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Palestinian Violinist Tugs Zionist Conscience

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    Israel shocked by image of soldiers forcing violinist to play at roadblock By Chris McGreal in Jerusalem The Guardian 29 November 2004
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2004
      Israel shocked by image of soldiers forcing violinist to play at

      By Chris McGreal in Jerusalem

      The Guardian
      29 November 2004


      Of all the revelations that have rocked the Israeli army over the
      past week, perhaps none disturbed the public so much as the video
      footage of soldiers forcing a Palestinian man to play his violin.

      The incident was not as shocking as the recording of an Israeli
      officer pumping the body of a 13-year-old girl full of bullets and
      then saying he would have shot her even if she had been three years

      Nor was it as nauseating as the pictures in an Israeli newspaper of
      ultra-orthodox soldiers mocking Palestinian corpses by impaling a
      man's head on a pole and sticking a cigarette in his mouth.

      But the matter of the violin touched on something deeper about the
      way Israelis see themselves, and their conflict with the

      The violinist, Wissam Tayem, was on his way to a music lesson near
      Nablus when he said an Israeli officer ordered him to "play
      something sad" while soldiers made fun of him. After several
      minutes, he was told he could pass.

      It may be that the soldiers wanted Mr Tayem to prove he was indeed a
      musician walking to a lesson because, as a man under 30, he would
      not normally have been permitted through the checkpoint.

      But after the incident was videotaped by Jewish women peace
      activists, it prompted revulsion among Israelis not normally
      perturbed about the treatment of Arabs.

      The rightwing Army Radio commentator Uri Orbach found the incident
      disturbingly reminiscent of Jewish musicians forced to provide
      background music to mass murder. "What about Majdanek?" he asked,
      referring to the Nazi extermination camp.

      The critics were not drawing a parallel between an Israeli roadblock
      and a Nazi camp. Their concern was that Jewish suffering had been
      diminished by the humiliation of Mr Tayem.

      Yoram Kaniuk, author of a book about a Jewish violinist forced to
      play for a concentration camp commander, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth
      newspaper that the soldiers responsible should be put on trial "not
      for abusing Arabs but for disgracing the Holocaust".

      "Of all the terrible things done at the roadblocks, this story is
      one which negates the very possibility of the existence of Israel as
      a Jewish state. If [the military] does not put these soldiers on
      trial we will have no moral right to speak of ourselves as a state
      that rose from the Holocaust," he wrote.

      "If we allow Jewish soldiers to put an Arab violinist at a roadblock
      and laugh at him, we have succeeded in arriving at the lowest moral
      point possible. Our entire existence in this Arab region was
      justified, and is still justified, by our suffering; by Jewish
      violinists in the camps."

      Others took a broader view by drawing a link between the routine
      dehumanising treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, the
      desecration of dead bodies and what looks very much like the murder
      of a terrified 13-year-old Palestinian girl by an army officer in

      Israelis put great store in a belief that their army is "the most
      moral in the world" because it says it adheres to a code of "the
      purity of arms". There is rarely much public questioning of the
      army's routine explanation that Palestinian civilians who have been
      killed had been "caught in crossfire", or that children are shot
      because they are used as cover by fighters.

      But the public's confidence has been shaken by the revelations of
      the past week. The audio recording of the shooting of the
      13-year-old, Iman al-Hams, prompted much soul searching, although
      the revulsion appears to be as much at the Israeli officer firing a
      stream of bullets into her lifeless body as the killing itself. Some
      soldiers told Israeli papers that their mothers had sought
      assurances that they did not do that kind of thing.

      One Israeli peace group, the Arik Institute, took out large
      newspaper adverts to plead for "Jewish patriots" to "open your eyes
      and look around" at the suffering of Palestinians.

      The incidents prompted the army to call in all commanders from the
      rank of lieutenant-colonel to emphasise the importance of
      maintaining the "purity of arms" code.

      The army's critics say the real problem is not the behaviour of
      soldiers on the ground but the climate of impunity that emanates
      from the top.

      While the officer responsible for killing Iman al-Hams has been
      charged with relatively minor offences, and the soldiers who forced
      the violinist to play were ticked off for being "insensitive", the
      only troops who were swiftly punished for violating regulations last
      week were some who posed naked in the snow for a photograph. They
      were dismissed from their unit.

      Last week the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem criticised what it
      described as a "culture of impunity" within the army. The group says
      at least 1,656 Palestinian non-combatants have been killed during
      the intifada, including 529 children.

      "To date, one soldier has been convicted of causing the death of a
      Palestinian," it said.

      "The combination of rules of engagement that encourage a
      trigger-happy attitude among soldiers together with the climate of
      impunity results in a clear and very troubling message about the
      value the Israeli military places on Palestinian life."



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