The last session of the Rachel Corrie court case in Haifa had been repeatedly postponed on account of the weightiness of the witness. Colonel Pinhas Zuaretz, better known by his nickname, Pinky, was the commanding officer of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade at the time the late peace activist was killed. I decided to display my solidarity with my fellow countryman, to wear my heart on my sleeve so to speak. Lacking pink in my wardrobe I donned the loudest Aloha shirt I had with large off-pink flowery pattern. Pinky turned out to be weighty indeed: a rotund, dark-skinned, middle-aged man with closely cropped salt-and-pepper scalp, thick black eyebrows and bulldoggish jowls. Despite the reassurance of our shared Semitic features, his presence evoked in me the same gut-level discomfort I had always sensed whenever seeing Ariel Sharon or our current foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Don’t jump to conclusions, please! Some of my best friends are rotund. I have a teenage neighbor who on occasion helps me collect my free-range chicken eggs. He has a low IQ and an inborn glandular disorder that stores excessive fat on his short torso. Also I have many American friends who tower a foot or more over me. Whether a war criminal, a bar bouncer, a simpleton, or an average well-fed person, the sheer bulk of a corpulent man is enough to intimidate and rile me on the inside. Today’s witness was no exception: I wished I had worn black.
Even before he spoke, I decided that I wouldn’t want to wrestle with the man. His body language and his automatic assumption of priority in communicating with the judge, whose ruddy complexion suggested another longish repose on some tropical seaside, did little to reassure me. But Husain Abu-Husain proceeded right away to tangle with the man and to try to cut him down to size: How can a man of his rank make so many spelling mistakes in his written affidavit, Abu-Husain asked? Would he care to comment about the sexual harassment case a woman soldier once brought against him? Would he commit to the principle of protecting human life? To this last one Colonel Pinky acquiesced begrudgingly after stressing his first allegiance to protecting the life of his soldiers. And was he still convinced of his conclusion after his rushed investigation of the case of the late Rachel Corrie only hours after his soldiers’ D9R Caterpillars had crushed her to death that their conduct was flawless? To this he responded in the positive stating that Rachel had died through her own carelessness and willful interference on the side of the terrorists who had sent her to disrupt the soldiers’ orderly carrying out of their duty of leveling an area. The presence of the home of a certain Dr. Khalil and another ‘yellow house’ repeatedly mentioned in the military investigations was considered immaterial not only by the witness but also by the judge who struck the line of questioning from the record.
In Colonel Pinky’s logic there seemed to be no place for doubt: things were either white or black. What he repeatedly asserted was that the whole area was a war zone and anyone present in it was as good as dead, “ben mavit — mortal” by definition. Rachel was on the side of the enemy and her death should have been a forgone conclusion. How could someone miss such simple logic? Pinky shook his head repeatedly in exasperation at the unbelievable stupidity of his doubters. And his soldiers were performing their duties in a war zone. That included the killing of enemy combatants or of their supporters and messengers, he seemed to imply. And yet his soldiers acted in a humane manner. They tried to give first aid to the accidentally injured woman. Pinky emphasized this ‘humane gesture’ that his soldiers extended to another victim whom they had shot dead as well. This last bit of logic made perfect sense to me: When you willfully shoot to kill someone, why would you want to extend first aid to him or her? Indeed this was beyond the call of duty.
When Abu-Husain pointed out a contradiction between Pinky’s written affidavit and other documents on record regarding an injury he claimed he had suffered, the judge stepped in to rule that as irrelevant. This protective intervention was to be repeated by the judge several times, usually in response to the objection of the defense lawyer raised with such animated movement of her brightly manicured pretty hands over her head out of synch with whatever she was saying. I figured the woman would be something to behold with her favorite witness on a dance floor; she seemed so twirly and sympathetic to his preposterous who-the-hell-is-this-Arab-questioning-my-judgment stance.
Twice, in his attempt to shield the witness from the aggression of his unjust doubters, the judge made pronouncements so damning of the IDF that I expected Pinky to get up and slug him in the mouth: When Abu-Husain brought up the case of a soldier under Pinky’s command who had killed another international activist, lied about the circumstances of the murder and his story was taken as the honest truth by Pinky, the judge did not allow that into the record because he thought it was irrelevant to Rachel’s case. Besides, the judge rationalized, soldiers lie just as others do including in his court. Then there was the issue of drug abuse in the unit the members of which were involved in Rachel’s demise. Again the judge threw that out explaining that drug abuse was widespread in all units of the IDF. I expected Pinky to maul him so hard that he would need to go back to R&R at some far off rehab facility. But the commander swallowed the insult quietly. After all, from the start he gave signs of a common understanding between him, the defense, and the judge, not the result of some collusion, God forbid, but of each doing his duty in repulsing the onslaught of so many goyim on “the most ethical army in the world.” But especially Pinky had an expression of disgust at being badgered by a team of Palestinian lawyers. It didn’t make sense to me: True Abu-Husain is of darker skin and that may have justified Pinky’s look of condescension in his own eyes. But Dakwar, the second prosecution lawyer, is as fair-skinned as they come, fairer than the judge himself. I figured it must be size that decides status this time around.
In Colonel Pinky’s clear-minded view, the last question that Abu-Husain lobbed at him must have looked like the nastiest of curveballs: Abu-Husain must have seemed to him to be intent on adding insult to injury. He, a former ranking colonel and currently the Deputy Head of the FIDF (Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces,) had been already dragged enough through the mud: He had to defend himself against the attacks of a scrawny (by comparison) dark-skinned (also relatively so) Palestinian (also relatively so since his Palestinianism had been compromised by an Israeli citizenship in Pinky’s black-and-white world,) reminiscent in his private thoughts, no doubt, of the standard IDF practice dummies. And now the dark-faced, kaffiyah-clad, hole-riddled scarecrow wanted him to apologize to the parents of that foreign pro-terrorist provocateur! These Ishmaelites, our leaders told us, were supposed to serve us as “Hewers of wood and drawers of water.” Look at them now, biting the hand that feeds them. How terribly insulting it must have felt to the colonel. Thanks God the judge interfered and promptly halted the assault on the defenseless soldier even before the defense lawyers objected. He angrily explained the inappropriateness of such a gesture before He Himself had a chance to issue His ruling.
In rural Galilee the older folks tell a story about a wild Bedouin’s first encounter with the law. He was dragged into town and kept overnight in a cell repeatedly threatened by his jailers with having to face the judge. After the affair was over he was heard explaining gleefully: “I was scared stiff by the prospect of tangling with the judge. But the judge turned out to be a man.”
After all, our judge turns out to be an Israeli man. I bet you my last Aloha shirt the Corries will not get the one dollar they are suing for.
Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. This post originally appeared on his blog.