Palestinian civilians?
It seems to vary widely from unit to unit; the Border Police are the
most notorious. Many Israeli Ashkenazis like to think the problem is
largely confined to young Mizrahi soldiers who grew up in poor,
violent neighborhoods where hatred of Arabs was a creed, but Furer
insists that from what he saw, it cuts across all demographic lines.
I think it's safe to say that whatever the number of brutal Israeli
soldiers may be, it's larger than the number of soldiers who are
prepared to stop them. Otherwise, this wouldn't go on.
So what's the point â" that Israelis are inherently brutal?
not. In fact, what Israeli soldiers are doing to the Palestinians
doesn't touch what the French did to the Algerians, what the
Americans did to the Vietnamese, what the Russians are still doing to
And these are just a few examples. There will be no mass graves dug
up in the West Bank or Gaza. Across Asia and Africa, crimes against
humanity are being committed that dwarf anything Israel is doing in
But the French got out of Algeria, and now 18-year-old French boys
aren't given rifles and thrown into the kind of situation that may
well bring out the worst in them. Israeli boys still are, and it's a
formative experience. "Somebody said," writes Furer, "that the more
the Arabs are afraid of us, the easier things will be at the
checkpoint, and as time went on we found out that he was right."
He started out as a good boy from Givatayim. I've got two good boys
myself. Everywhere you look in this country there are lots and lots
of good boys.
The writer is a veteran journalist and a regular contributor.
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