In the never-ending propaganda show designed to depict Israel as a moral nation victimized by immoral terrorists and anti-Semites, CNN recently ran a film clip of the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin declaiming, as only he could, “Nobody should preach to us ethics, nobody!” And, of course, few do.
It’s the general assumption among the vast majority of Americans that no one can preach ethics to Israel, that light unto nations. No nation is more ethical or more innocent — or so we are told.
But I can’t get something I recently saw off my mind. Every so often in the midst of a deluge of information something leaps out at you as unique — utterly electrifying, utterly horrifying, almost mind- altering in a way. One’s senses become dulled after months, years, of reading about and seeing images on television of innocents dead from Palestinian terrorist attacks, of other innocents dead from Israeli tank or sniper fire, of cities and refugee camps devastated, in recent weeks of the entire civilian infrastructure of Palestinian society destroyed. But one searing article leapt out the other day that has stuck in my craw, and I cannot let go of it.
In an article in the May 6 issue of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz entitled “Someone Even Managed to Defecate into the Photocopier,” Amira Hass — an honest, courageous Israeli woman who has spent years living among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza — described the scenes of destruction at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture left behind after Israeli military forces lifted their siege of the towns of Ramallah and its suburb al-Birah, where the ministry is located.
Entering the building after its month-long occupation by an Israeli military unit, ministry officials, foreign cultural attaches, and reporters found a scene of grotesque vandalism. Equipment from the local radio and television station had been hurled from windows in the multi-storey building, electronic equipment was destroyed or had been stolen, furniture was broken and piled up on heaps of papers, books, computer disks, and broken glass. Children’s paintings had been destroyed.
And then there was this, as described by Hass: “There are two toilets on every floor, but the soldiers urinated and defecated everywhere else in the building, in several rooms of which they had lived for about a month. They did their business on the floors, in emptied flowerpots, even in drawers they had pulled out of desks. They defecated into plastic bags, and these were scattered in several places. Some of them had burst. Someone even managed to defecate into a photocopier. The soldiers urinated into empty mineral water bottles. These were scattered by the dozen in all the rooms of the building, in cardboard boxes, among the piles of rubbish and rubble, on desks, under desks, next to the furniture the soldiers had smashed, among the children’s books that had been thrown down. Some of the bottles had opened and the yellow liquid had spilled and left its stain.
“It was especially difficult to enter two floors of the building because of the pungent stench of feces and urine. Soiled toilet paper was also scattered everywhere. In some of the rooms, not far from the heaps of feces and the toilet paper, remains of rotting food were scattered. In one corner, in the room in which someone had defecated into a drawer, full cartons of fruits and vegetables had been left behind. The toilets were left overflowing with bottles filled with urine, feces and toilet paper. Relative to other places, the soldiers did not leave behind them many sayings scrawled on the walls. Here and there were the candelabrum symbols of Israel, stars of David, praises for the Jerusalem Betar soccer team.”
This is not a tale we are ever likely to see in the American press, so the vast majority of Americans who think with Menachem Begin that nobody can preach to Israel about ethics, that Israel’s army is the only moral army in the world and always employs the doctrine of “purity of arms,” will go on thinking that way.
But I cannot.
I am forced to ask some questions that the American majority will no doubt never hear: Can it, for instance, be called terrorism if an entire unit of the Israeli army forsakes purity of arms and spends a month crapping on floors, on piles of children’s artwork, in desk drawers, on photocopiers? Is this self-defense, or “rooting out the terrorist infrastructure”?
Is it anti-Semitic to wonder what happened to the moral compass of a society that spawns a group of young men who will intermingle their own religious and national symbols with feces and urine, as if the drawings and the excrement both constitute valued autographs? Do they think Israeli shit is cleaner, holier than anyone else’s? Why are my taxes paying for this army? How can Palestinians ever make peace in the face of filth and disrespect like this?
Kathleen Christison, a former political analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency, is the author of “Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy” (University of California Press, 1999).