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April 21, 2012
“Stupid and Mean and Brutal”
By Uri Avnery
Source: Gush Shalom
“In blood and sweat / A race will arise to us / Proud and generous and brutal…” Thus
wrote Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, the founder of extreme right-wing Zionism, who was
also a writer and a poet. Present-day Likud leaders see him as their forefather, much
as Stalin saw Karl Marx.
The world “brutal” stands out, because it seems implausible that Jabotinsky really
meant it. His Hebrew was not very good, and he probably meant something like “hard”
If Jabotinsky saw today’s Likud, he would shudder. His was a 19th century mixture of
extreme nationalism, liberalism and humanism.
Paradoxically, brutality is the only one of the three traits that is prominent in our life
today, especially in the occupied Palestinian territories. There is nothing there to be
proud of, and generosity is something associated with the despised leftists.
THE ROUTINE, everyday brutality that governs the occupied territories was caught on
video this week. A searing flash in the darkness.
It happened on Route 90, a highway that connects Jericho with Beth She’an along the
Jordan River. It is the main road of the Jordan valley, which our government aims to
annex to Israel one way or another. It is reserved solely for Israeli traffic and closed to
(There is a Palestinian joke about this. During the post-Oslo negotiations, the Israeli
team insisted on retaining this road. The Palestinian chief negotiator turned to his
colleagues and exclaimed: “What the hell, if we have got 89 other roads, why insist on
A group of young international pro-Palestinian activists decided to demonstrate
against the closure of the road. They invited their Palestinian friends to a jolly bicycle
ride along it. They were stopped by a unit of the Israeli army. For some minutes they
faced each other: the cyclists, some with Arab keffiyehs (headdresses) draping their
shoulders, and the soldiers with their rifles.
The drill in such a situation is for the army to call the police, who are trained for this
job and who have the means for non-lethal crowd dispersal. But the commander of
the army unit decided otherwise.
What happened then was shown on a video clip taken by one of the protesters. It is
clear, unambiguous and unequivocal.
The officer, a lieutenant-colonel, is standing opposite a fair-haired young man, a
Dane, who was just looking on, neither saying nor doing anything. Nearby, protesters
and soldiers are standing around. No sign of violence anywhere.
Suddenly the officer raises his rifle, holding it horizontally, one hand on the butt and
one on the barrel, and then he drives the squared-off end of the magazine hard into
the young Dane's face. The victim falls backward on the ground. The officer grins with
IN THE evening, Israeli TV showed the clip. By now, almost every Israeli has seen it a
hundred of times. The more one sees it, the more one is shocked. The sheer brutality
of this completely unprovoked act makes one flinch.
To veterans of demonstrations in the occupied territories, there is nothing new in this
incident. Many have suffered brutality in many different forms.
What was unusual in this case was that it was caught on camera. And not a hidden
camera. There were quite a lot of cameras around. Not only those of the protesters,
but those of army photographers, too.
The officer must have been aware of this. He just did not give a damn.
The undesired publicity caused a national uproar. Obviously it was not the act itself
that upset the military and political leadership, but the publicity it attracted. Coming at
the same time as the glorious defense of Tel Aviv airport by 700 policemen and
policewomen against the terrifying invasion of some 60 international human rights
activists, such additional publicity was definitely unwanted.
The army Chief of Staff condemned the officer and promptly suspended him. All
senior officers followed suit, the Prime Minister himself spoke out. As is well known,
our army is “the most moral in the world”, so what had happened was the
unpardonable act of a single rogue officer. There will be a thorough investigation, etc
THE HERO of the affair is Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner (“Iron Man”, in German).
Far from being exceptional, he seems to be the quintessential army officer, indeed the
The first thing TV viewers noticed was the kippah on his head. “Well of course,” many
murmured to themselves. For decades the national-religious movement has
systematically infiltrated the officers’ corps of the armed forces, starting from officers’
induction courses and climbing up, with the aim of having one of their number end up
as the army Chief of Staff. By now, kippah-ed lieutenant colonels are common – a far
cry from the kibbutzniks who dominated the officers corps at the birth of our army. At
the time of the incident, Eisner was a deputy brigade commander.
The national-religious movement, to which the core of the settlers belong, was also
the home of Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin and of Baruch Goldstein, the
mass-murderer of the Muslims in the mosque in Hebron.
One of the pillars of this movement is the yeshiva Merkaz Harav (“Center of the
Rabbi”), where Eisner’s father was a prominent rabbi. During the evacuation of the
Gaza Strip settlers by Ariel Sharon, Eisner Jr. was among the protesters. Last year
Eisner was photographed on the very same spot on Road 90 fraternizing with extreme
rightist demonstrators, who also protested on bicycles there.
He did not take the rebukes lying down. With unprecedented impertinence, he
attacked the Chief of Staff, the Commander of the Central Front and his division
commander for suspending him. He waved his bandaged hand to prove that he was
attacked first and acted in self-defense. He even produced confirmation from some
doctor that one of his fingers was broken.
That is highly improbable. First of all, the way he holds his rifle in the video would
have been impossible with a broken finger. Second, the video shows that his act was
not in reaction to any violence. Third, there were several army photographers around,
who shot every detail (to be used as evidence if protesters were brought to trial in a
military court). If any act of violence had taken place, their videos would have been
displayed by the army the same day. Fourth, Eisner similarly struck two women
protesters in the face and one male protester on the back- unfortunately off camera.
He fervently insists that he did the right thing. After all, he did break up the
But he was not entirely without remorse. He publicly admitted that it “may have been a
mistake to act this way in the presence of cameras”. With this the army and many
commentators wholeheartedly agreed: they did not criticize his brutality, but his
AS AN individual, Eisner is not very interesting. If armies refrained from enlisting
stupid people, where would we be?
The trouble is that Eisner is not an exception, but rather a representative of a norm.
There are some excellent people in the army, but Eisner typifies many officers who
come out of the military melting pot.
And not only in the army. To paraphrase Jabotinsky: our educational system now
produces “a race / stupid and mean and brutal”. How could it be otherwise after 60
years of relentless indoctrination and 45 years of occupation? Every occupation,
every oppression of another people, corrupts the occupier and makes the oppressor
While still a teenager I worked as a clerk for an Oxford-educated, Jewish-British
lawyer, many of whose clients were members of the British colonial administration. I
found them mostly nice, intelligent and courteous with an engaging sense of humor.
Yet the British administration acted with an astonishing lack of intelligence.
At the time I was a member of the Irgun, whose aim was to drive them out of the
country. At my home there was an arsenal of guns, which were used to kill them.
Living between the two worlds, I constantly asked myself: how can these nice English
people behave so stupidly?
My conclusion was that no colonial masters can behave intelligently. The colonial
situation itself compels them to act against their better nature and their better
As a matter of fact, during the first years of the Israeli occupation, it was widely
praised as “enlightened” and “liberal”. The then Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan,
gave orders to treat the Palestinians as generously as possible. He let them trade with
the enemy and listen to enemy broadcasts to their heart’s content. In a gesture
without precedent, he kept open the bridges between the West Bank and Jordan, an
enemy country. (I joked at the time that Dayan, never having read a book, did not
know that this was unthinkable.)
Behind this policy there was no benevolence – just a belief that if the Arabs were
allowed to live their daily lives in peace, they would not rise up, but put up with an
eternal occupation. Indeed this worked more or less for some 20 years. Until a new
generation started the first intifada and the occupation became – well, stupid, mean
and brutal. Along with the officers in charge.
TWO DAYS ago, Israel observed the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. In this
connection, I would like to quote Albert Einstein, a Jew and a Zionist:
“Should we be unable to find a way to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the
Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing during our two thousand years of
suffering and deserve all that will come to us.”