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Gideon Levy, Haaretz, on Beit Hanoun--11/5/06

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* * *
   Listen to Maj. Gen. Stern

_*By **Gideon Levy* <mailto:levy@haaretz.co.il>

*A bloodbath is taking place in Beit Hanun, the Israel Defense Forces
runs rampant and kills at least 37 people in four days - and Israeli
public opinion yawns with indifference. A brigade commander tells his
soldiers, who killed 12 people in one day: "You've won 12:0," and the
soldiers grin broadly. This is the moral nadir we have reached,
following a long slide down a slippery slope: Human life has become cheap.

Proof of this came at the end of the week from the big mouth of Major
General Elazar Stern, the head of the IDF Personnel Directorate, who
occasionally says true things. "The IDF's excessive sensitivity to human
life led to some of the failures in the Lebanon war - and this should
not happen," Stern told Channel 7. Stern should be praised for these
forthright words: Those who embark with unbearable lightness on a futile
war of choice cannot allow themselves the luxury of showing sensitivity
for the lives of their soldiers. In war, soldiers not only kill, but are
also killed. This should have been stated in advance.

But the general's remarks are also tainted with hypocrisy: Those who
over a few months kill more than 1,000 Lebanese and 300 Palestinians for
dubious reasons do not have the right to speak about sensitivity to
human life. The fact that the public protest against the war did not
take off demonstrates that after having lost all sensitivity for the
lives of others, we are also gradually losing sensitivity for the lives
of our children who are killed in vain. The contempt for human life
starts with the lives of Arabs and ends with the lives of Jews.

What a long way we have come since the talk, as hypocritical as it may
have been, about "the purity of arms." This concept has been totally
deleted from the lexicon. What a long way we have come since the time
when we took pride in the fact that, unlike the Arabs, we tried not to
kill innocent civilians. And now we have arrived at the shocking reality
of the second Lebanon war. For example, the number of people Israel
killed is not only almost 10 times higher than the number of people
Hezbollah killed, but the number of soldiers Hezbollah killed is three
times higher than the number of Israeli civilians they killed, while the
number of Lebanese civilians killed by Israel is about three times the
number of Hezbollah fighters. So whose arms are purer? A journalist from
The Guardian who is currently in Israel was shocked to hear that these
figures have not been the subject of public discussion here.

The current stage of the moral decline began with the targeted
assassinations in the territories. When they began, there was still an
argument over their legality and justness. Who remembers that the
assassinations were once limited, declaratively at least, to "ticking
bombs"? The High Court of Justice, in its cowardice, has evaded taking a
stance on this issue for years, despite the petitions on its doorstep.
And the assassination project grew and expanded until it reached
monstrous proportions.

In recent months, almost no day has gone by without Palestinians being
killed in Gaza. Instead of asking why, we get a prime minister who
boasts to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee about "300
terrorists" dead within four months, as if killing in itself were an
enormous achievement. This is the lesson from Ehud Olmert, and it is
immeasurably more grievous than all his alleged corruption affairs.

No one asked who these fatalities were, whether they all deserved to
die, and what benefit Israel derives from this wholesale killing. Beyond
the terrifying number of civilians killed, including dozens of women and
children, we should also ask whether every armed person in Gaza - and
there are tens of thousands of them - deserves the death penalty,
without a trial. The day the IDF began the targeted assassinations, our
sensitivity to human life was doomed to be erased.

The IDF has been operating in the town of Beit Hanun for several days
now. Operation Autumn Clouds is ostensibly intended to target Qassam
launchers, but meanwhile it has only brought more Qassams on Sderot -
besides the killing, destruction and terror it sows in the heart of the
30,000-resident town. I was at the Beit Hanun home of the Abu Ouda
family twice recently. The first time was when a shell destroyed the
family's home. The second time was when soldiers killed the father, his
son and his daughter, who were innocent of any crime. And this was
before Operation Autumn Clouds.

And how is the Israeli press covering Autumn Clouds? In Maariv on
Thursday, you needed a magnifying glass to find an offhand reference to
the killing of 10 Palestinians in one day; it was the same for Yedioth
Ahronoth. The two newspapers with the country's largest circulation
demonstrate a disgusting level of dehumanization. The statement by
Yedioth Ahronoth's military commentator, Alex Fishman, that one of the
operation's goals is drilling the troops for the "big operation," does
not stir any protest. That the IDF is embarking on a "training
operation" in a dense population center, sowing death and destruction -
does this not show a frightening contempt for human life?

The daily killing in Gaza receives scant mention. Futile operations
aimed at restoring the IDF's lost honor do not arouse any debate about
their aim, morality or chances of succeeding. No one wonders about the
extent of Qassam damage versus the extent of the killing and destruction
- including the bombing of the power station - in Gaza, where a million
and a half people are encaged, impoverished and hungry.

These futile operations will not stop the Qassams, which are aimed at
giving us and the rest of the world a painful reminder of the imprisoned
and boycotted Gaza residents' distress, which no one would notice if it
were not for the Qassams. The way to fight the Qassams is to stop the
boycott, sit down at the negotiating table and reach an accord.
Otherwise, we will continue to slide and become immune to their loss of
life, and soon to our loss of life as well. Listen to Major General
Stern. *