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Monday, May 23, 2005


uri blau

i watched a talk given by tariq ali over the weekend on c-span's book tv in which he mentioned the work of uri blau in a general indictment of the docility of the american press. i have to paraphrase, as i can't find the text of the talk itself, but he said, "if mainstream american media would report just one article a week from what the israeli press itself publishes, that would educate people." ali further quoted from blau's piece, "no exit".

blau worked as military correspondent for a jerusalem weekly, kol ha'ir, between 2000 and 2002. a number of his pieces from that period can be found here.

blau quoted several israeli soldiers recounting war crimes and human rights violations committed by idf forces, israeli settlers or they themselves.

Blau: How does being on checkpoint duty change your outlook on life?

Erez: These checkpoints, and the fact that you can treat people this way, all of this makes a guy more confident. I mean in general, not me personally. I really didn't like treating them that way, taking part in that game, as Yaron put it.

Yaron: You think that way because no one close to you has been hurt. You'll have that experience, and then you'll believe me.

Erez: I understand this attitude, but personally I have a really hard time with it. I'm in a calm area; they're actually good people, and most of them are stoned. They don't care. People want to work, to bring home some money. They don't want trouble. When there's a closure they go crazy. They have nothing. They can't work anywhere. When I'm on checkpoint duty, I almost always bring the Border Police. Those guys start screwing them up, slapping them around, etc.

Dubi: They have to be afraid of us, otherwise tomorrow they'll eat us up.

Roi: In the territories the borders are so unclear that the only chance you have to remain sane is to stop feeling afraid. The only way is to develop this crazy apathy. You just can't go on being afraid all the time, so you no longer care about anything. It does affect me as a human being. The only thing the army has given me is emotional trouble. It makes you indifferent. I come home and clam up, because three hours earlier I emptied a whole ammo crate, and now I'm suddenly home with my friends who live in a bubble world and don't even watch television.

Blau: Did any of you ever shoot someone?

Roi: When I first got to Hebron I wouldn't open fire on little children. And I was sure that if I ever killed or hurt anyone, I'd go so crazy that I'd leave the army. But finally I did shoot someone, and nothing happened to me. In Hebron I shot the legs off of two kids, and I was sure I wouldn't be able to sleep anymore at night, but nothing happened. Two weeks ago I hurt a Palestinian policeman, and that didn't affect me either. You become so apathetic you don't care at all. Shooting is the IDF soldier's way of meditating. It's like shooting is your way of letting go of all your anger when you're in the army. In Hebron there's this order they call "punitive shooting": just open fire on whatever you like. I opened fire not on any sources of fire but on windows where there was just wash hanging to dry. I knew that there were people who would be hit. But at that moment it was just shoot, shoot, shoot.

Erez: What do you mean "punitive shooting"? A reaction to something?

Roi: Reaction to their shooting. In Hebron there's punitive fire. Shoot at everything you see. Cars, things, anything that moves. It's like taking out your anger on everything. Shooting relaxes you, like meditation.

Tzvi: I find what Roi said a bit sick, that shooting people is therapy.

Roi: Don't you release stress when you shoot?

Tzvi: No, not at all. I don't even have the energy for that anymore. I'm totally apathetic. I've had occasion — I believe everyone here has — to shoot people.

Roi: We had a five-day operation in the territories on firing grounds, and basically Bedouins are not allowed to be there. The officer stops the vehicle and asks, "Who's ready?" I step out, another guy steps out, and then about 300 yards from us we see a poor Bedouin shepherd walking out on the grass at the firing ground. The officer says, "Okay, go ahead." We lie down, one bullet to the left of the herd, one bullet to the right of the herd . . .

Blau: Why?

Roi: Because shooting live ammo has become so fluid, so trivial.

Tzvi: You can live with having shot at an old man grazing his sheep? Just like that? If my officer were to tell me to open fire on a shepherd who's obviously not endangering anyone, I would beat my officer up.

Roi: Officially you don't open fire just like that. On the ground our guys would do it for the hell of it, as though they were returning fire. For them, shooting in Hebron is simply a video game.

Erez: If anyone were to tell me, "You have to open fire on a seven-year-old girl," I'd shoot without hesitation.

Blau: Really?

Erez: Yes. Because that's what you have to do. If that's what I'm ordered to do.
response to that piece revealed something of the depth of israeli denial about what is really happening in the territories they occupy, events which profoundly contradict the morality of many.

Uri Blau, the former military correspondent for the Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha'Ir, published several testimonies by soldiers. The IDF tried to stop him, he said, and in trying to identify his sources arrested a female soldier and imprisoned her for several weeks. Details of her trial were released to the media with no mention of Blau who surmised that she was targeted to scare other soldiers from cooperating with him.

Not all the soldiers who told him about human rights violations in which they had participated thought that they had committed an offense.

Sometimes they said: "We had to do it because this is the only way the Palestinians would understand," or 'this is the way it works." They realized that something was amiss only after they had seen their disclosures published in the newspaper, after which they usually broke contact with Blau.

But the stories of harassment, abuses and excesses that he did publish barely created a ripple. If anything they provoked negative reactions. Israelis preferred to remain deaf and blind to any wrongdoings by the IDF. "People just don't want to hear those testimonies," said Blau, who was told on more than one occasion that Israel is at war, and that this is not a time to publish stories that will weaken morale and hurt the IDF.
among his articles is documentation of a harrowing premonition of abu ghraib in southern lebanon.

i bring all this up because i think it's becoming increasingly clear that one can view the israeli situation as a sort of possible moral destination for the united states. what goes on in our aggressive occupations of iraq and afghanistan -- and our attempts to repress, rationalize and deny it all -- serves to warp and destroy our morality in a manner quite similar to what israelis are suffering. one doesn't need to be a theologian to see that these idf soldiers have been hollowed out by israeli state militarism, desensitized and made useless to a civilized world. and the angry reaction of much of the israeli public against blau -- when clearly the point of fault lies within the message and not the messenger -- is altogether similar to the reactions of many in america when faced with evidence of our own sins.

one question that americans must answer for their future, it seems to me, is whether or not we desire to subject what remains of our morality to the inevitable loss this abuse of temporal aspiration will force, to become lost in the moral trap marc ellis calls for israel "constantinian judaism" -- the conflation of spiritual and ethical values with state power, serving to misguide and ultimately destroy both. those who would falsely hope for cultural reinvigoration in ideological war -- the affirmation of life in death -- have already had their day and shown their bankruptcy, all but ending our civilization in manifesting catastrophe.

do we wish it again?

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