The culture of the Israeli army and the murder of an elderly man in his sleep

Devastating news today. By now, many of you might’ve heard about the 65-year-old elderly Palestinian man riddled with bullets while sleeping in bed. If not, here’s an excerpt from the New York Times:

HEBRON, West Bank — Israeli soldiers shot and killed an unarmed 65-year-old Palestinian man in his bedroom in this tense city early Friday, in what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity.

The man’s wife said he was sleeping and she was praying when soldiers burst into the apartment before dawn, entered the bedroom and immediately opened fire. Afterward they asked her for his identity card. She gave her account a few hours later, standing next to the bed, whose mattress, sheets and pillows were soaked in blood. The headboard, an adjacent wardrobe and the ceiling were also spattered with blood and bits of what appeared to be brain matter.

Israeli Soldiers Kill Palestinian, 65, in His Bedroom, New York Times

His name was Omar al-Qawasmeh and he was mistaken for a terrorist. His native tongue was Arabic, he had tan skin, he was Palestinian, and therefore he fit the criteria. But the Israeli army (which goes so far as to title itself the most moral army in the world) was searching for Wael, his nephew who has been involved in previous run-ins with Israeli law as an alleged militant.

The Israeli military expressed regret over the death of this elderly individual and promised an investigation. I try my best to refrain from being a cynic but I question the sincerity of the army’s response. I wonder how long it took for Ehud Barak to finally give in to mounting global and internal pressure before allowing a spokesperson to issue a semi-public apology. I call it “semi-public” because it wasn’t directed at the immediate victims of this tragedy; it was more of an announcement made to appease reporters and news agencies. The real victims continue to mourn Omar’s gruesome death.

4,000 Palestinians gathered for Omar's funeral prayer

I also question any potential investigation. Especially obvious since the Second Intifada, the term “investigation” has been used as an excuse to politely prolong a situation in the hopes that it might fizzle out and be forgotten. If this comes off as too pretentious of a claim, consider the following statistic as reported by Yesh Din, an Israel-based human rights group:

Up until 2010, no more than “six percent of investigations yielded indictments against Israeli soldiers who harmed Palestinians.” (B’Tselem, another Israeli rights group has done extensive research on Israeli soldiers being cleared of having any responsibility in the deaths of unarmed Palestinian civilians. Read their publication Void of Responsibility here.

An investigation is not necessary. This was not collateral damage. This was not a botched operation. This was not the result of a Hamas rocket. This was not an accidental killing or a misfired weapon. This was murder. Omar was killed in cold blood while his eyes were closed, his head turned away, and his wife was praying.

This is the culture of the Israeli military. We’ve seen it before in Deir Yassin in 1948, Sabra and Shatila in 1982, Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, and hundreds of other times all throughout. No, today’s tragedy doesn’t involve as many deaths as in the previously mentioned massacres but the incidents are all comparable in nature. Once again, this really is the culture of the Israeli military. Israel soldiers practice zero discretion, and while people blindly defend them by pointing out that as soldiers, they grow hardened to the sights and sounds of everyday war, no human being can ever be considered righteous in doing what these Israeli soldiers did to Omar. Ignoring emotional sentiment, their actions don’t even correspond to the type of task they were assigned to.

According to the Israeli army, the soldiers were on an arrest mission. I’m sure we can all agree than an arrest generally involves a law-enforcing figure, the arrester, and the target, the arrestee, who is put into the custody of some police authority for a justifiable reason. An arrest, however, is not to be undertaken with guns ablaze nor should it involve anyone other than the intended arrestee.

In today’s case, the soldiers climbed the stairs and instead of announcing their presence or at least explaining what they plan on doing, they fired a barrage of bullets at the man’s upper torso and head, killing him instantly. Only then did they request identification to verify their task. So what necessitates an investigation? What court in the world will find it hard to punish the individual or individuals involved in the murder of a fellow human being? What army will hesitate to put a murderer behind bars, especially if the army is the most moral one in the world?

It is a case of mentality, of crooked, racist, and deliberately-brutal mentality. Ingrained in the minds of Israeli soldiers is the radical idea that brown skin, Arabic names, Palestinian heritage, and dreams of living independent of occupation are all somehow related to a crude Hamas rocket. Being that Omar represented each of these categories, the soldiers must have felt justified in their actions.

If I were facing any Israeli soldier, I would ask him to consider an alternative scenario: Imagine an Israeli citizen sleeping beneath those sheets. Would you have fired so quickly and forcefully? If you were arresting Avi Yagni or Mr. Rosenberg or Ayalah Oren, would you have checked identification before shooting at their heads?

But Omar’s family members must now deal with the holes in their hearts and the holes in their walls. The Israeli army is free to regret all it wants but the soldiers that killed Omar are still walking free. Tomorrow, they might “arrest” someone else, just for old times’ sake. I don’t have faith in any Israeli investigation of the matter because their is no dispute: today, the world witnessed yet another side effect of the world’s longest occupation. As even Israeli soldiers will contend, morality was thrown out the window decades ago; human lives followed soon after, but today sets in stone the army’s standard approach used in the systematic removal of Palestinians from their homelands: just shoot at them.

Omar is survived by his wife, Sobheye. I couldn’t find anything about the remainder of his immediate family but even so, his murder has affected people well beyond Israel’s apartheid wall.

That night, Sobheye finished her prayer, turned to the soldiers after hearing the rounds go off, and asked “What did you do?”

They cuffed her mouth, held a gun to her, told her to shut up, and walked out.

Sami Kishawi

For more pictures, click here.

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There are 4 comments

    1. Sami Kishawi

      Thanks for the comment Sam. I’m definitely not a historian but from my understanding, Zionism was based on inherently racist principles. Although it technically didn’t have to be, you’re perfectly right in saying that it is. I’d like to take it one step further, however, and say that the concept of Zionism relies on these principles. If they ever were to be deconstructed or removed in any way, that will be the collapse of Zionism as there would no longer be any foundational basis. What do you think?

  1. Sam Holloway

    I think you’re correct, Sami. The central existential idea undergirding Israel– I’m not talking about lofty, aspirational concepts of democracy or righteousness, I’m talking realpolitik– is itself a vicious irony. I know I’m speaking generally and obtusely here, but I think it’s safe to say that Zionism as a movement developed partly as a cumulative reaction to outside pressures. While all strains and paths of Judaism can be said to have logical and spiritual links to the Biblical Promised Land, historically the Biblical state of Israel ceased to exist as a political entity somewhere during the time of the Roman Empire. Depending on who you ask, the modern State of Israel is either a reinterpretation of the ancient state, a continuation of that state, or something different altogether. But I digress.

    The point is that there are many interpretations of Zionism, but all of them have coalesced around the establishment and expansion of the modern Jewish state. The political, religious, and philosophical movements that led to that establishment were born around the same time that German and other European anti-Jewish thinkers were evolving and disseminating the concept of Judaism not as religion and culture, but as a distinct racial category (the ‘blood Jew,’ as it were). I know it’s nonsensical to anyone with any knowledge of eugenics and racial theories, but it stuck.

    If you see the development of Zionism as being influenced by and reacting to that racist ideology, especially in light of centuries of anti-Jewish persecution in Europe, then you can start to see what I mean by the existential idea undergirding Zionism. Jews were long treated as a separate ‘race,’ then they were ‘scientifically’ labeled as such, and then the rise of Nazism and broadly implemented exterminationist policies drove that theoretical evolution to its monstrous logical conclusion.

    In other words, it’s impossible to separate Zionism and the modern state of Israel from the hatred and racism that drove their respective and interrelated developments. Predictably, the political culture born partly as reaction to hatred and racism has not been able to escape the shape of its own mold. Israel is a state born of many influences, but its behavior toward Palestinian Arabs and the surrounding Arab states has clearly demonstrated paranoia and brutal reactionism that mirror the racist and eliminationist energies that drove its very founding.

    Forgive the gloomy extrapolation, but even if the Zionists succeeded in driving every last non-Jewish Arab out of Eretz Israel, the paranoia and malevolence at the heart of Zionism would not suddenly evaporate. It would likely cause the state to self-immolate (a process already in evidence now), and probably not before it wreaked horrific destruction on its neighbors.

    1. Sami Kishawi

      I agree with you. Zionism in and of itself is a self-destructive ideology — at least, that’s the way I look at it. I’m in no way a theorist by any means but if I like to attribute this nature to their steady attempts at victimizing themselves. When there no longer exists anything to blame, who or what will they be a victim to? Themselves.

      Going back to the culture of the Israeli army, the dynamic between soldiers and their commanding officers somewhat exemplify this very nature. In cases in which a commanding officer orders a soldier to murder or maim an entire family, for example, any subsequent interviews or investigations result in the soldier playing the role of victim. “I was commanded to do it.” Military command overpowers moral command. As for the commanding officer, the “I felt threatened and did what I had to do. I didn’t do it anyways” excuse never fails. But in the end, it’s this self-victimization that detracts from their credibility as individuals and as a military unit. So in essence, yes, they are the bearers of their own destruction. Not sure if this made sense, Sam, or if this even related to your points. My mind is a little frazzled right now, thanks to my homework!

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