Help. There’s a piece of propagandistic fiction in the New Yorker this week that must be categorized as Israeli army literature. Written by a former Israeli soldier, Shani Boianjiu, “Means of Suppressing Demonstrations” is told from the point of view of Lea, an Israeli soldier, and characterizes Palestinians as “informed consumers” of world opinion who seek to force Israelis to shoot them so as to gain sympathy.
Reminiscent of Golda Meir’s statement that Palestinians forced us to kill their sons. And this at a time when Five Broken Cameras is seeking to educate Americans about the murderous occupation. Palestine is the “West Bank” in this piece. No mention of territories or occupation.
Some of the gory details. Emphases mine:
Lea looks at a newspaper account of Palestinians killed on a Gaza beach:
The picture in the newspaper showed [a Palestinian girl] screaming on red sand, amid the body parts of the seven people who had been her family.
“I know,” she said. “This is a manipulation.”
The world said that the Israeli Army had done it with artillery fire, but the Israeli Army knew that the family had been killed by a dormant shell that Palestinian militants had left by the sea…
The occupation is all about security. Not that the author uses that word:
Route 799 cut through the West Bank, but had been closed to Palestinians since 2002, when the motorcyclists were shot….
A grand old theme– honor killings, and Israeli lenity:
The story in the newspaper that Tomer brought to the barracks that night was about a girl who’d been killed by her mother. The girl was an Israeli Arab from a northern village, and she had got pregnant by her neighbor, who had raped her and was expected to receive a harsh sentence. A picture showed the girl on the day of her high-school graduation, smiling and wearing jeans. She had a generous, good-girl smile. She looked like the kind of schoolgirl you couldn’t even gossip with about soap-opera characters. The mother was expected to receive a light sentence, because she had acted in the name of honor, and out of passion, and one has to respect another’s culture.
Here’s the meat. Palestinian demonstrators, approaching soldiers as bank customers approach tellers, begging to be suppressed so as to manipulate the press:
“Officer, we are here to demonstrate against the restriction of our mobility, which is a collective punishment and against international law,” the demonstrator said, in solid, accented Hebrew.
She put one hand on her weapon and one in her pocket. “How come there are only three of you? This is hardly a demonstration.”
“I do apologize, Officer. We have a wedding this week in the village, and, you see, other people, they are not serious,” he said. He bowed a little when he spoke. “Is there any way you could disperse us just a little—enough for a press blast, or something?”
She had meant to be cruel, but the man was rather sweet. He looked more like a bank customer asking for an increase of his credit limit than like a demonstrator.
…maybe they just wanted something symbolic” [Lea says of demonstrators]…
“The thing is, no one is going to write a story about a few noise crackers,” the man said. “That’s the thing, Officer.”…
The demonstrators are called “informed consumers.” The Israeli army follows strict moral rules:
the demonstrators would come with lab goggles and surgical masks. She could not use gas against them. They looked like mad scientists and she wondered where they had got those costumes, in their pathetic town in the West Bank and all. The boy wore cheap plastic sunglasses over his goggles, and she smiled when she saw them, so he smiled back.
But when the man with the Guns N’ Roses T-shirt shouted, “It’s rubber day!,” her face hardened. She used only her chin to signal him. She let him come closer than she had before.
“No,” she said. “A rubber bullet could kill you guys. This has gone on long enough.”
“You have to have means and intent to kill for us to shoot,” she said. “That’s I.D.F. Guidebook 101.”
“Please,” the man said. “We need to be in the newspaper. Page 5, even.”
The arrest of a child was always at least page 5, she knew. He’d be out in days; he’d probably be out in days.
…“Whore,” the man said to Lea as Tomer took the boy by the arm. It was what he needed to say to her. After all, she was a female checkpoint officer. He played the role of the poor Palestinian…
“Lea,” Tomer said, right before they reached the base. “Let’s remember to take bets on which page in the news this arrest will be. What do you say, Lea?”
And in case you didn’t think it could get worse, it does. The author is interviewed by Willing Davidson of the New Yorker and speaks of the “wild requests” of the demonstrators and the “compassion” of the soldier protagonist. Imagine the New Yorker describing demonstrators’ demands as “wild” during Vietnam, or the Jim Crow south!?
I think being desireless is one of the lowest places a person can be, and I know that, for myself, when I was in that situation I was truly fascinated by people who wanted things—even if those people were actually in much worse situations than myself, even if the terrible situations those people were in created their ability to have strong desires. I needed the demonstrators to have some power over Lea, so that some of the bizarre events I was planning for the story could unfold. I felt that Lea’s respect for the demonstrators’ strong desires was a way to justify her giving in to some of their wild requests, because when you lack desire completely and see someone else who is able to want something badly, the temptation to gratify them can be very strong, no matter the circumstances. I think it is one of the stranger ways in which what people sometimes call compassion works.