Last Wednesday [Dec. 12], an IDF patrol in Hebron stopped a car with two Palestinian journalists from the Reuters news agency. According to Reuters, the soldiers forced the journalists to leave the vehicle, then beat them while accusing them of being investigative reporters for the B'Tselem (Israeli human rights) organization. The soldiers stripped them, instructed them to kneel on the road, took away one of their cameras, tossed a tear-gas grenade at them and fled. One of the journalists needed medical treatment from the tear gas. The camera was found unharmed on the slope of the path.
Reuters is one of the two largest news agencies in the world, thus the incident received global media attention, including from the Israeli press. If it had been only B'Tselem reporters involved, it is doubtful whether anyone would have taken interest in the affair. The public discourse in Israel involves incitement against human rights organizations anyway. Politicians and journalists compete in making incendiary statements against the anti-occupation activists — Israelis operating out of deep concern for the future of their society — turning them into associates of terrorist organizations. Under the influence of this madness — a madness that views anyone who does not applaud Israel as part of a world-wide anti-Semitic conspiracy — it is not surprising that several soldiers have taken things into their own hands and decided to impose a "price-tag" on the first B'Tselem person they encounter.
The IDF's response to Reuters was to promise to investigate the Hebron incident. It is likely that these same soldiers, if they indeed did what is attributed to them, will be located and punished. But no one holds accountable those responsible for poisoning the public atmosphere. No one holds those journalists and politicians accountable who censured the rare restraint displayed by IDF soldiers in two earlier incidents in Hebron and in Kfar Kadum. Instead of wondering why we continue our attempt to impose law and order on a civilian population with our army, the media and political system prefer to scream that we are not fast enough on the trigger. As if we have not undergone enough bloody cycles of violence to understand that we cannot transform the Palestinians into citizens without rights through use of force. Israel can inflict terrible losses on them, but cannot make them give up their aspirations for freedom.
The IDF soldiers who retreated from the demonstrators in Kadum or Hebron are not guilty. The ones who bear the guilt are those who sent them on a mission lacking dignity and utility.
The military dictatorship in the territories must come to an end. If Israel wants to continue to rule over the territories, it must annex them, give citizenship to the residents and establish police stations that will preserve law and order. If not, it must withdraw immediately, with or without an agreement. All these options are bad, but the continuation of the present situation is the worst option of all. Israel's existential danger is not B'Tselem reports, and not stone-throwing in the Palestinian villages of Naalin and Bilin, but the occupation.
The occupation has become a whirlpool that is dragging the entire country into the abyss. Convincing the Palestinians that violence won’t win out will not help, nor will advocacy succeed. So long as the occupation exists there will be resistance; there will be oppression, crimes and embarrassing reports in the world media. Instead of shooting the messenger — or merely leaving him naked on the street and hurling tear gas at him — the time has come that we assume responsibility for our actions. After all, we won't have a choice, and every passing day makes the unavoidable decree yet more painful, expensive and dangerous.