By Uri Avnery
“Thank God for the American elections,” our ministers and
generals sighed with relief.
They were not rejoicing at the kick that the American people
delivered to George W. Bush’s ass this week. They love Bush,
But more important than the humbling of Bush is the fact
that the news from America pushed aside the terrible reports
from Beit Hanoun. Instead of making the headlines, they were
relegated to the bottom of the page.
The first revolutionary act is to call things by their true
names, Rosa Luxemburg said. So how to call what happened in
“Accident” said a pretty anchorwoman on one of the TV news
programs. “Tragedy”, said her lovely colleague on another
channel. A third one, no less attractive, wavered between
“event”, “mistake” and “incident”.
It was indeed an accident, a tragedy, an event and an
incident. But most of all it was a massacre. M-a-s-s-a-c-r-e.
The word “accident” suggests something for which no one is
to blame – like being struck by lightning. A tragedy is a
sad event or situation, like that of the New Orleans
inhabitants after the disaster. The event in Beit Hanoun was
sad indeed, but not an act of God – it was an act decided
upon and carried out by human beings.
Immediately after the facts became known, the entire choir
of professional apologists, explainers-away,
sorrow-expressers and pretext-inventors, a choir that is in
perpetual readiness for such cases, sprang into feverish
“An unfortunate mistake… It can happen in the best families…
The mechanism of a cannon can misfunction, people can make
mistakes… Errare humanum est… We have launched tens of
thousands of artillery shells, and there have only been
three such accidents. (No. 1 in the Olmert-Peretz-Halutz era
was in Qana, in the Second Lebanon War. No. 2 was on the
Gaza sea shore, where a whole family was wiped out.) But we
apologized, didn’t we? What more can they demand from us?”
There were also arguments like “They can only blame
themselves.” As usual, it was the fault of the victims. The
most creative solution came from the Deputy Minister of
Defense, Ephraim Sneh: “The practical responsibility is
ours, but the moral responsibility is theirs.” If they
launch Qassam rockets at us, what else can we do but answer
Ephraim Sneh was raised to the position of Deputy Minister
just now. The appointment was a payment for agreeing to the
inclusion of Avigdor Liberman in the government (in biblical
Hebrew, the payment would have been called “the hire of a
whore”, Deut. 23,19). Now, after only a few days in office,
Sneh was given the opportunity to express his thanks.
(In the Sneh family, there is a tradition of justifying
despicable acts. Ephraim’s brilliant father, Moshe Sneh, was
the leader of the Israeli Communist Party, and defended all
the massacres committed by Stalin, not only the gulag
system, but also the murder of the Jewish Communists in the
Soviet Union and its satellites and the Jewish “doctors
Any suggestion of equivalence between Qassams and artillery
shells, an idea which has been adopted even by some of the
Peaceniks, is completely false. And not only because there
is no symmetry between occupier and occupied. Hundreds of
Qassams launched during more than a year have killed one
single Israeli. The shells, missiles and bombs have already
killed many hundreds of Palestinians.
Did the shells hit the homes of people intentionally? There
are only two possible answers to that.
The extreme version says: Yes. The sequence of events points
in that direction. The Israeli army, one of the most modern
in the world, has no answer to the Qassam, one of the most
primitive of weapons. This short-range unguided rocket
(named after Izz-ad-Din al-Qassam, the first Palestinian
fighter, who was killed in 1935 in a battle against the
British authorities of Palestine) is little more than a pipe
filled with home-made explosives.
In a futile attempt to prevent the launching of Qassams, the
Israeli forces invade the towns and villages of the Gaza
Strip at regular intervals and institute a reign of terror.
A week ago, they invaded Beit-Hanoun and killed more than 50
people, many of them women and children. The moment they
left, the Palestinians started to launch as many Qassams as
possible against Ashkelon, in order to prove that these
incursions do not deter them.
That increased the frustration of the generals even more.
Ashkelon is not a remote poverty-stricken little town like
Sderot, most of whose inhabitants are of Moroccan origin. In
Ashkelon there lives also an elitist population of European
descent. The army chiefs, having lost their honor in
Lebanon, were eager – according to this version – to teach
the Palestinians a lesson, once and for all. According to
the Israeli saying: If force doesn’t work, use more force.
The other version holds that it was a real mistake, an
unfortunate technical hitch. But the commander of an army
knows very well that a certain incidence of “hitches” is
unavoidable. So-and-so many percent are killed in training,
so-and-so many percent die from “friendly fire”, so-and-so
many percent of shells fall some distance from the target.
The ammunition used by the gunners against Beit-Hanoun – the
very same 155mm ammunition that was used in Kana – is known
for its inaccuracy. Several factors can cause the shells to
stray from their course by hundreds of meters.
He who decided to use this ammunition against a target right
next to civilians knowingly exposed them to mortal danger.
Therefore, there is no essential difference between the two
Who is to blame? First of all, the spirit that has gained
ground in the army. Recently, Gideon Levy disclosed that a
battalion commander praised his soldiers for killing 12
Palestinians with the words: “We have won by 12:0!”
Guilty are, of course, the gunners and their commanders,
including the battery chief. And the General in charge of
the Southern Command, Yoav Gallant (sic), who radiates
indifference spiked with sanctimonious platitudes. And the
Deputy Chief-of-Staff. And the Chief-of-Staff, Dan Halutz,
the Air-Force general who said after another such incident
that he sleeps well at night after dropping a one-ton
super-bomb on a residential area. And, of course, the
Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz, who approved the use of
artillery after forbidding it in the past – which means that
he was aware of the foreseeable consequences.
The guiltiest one is the Great Apologizer: Ehud Olmert, the
Olmert boasted recently that because of the clever behavior
of his government “we were able to kill hundreds of
terrorists, and the world has not reacted.” According to
Olmert, a “terrorist” is any armed Palestinian, including
the tens of thousands of Palestinian policemen who carry
arms by agreement with Israel. They may now be shot freely.
“Terrorists” are also the women and children, who are killed
in the street and in their homes. (Some say so openly: the
children grow up to be terrorists, the women give birth to
children who grow up to be terrorists.)
Olmert can go on with this, as he says, because the world
keeps silent. Today the US even vetoed a very mild Security
Council resolution against the event. Does this mean that
the governments throughout the world – America, Europe, the
Arab world – are accessories to the crime at Beit Hanoun?
That can best be answered by the citizens of those
The world did not pay much attention to the massacre,
because it happened on US election day. The results of the
election may sadden our leaders more than the blood and
tears of mothers and children in the Gaza strip, but they
were glad that the election diverted attention.
A cynic might say: Democracy is wonderful, it enables the
voter to kick out the moron they elected last time and
replace them with a new moron.
But let’s not be too cynical. The fact is that the American
people has accepted, after a delay of three years and tens
of thousands of dead, what the advocates of peace around the
word – including us here in Israel – were saying already on
the first day: that the war will cause a disaster. That it
will not solve any problem, but have the opposite effect.
The change will not be quick and dramatic. The US is a huge
ship. When it turns around, it makes a very big circle and
needs a lot of time – unlike Israel, a small speed-boat that
can turn almost on the spot. But the direction is clear.
Of course, in both new houses of Congress, the pro-Israeli
lobby (meaning: the supporters of the Israeli Right) has a
huge influence, perhaps even more than in the last ones. But
the American army will have to start leaving Iraq. The
danger of another military adventure in Iran and/or Syria is
much diminished. The crazy neo-conservatives, most of them
Jews who support the extreme Right in Israel, are gradually
losing power, together with their allies, the crazy
As former Prime Minister Levy Eshkol once said: when America
sneezes, Israel catches cold. When America starts to
recover, perhaps there is hope for us, too
Uri Avnery is an Israeli author and activist. He is the
head of the Israeli peace movement, “Gush Shalom”.