During the past month, Hezbollah’s Katyushas killed 18 Israeli Arabs among the 41 Israeli civilians who died in the war. Clearly, Hassan Nasrallah didn’t mean to kill them. But as someone who knows that many Arabs live in northern Israel, and as someone who knows that the launchers for his inaccurate Katyushas cannot choose the target they will hit – the fact that it was unintended is meaningless.
More than anyone, Israelis should understand Nasrallah’s claims that this was “unintended,” identify with the primacy he attaches to the “unintendedness” relative to the fatal results, and identify with the disjunction he creates between the rationale that is inherent in the war machine he has built and his subjective will. “We didn’t mean to” is a mantra that is frequently recited in Israel when there is a discussion of the number of civilians – among them many children – who are killed by the Israel Defense Forces. To this, the claim that “they” (Hezbollah and the Palestinians) cynically exploit civilians by locating themselves among them and firing from their midst is automatically added.
This claim is made by citizens of a state who know very well where to turn off Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv to get to the security-military complex that is located in the heart of their civilian city; this claim is repeated by the parents of armed soldiers who bring their weapons home on weekends, and is recited by soldiers whose bases are adjacent to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and who have shelled civilian Palestinian neighborhoods from positions and tanks that have been stationed inside civilian settlements.
“We didn’t mean to” is the cousin of “I didn’t know,” and both of them are close neighbors of the double standard. What is permitted to us is forbidden to others. What hurts us does not hurt others (because they are “other”).
IDF soldiers have killed 44 children in Gaza since June 28, when the failed campaign to release abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit began. That is 44 children out of the 188 people the IDF has killed in Gaza – civilians and armed men, most of whom had embarked on a doomed fight against the invading tanks. The last three who were killed, on Monday, were three farmers from Beit Hanoun who were hit by an IDF shell – about as precise as a Hezbollah Katyusha – instead of the rocket launcher it had been intended to hit.
The road to killing children by a military and civilian occupation machine is paved with many non-intentions to cause other damage to civilians; these are not fatal immediately, but day by day, they take away the taste of life from 3.5 million people. These are damages that in ordinary times earn, at best, a mention the size of a postage stamp in the newspapers.
But these are the essential building stones of a regime of dispossession, the aim of which is to thwart the Palestinian people’s aspirations for independence and sovereignty in its country. The callousness and cruelty that are required for carrying this out have become second nature for hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Unintentionally. Here are a number of typical examples: the identity card that a soldier confiscated in the middle of the night, which then gets lost, and its bearer cannot move on the roads and travel to work and has to pay a fortune, in his terms, for a new one; endless delays in the hot sun at roadblocks and at Civil Administration counters (and more loss of workdays); land confiscation orders; new blockages of village entrances; preventing the exit of all those between the ages of 16 and 53 from Tul Karm and Nablus; paving a new road to a Jewish settlement; preventing a Palestinian family’s return to its West Bank home; cutting off another home from its village and lands via the advanced separation barrier; preventing family visits to prisoners. There is no end to these damages; one book could not contain them all.
When it suits him, the Israeli is part of the collective. Therefore, every terror attack and Katyusha are aimed “against the Jewish people” – which, of course, always authorizes Israel to embark on punishment campaigns that are defined as existential war. And when it suits him, the Israeli denies his partnership in the collective, in the occupation machinery to which he is a partner. He ignores the inevitable implications of the machinery that controls, in an authoritarian way, the lives of 3.5 million people who did not elect it (the Palestinian Authority was from the outset a fiction of government, with no authority).
On the one hand, the Israeli who “doesn’t intend” cuts himself off from the Israeli occupation and colonialism machine, and exempts himself from the responsibility for the intention to harm Palestinian civilians, an intention that is inherent in the very existence of an occupation machinery. And on the other hand, he cuts the Palestinian response off from the existence of the occupation machine: After all, they as individuals and as a collective “intended to harm civilians,” and this because of their eternal essence as Muslims, as Arabs – which is independent of us.