Iman al-Hamas, Wissam Tayam, Mahmoud Qamail - these three names have appeared during the past two weeks on the front pages of all the newspapers and in the news broadcasts on all the television stations. Their common denominator: They are Palestinians whose names have been linked to a major public outcry.
The confirmed killing carried out on Al-hamas, the 13-year-old girl from Rafah, shocked the public. The photo of the violinist Tayam, who played at the Beit Iba checkpoint near Nablus in front of the soldiers, led many to make (uncalled-for) comparisons between the fate of the Palestinians and that of the Jews in the Holocaust. The shooting of wanted Islamic Jihad militant Qamail in the village of Raba, near Jenin, after he was disarmed, led the chief of staff to tell Haaretz, on that same day, that "we must examine carefully whether the messages we are sending to the combat units are ambiguous."
For four years, the Palestinian victims were almost anonymous to most members of the Israeli public. Now the preoccupation with these victims, and with the ethical questions involved in the army's blame for their killing, has become an almost daily question. Only two days ago, in an unusual step, the Central Command published data about 29 innocent Palestinians who were killed in the West Bank in 2004. B'Tselem differs with the army's data and says there were 111 civilians. But the major change lies in the fact that the top echelons of the Israel Defense Forces have made the discussion of the ethical question a central one.
The first reason for the change is primarily political. The feeling of most Israelis is that, during the present intifada, the Palestinians left us with no choice but to fight them. And, in light of this necessity, there was no point in discussing the "fine points" of purity of warfare. Because of the disengagement plan, which picked up speed after it was approved in the Knesset, and the death of Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat, this feeling has become less monolithic. In a survey by Maagar Mohot, the Interdisciplinary Research and Consulting Institute, which was published yesterday, 84 percent of Israelis said they support a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians. The moment one sees the end of the violence, one can begin to deliberate its nature.
Another aspect: As opposed to the first intifada, few soldiers in the present intifada reported moral injustices that they had perpetrated or witnessed. The fact that during the period of suicide attacks the soldiers considered every Palestinian a possible ticking bomb may have made it easier for them to justify their activity in the territories, even if it sometimes bordered on immorality. The decline in the number of attacks in recent months has apparently loosened the tongues of some of them. "Breaking the Silence," the photo exhibit by former Israeli soldiers who had served in Hebron, became a mouthpiece for soldiers who until now have remained silent.
The change that has taken place in recent days is welcome. The duty of the media is to report the truth, the duty of the army is not to blur it and the duty of the public is to know it. These are signs of a healthier society. A society that knows, more than in the past, not only how to look into the mirror, but how to look at what is going on around it, at the results of its actions. Only such a society, which is more aware of the situation, can reach correct decisions about its future.www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/512482.htmlE-mail this article