To: Colonel Aviv Kohavi
Brigade Commander of the Israeli Paratroopers
I presume you remember me. In any event, I remember
you. We first met in the paratrooper brigade. I was a platoon sergeant
in the corporals company; you were a young platoon officer. Even then
friends of mine who were serving with you in the same post in Lebanon
related that you were a sensible, serious, and above all decent officer.
The better part of our acquaintance occurred,
though, at Hebrew University. We were studying towards our B.A. in Philosophy
-- you in preparation for a career in the military, I as a human rights
During that period we had more than one political
discussion. I couldn't help but admire you. I found you to be a thinking
person, imaginative, and judicious -- quite different from the typical
army officer that one meets at the university, one who registers merely
to snatch a degree and to run off. Looking back, I believe that you
really enjoyed your studies, a number of which, it should be noted,
dealt with ethical theory.
Years have passed since we last met. You became
the paratroopers' brigade commander, I a lecturer in the department
of politics and government at Ben Gurion University.
On Thursday, March 1, 2002 I once again saw you,
not face to face, but on television. You were on the news program: the
commander of the troops that entered Balata refugee camp, near Nablus.
You solemnly explained that at that very moment
your soldiers were transmitting a forceful message to the Palestinian
terrorists: the Israeli army will hunt them down in every nook and cranny.
In the days after the interview, news began to
trickle about what took place in the camp. Prior to the incursion the
Israeli military reigned terror on the inhabitants employing helicopters
and tanks. Then, Aviv, you imposed a curfew on the camp, blew up the
electric transmission lines, cutting off electricity to 20,000 civilian
inhabitants; bulldozers ruined the water supply pipe lines.
Your soldiers, Aviv, then moved from house to
house by smashing holes in the interior walls; they destroyed furniture
and other property, and riddled bullets in water tanks on roof tops.
The soldiers spread terror on the inhabitants, most of whom were women,
elderly, and children.
But that wasn't all. I learned that your soldiers
also used inhabitants as human shields. Also, in the first few hours
of the incursion the Palestinians had 120 wounded, and that you, Aviv,
refused to allow ambulances to enter and leave the camp.
There were, of course, several battles in the
camp during the incursion. Two Palestinians and one of your soldiers
were killed. You also reported that you confiscated weapons and that
your operation prevented future terrorist acts from happening. But you
totally ignored the connection between Israeli military violence perpetrated
in the Occupied
Territories and Palestinian violence in Israel, as if the incursions
into the camps and the reign of terror that you and your soldiers imposed
do not drive Israel/Palestine into a blood bath from which none can
How, Aviv, do you think that your incursion affected
the children whom you locked up for hours with other members of their
families, while you searched their house and blasted holes through their
walls? Did your incursion contribute a smithereen to peace, or did it
instead spread seeds of hatred, despondence, and death in the crowded,
poverty stricken, hopeless refugee camp?
I have not stopped thinking about you since that
television interview, trying to understand what was going on in your
mind. What caused you to lead your soldiers -- soldiers of the paratrooper
brigade -- to a war against a civilian population?
Aviv, I am presently teaching a course entitled
"The Politics of Human Rights." One of the topics I discuss
during the semester is the intifada and its lessons with respect to
human rights. From the standpoint of international conventions, at least,
your acts in Balata constitute blatant violations of human rights. Such
acts are, in fact, war crimes.
Aviv, what happened to the sensible and judicious
officer? How did you become a war criminal?
Neve Gordon teaches in the department
of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University in Israel.
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