Guest Opinion: Voiding the Palestinians
Voiding the Palestinians: An Allegory
By M. Shahid Alam
“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.”
- Gandhi 
“Palestine will be as Jewish as England is English.”
- Chaim Weizman 
On October 29, 2003, a leading Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, reported a rape-murder that occurred more than fifty years ago at Nirim, an Israeli military outpost in the Negev. The victim was a Palestinian girl, in her early or mid-teens, or younger; the perpetrators of this crime were members of the Israeli Defense Force. Six days later, The Guardian also reported this crime, but US papers did not think this was news that is fit for print. In the United States, the media prefers to shield Israel from adverse notice.
What is the significance of a single rape-murder in the long and tortuous history of the dispossession of one people by another? No dispossession ever makes a pretty picture. Moreover, the dispossession of Palestinians is no ordinary dispossession. It is not ordinary because it involved the complete voiding of one people by another: Palestine had to be emptied of its ancient Palestinian population to make room for Jews. It is not ordinary because much of this emptying was telescoped within a few short months (in 1948) rather than over centuries or decades. It was not ordinary because the people doing the voiding had themselves been voided from their spaces in Europe, a people with brilliant accomplishments, voided from the spaces they had helped to enrich. It is not ordinary because the voiding, the violence it demanded, had been carefully planned, orchestrated, justified, explained, excused, and, after it’s success, celebrated and glorified in Israeli and Western media.
What is the significance of a single rape-murder – I ask again – in the midst of the voiding of Palestine implemented through the deceit of declarations and the farce of international laws; through repeated wars and grinding repressions; through the backing of great powers and support of the world’s organized Jewry; through ethnic cleansings, orchestrated massacres and obliterated villages; through bombings of cinder block apartments, hospitals, schools and workshops; through armed settlements built on hilltops; through house demolitions, curfews, sieges, trenches, and bypass roads dividing communities; through a million daily humiliations at a thousand checkpoints; and now through a gargantuan wall, coiling, advancing, ominous, that dreams of squeezing the last drop of blood from beleaguered Palestinian communities in the West Bank?
Perhaps this single rape-murder is significant. The voiding of a people necessarily involves suffering on a monumental scale. The Zionists built their Jewish state by destroying the lives of millions of Palestinians over three generations. The scale of this suffering has been documented in reports, in statistics of villages destroyed, houses demolished, and men, women and children evicted from their homes, robbed, incarcerated, bombed, shot at, tortured, killed. However, statistics do not tell stories; they will not grip the reader with the pain of the victims. As the Holocaust reveals its hellish intent in images and artifacts, so the narrative of Palestinian voiding must be conveyed in images, metaphors and allegories, each of which contains in miniature, in essence, the great pain that the Palestinians have endured for more than eighty years.
We must read the Ha’aretz disclosure of the rape-murder in the Negev as an allegory of the fate decreed by the god-like Zionists for an inferior Arab population. Read with understanding, the report reveals the darkness at the heart of the Zionist project, its racism, its moral obtuseness, its blindness to the irony of the grave injustice the Zionists intended to do to the Palestinians. The rape-murder of a nameless Palestinian girl – most likely a minor – by IDF soldiers graphically conveys the unequal contest between the Zionists and Palestinians, as the Zionists sought to void the Palestinians so that they could resurrect a Jewish state that had been dead for some eighteen hundred years.
The only written record of the rape-murder, before the Ha’aretz report, is to be found in the diary of David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. He made a terse but telling entry about this episode. “It was decided and carried out: they washed her, cut her hair, raped her and killed her.” Ben-Gurion could be describing a military operation, efficiently completed, according to plan, without hesitation, and without any loss of time. His verbs are active verbs: they speak of strong men, determined men, confident of their power to decide, to execute, to wash, to cut, rape and kill. The decisiveness, the finality of their actions is awe-inspiring.
On the morning of August 12, 1949, the Platoon Commander at the Nirim outpost in the Negev, Second Lieutenant Moshe, organized a patrol with six soldiers. During their patrol, they shot and killed a Palestinian after he threw down his rifle and was running away. Later, they captured two unarmed Arab men with a girl. The men were driven away with shots fired over their heads, but the girl was taken back to the outpost at Nirim. The patrol had decided that she was “fuckable.” On their way back to the outpost, the patrol shot and killed six camels, leaving them to rot.
At the outpost, while Moshe was away on another patrol, the Platoon Sergeant, Michael prepared the girl for rape. He removed her traditional garments, forced her to stand under a water pipe, and washed her with his own hands, while everyone watched. The washing done, he dressed her in a jersey and shorts, and took her back to a hut where he raped her. When the girl complained to Moshe about the rape, he ordered his men to wash her – again – “so that she would be clean for fucking.” The soldiers cut the girl’s hair, washed her head with kerosene, placed her under the water pipe, and sent her back to the hut in jersey and shorts. She was now clean.
Later the same day, the soldiers at the Nirim outpost gathered in a large tent for the festivities of Sabbath eve. The Platoon Commander, Moshe, inaugurated the Sabbath by blessing the wine, a soldier read from the Bible, after which there was singing, eating, drinking, jokes and fun. Before the party ended, Moshe asked his men to decide the Palestinian captive’s fate with a vote. They had two options: the captive could work in the kitchen; or they could have her. The girl’s fate was decided democratically. The soldiers chanted, “We want a fuck.” Commander Moshe carried out the will of the majority. He and his sergeant went in first, leaving the girl unconscious.
The next morning, when the Palestinian girl protested, the Platoon Commander threatened to kill her. And, indeed, later, he ordered Sergeant Michael to execute the girl. They stripped her before execution; a soldier wanted his shorts back. The Sergeant, accompanied by a medic and two soldiers, took the girl out in the desert and shot her in the head as she ran. Overcome by pity, just in case she was alive and in pain, a soldier pumped a few more bullets into the girl’s body. Washed clean, her hair cut, raped repeatedly, the Palestinian captive now lay dead in a shallow grave.
Second Lieutenant Moshe drove down to Be’er Sheva later that same evening to watch a movie. At the theatre, he met his Battalion Commander, Major Yehuda Drexler, who had ordered that the Palestinian captive be taken back to where she had been found. When the Major asked his subordinate if he had done so, Moshe replied: “They killed her, it was a shame to waste the gas.” A Palestinian’s life is not worth a gallon or half of gas.
When Captain Uri, the Company Commander, asked Second Lieutenant Moshe to explain what had happened to the Palestinian girl, this is what he wrote in his report:
“In my patrol on 12.8.49 I encountered Arabs in the territory under my command, one of them armed. I killed the armed Arab on the spot and took his weapon. I took the Arab female captive. On the first night the soldiers abused her and the next day I saw fit to remove her from the world (emphasis added).”
That was all. It was dismissive in its terseness, as if to say it would be a waste of our time discussing the rape-murder of a Palestinian. However, if you insist on a report, here it is: We found an Arab girl, raped her, and “I saw fit to remove her from the world.”
It is that last phrase that is so haunting, imperial, Biblical, even divine. It sums up the ethos of a whole age, an imperial age that took pride in its superior race and its civilizing mission. An age in which various Europeans nations “saw fit” to conquer, colonize, enslave, exterminate, displace, ‘liberate’ or ‘educate’ the rest of humanity, anyone different from them in color or religion. No matter what injury the Europeans inflicted on the natives, it had to be good for them. Nothing but goodness could flow from such superior beings. Zionism and its fruit, Israel, are but late flowerings of that Imperial age.
At the trial for this rape-murder, which was held in secret the same year, Second Lieutenant Moshe denied raping the girl. “Morally speaking,” he argued, “it was impossible to sleep with such a dirty girl.” Most likely, he knew that this was an argument that would carry weight. It is a basic premise of the civilizing mission. “The native is always dirty, his clothes filthy, his manners crude.” There is an added twist here. “It isn’t raping an Arab girl that would have been immoral, but that she was dirty.” The Court acquitted Moshe of rape, though he received a sentence of 15 years for murder.
Moshe offered a second defense. He told the Court repeatedly that Captain Uri, one of the Company Commanders in the battalion, had told him in private that when it came to the Arabs, he should engage in “killing, slaughter.” The Court rejected this charge with its own psychoanalysis. The Judges wrote: “The court believes that the words “killing, slaughter” originate in a psychosis that seems to have taken root in the officer’s blood, to the effect that Arabs were to be massacred indiscriminately.” The Court chose not to cross-examine Captain Uri on this point.
Sergeant Michael pleaded that he was merely following orders when he executed the girl. The judges rejected his plea, but passed a “very light” sentence of five years in prison because of extenuating circumstances. “At the time there was a general feeling of contempt for the life of Arabs in general and infiltrators in particular, and sometimes wanton events occurred in this sphere. All this helped to create an atmosphere of ‘anything goes.’ We are convinced that this atmosphere existed at the Nirim outpost too (emphases added).” The judges at the Nuremberg trial too could have urged the same extenuating circumstance when passing sentences on Nazi criminals. After all, the Nazis too operated in a general climate of deep hatred against Jews, a hatred that had been bred for close to two thousand years. Thankfully, the judges at Nuremberg did not use this argument.
In addition, when Moshe accused Captain Uri of urging “killing, slaughter” against Arabs, the judges dismissed this is as the invention of a psychotic mind. Yet, in arguing for a reduced sentence, they use the argument that there existed at the time “a general feeling of contempt for the life of Arabs in general.” Were the judges at the murder-rape trial of the Palestinian girl schizophrenic? Or, were they only protecting their own kind?
Those who are familiar with the tragedy of Palestinian dispossession will have read – as I have – in the events of August 12 and 13, 1949, at the Nirim military outpost in the Negev, an allegory of that dispossession. In two days, this nameless girl, a minor, was made to suffer the degradation, shame, abuse, rape and, eventually, death, which has been the fate – figuratively, and, in many cases, concretely – of the Palestinians and their homeland for more than eighty years. We observe several striking parallels between the two gory narratives. We see it in the girl’s capture by a platoon of soldiers; in the Commander’s decision to decide her fate by a vote; in the question about the girl’s fate that is put to vote (use her as a slave worker or sex slave); in stripping the girl of her traditional garments, washing her, cutting her hair; raping her, the officers going in first; in the order for her execution when she protests; in the secret trial held; in the officer’s language (“I saw fit …”); in the acquittal from rape charges; in the light sentences; and in the judges’ use of extenuating circumstances.
And now the parallels are being pushed towards a final convergence – in the final obliteration of the national existence of Palestinians – with the building of the strangulating wall; with levels of unemployment among Palestinians reaching 70 percent; with malnutrition among Palestinian children reaching famine levels; with the acceleration in the pace of ethnic cleansing; the unashamed American backing for the war-criminal, Ariel Sharon’s extreme right-wing policies; and growing demands for a final round of ethnic cleansing to rid historical Palestine of all Palestinians. At least, that is the intent of the Neoconservatives, Christian Zionists and Israel’s right-wing Likudniks. It is an intent that all right-thinking people – including right-thinking Americans and Israelis -- must oppose before the American-Israeli warmongers, with their fingers on nuclear buttons, push the world over the precipice.
1. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Harijan, 74, November 20, 1938: 239-242.
2. Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error (Greenwood: 1921/1972).
3. Aviv Lavie and Moshe Gorali, “I saw fit to remove her from the world,” Ha’aretz, October 29, 2003: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/ 355227.html
4. Chris McGreal, “Israel learns of a hidden shame in its early years,” The Guardian, November 4, 2003: http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1077148,00.html
5. Lavie and Gorali, “I saw fit to remove her from the world.”
- M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. His last book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations, was published by Palgrave in 2000. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his webpage at http://msalam.net. © M. Shahid Alam