Who told the director of Military Intelligence, Major General Aharon Ze’evi (Farkash) to declare, “Better Palestinian mothers should cry and not Jewish mothers”? Is the head of army intelligence now also to be in charge of setting Israel’s moral priorities? And what prompted the commander of the Ground Forces, Major General Yiftah Ron-Tal, to decide that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has to be liquidated? It’s not hard to guess what would happen if Mohammed Dahlan, the former security chief of the Palestinian Authority, were to call for the assassination of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – or, for that matter, what the consequences would be if Major General Ron-Tal were to urge Israel to launch negotiations with Arafat: His days on the General Staff would be numbered.
In the past few months, the top military brass have been able to say just about whatever they like, as long as what they say is consistent with the positions taken by the prime minister and the defense minister. Knowing what their masters think, these generals dare to make – in a manner that is unprecedented in terms of the norms that used to exist in Israel – extreme declarations, and always in the same vein. The previous head of Southern Command, Doron Almog, stated that the Palestinian Authority has not given up its “phase strategy” aimed at destroying Israel; in January 2003, Amos Gilad, serving as the government’s coordinator of activities in the territories, stated that there will never be peace with Arafat; and the commander of the Air Force, Major General Dan Halutz, said Ganim and Kadim – two West Bank settlements – “are our home.”
Although army officers are prohibited from making such remarks, no one took them to task. In fact, they said what the government expects them to say. It’s a reasonable assumption that some of them, at least, would be saying different things if there were a different government in Israel. But when the chief of staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon, likens the Palestinian threat to cancer, and when Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is the chief lobbyist for the assassination of Arafat, all the lower ranking officers allow themselves to voice their extreme political views without interference, in part adapting themselves to the prevailing political correctness and in part influencing it.
And if statements of this kind expose the political world of these senior officers, their style of speech exposes their cultural world. The army isn’t a school of etiquette, and vulgarity was always part of the army experience, here and everywhere. Still, one might expect, even of army officers, not to repeat in public the crude language they use in the armored personnel carrier or behind doors in their offices.
“I see very great importance in making Arafat evaporate, and right away,” Ron-Tal told the daily Ma’ariv in a holiday interview, illustrating the vulgar style that is spreading here. The content is even worse: if the commanding general is inciting against the Palestinian leader and likening him to an object, why shouldn’t the soldier at the checkpoint treat Arafat’s countrymen as though they are animals?
The officers are thus in the forefront of the process of dehumanizing the Palestinians, and their arrogant prattle is playing a crucial role in the brutalization that characterizes their troops’ attitude toward the Palestinians. Especially grave is the above quoted utterance of the director of Military Intelligence. First, from the professional standpoint, if Ze’evi, the national intelligence analyst, has yet to understand that as long as Palestinian mothers weep, so shall Jewish mothers, then we have good reason to be concerned about the overall standard of his analysis.
The director of Military Intelligence apparently doesn’t understand that this is not a zero-sum game, but a situation in which both sides lose, and vice-versa. Instead of presenting the facts as they are – in regard to the frame of mind among the Palestinians and the ways to change it – he is joining the chorus of incitement. However, it’s possible that his wretched comment has a different motivation. After all, populist declarations have proved useful in the case of Amos Gilad, whose status appears to gaining considerable strength in Mofaz’s court.
The other aspect of Ze’evi’s remark is the moral one. What thoughts will go through the head of a soldier whose commander tells him that it’s better if Palestinian mothers cry? Can there be anything good in a weeping mother, whatever her nationality? What kind of moral doctrine is it that proclaims weeping by one person to be preferable to weeping by another person? Can bereavement be graded?
Worst of all, though, is the equanimity with which this and other remarks are accepted by the political level and by the public. No one even considers calling the inflammatory officers to order, no one in the military or political level even contemplates the possibility of reprimanding them.