“Kill a Turk and rest” – a popular Israeli saying meaning “don’t rush” – is not only a statement of doubtful political correctness. It is also the middle of a Jewish joke. But only the middle. In Israel it has a separate existence, which distorts the spirit of the original Jewish anecdote.
And here is the story, which was passed on by a Yiddishist father from the old country to his Israeli-born daughter: A Jewish mother says farewell to her son, who has been drafted into the Czar’s army and goes to fight against Turkey in 1877. She is of course very worried about her son’s welfare. While she is packing his knapsack, she says to him: “Listen, when you get to the front, kill a Turk, and rest. Kill a Turk, and rest.”
“But Mother,” replies the son, “what happens if while I’m resting, the Turk kills me?”
“Good God,” says the mother, horrified, “what does the Turk have against you?”
A contemporary echo to the view of that same Jewish mother can be found in the reports in the Israeli media last weekend. They unquestioningly adopted the label “terrorists” applied by IDF commanders and spokesmen to the three young Palestinians who last Thursday killed three Israeli soldiers of their own age at the Morag outpost in the Gaza Strip.
“Terrorists” is a negative label, which testifies to a lack of legitimacy. Therefore, in the language of mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the three were not simply killed in battle, but were “exterminated,” as befits an inferior species.
The linguistic inability of the Israeli media to distinguish between Palestinian fighters and those who have gone out to blow themselves up among civilians in a restaurant reveals a common Israeli viewpoint: They all act against us, not because we give them a reason, but because their murderous behavior is ingrained. Their cruelty is a part of their essence, their character, their culture.
The Jewish mother, in her Israeli incarnation, parrots the explanations of Israeli commanders that the terrorists “cynically use the civilian population,” hiding and operating from within it. Therefore the IDF is routinely permitted to launch missiles into the heart of civilian neighborhoods and to shell them, in order to kill wanted men, even at the price of harming children, the elderly and women.
These explanations forget that the armed Palestinians live among their families in the same way as Israeli commanders – those who gave orders to bomb homes and to destroy hundreds of houses and to uproot tens of thousands of olive trees and to expropriate thousands of dunams – return to a home in a civilian neighborhood. The explainers forget that the army camps and the outposts are located near or inside settlements – indubitably civilian neighborhoods.
Hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Khan Younis, Rafah, Dir al Balah, El Bireh, and Hebron have been killed by the fire of soldiers who were deployed inside concentrations of the civilian population of Gush Katif, Netzarim, Kfar Darom, Psagot, old Hebron. Just a week ago, on September 22, a 10-year-old girl from Khan Younis died from injuries sustained by the firing of our forces in Gush Katif on September 7, while sitting at her classroom desk.
The female descendants of the Jewish mother will rightfully say: After all, were it not for the army, the Palestinians would murder settlers every day. What has escaped their attention is that from the beginning, the settlement enterprise has been explained as a security activity. In other words, as part of Israeli security-military thinking, whose political goal – whether disguised or not – is an expansion of our borders.
Gradually, some of the reasons for the settlements have taken root among the civilian population, and have been cloaked in sanctity or enveloped in real-estate logic. But the essence remains: The settlements are an inseparable part of a military occupation regime that is dispossessing the Palestinian people from its land.
The firing of Qassam rockets on the town of Sderot, and murderous suicide attacks in Haifa and Be’er Sheva, seem only to prove the thesis that we have come to accept: The Palestinians are against us without any relation to the settlements. It’s a fact that the number of Israeli civilians and those who were killed in suicide attacks within the Green Line is higher than the number of soldiers and civilians killed in the territories by Palestinian fire. But what is forgotten here is that before the suicide attacks and the Qassams, thousands of Israeli bullets and shells sowed death and destruction among the civilian Palestinian population.
In the week following September 28, 2000, the beginning of the present intifada, the IDF and the police were quick to use lethal firearms against demonstrators and stone-throwers, including Israeli Arab citizens. Thus they fanned the flames instead of extinguishing them.
The mention of these facts is not meant to justify the Palestinian methods of struggle. Nor is it meant to compare our situation to that between Russia and Turkey. After all, as opposed to the war between two empires, there is no symmetry in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Harming a civilian population is an integral part of every occupation army. And the Israeli side is the one that has been crossing the Green Line for the past 37 years, with every possible type of violence and cruelty.