Israel’s leadership is gradually admitting a basic fact of life—and death: That Israel’s ongoing control over millions of Palestinians is impossible without committing war crimes. This is the meaning of controlling another people: not “merely” a matter of usurping its land, imposing a regime of masters and subordinates, denying political rights, or deploying an endless maze of oppressive bureaucracy. It is also a matter of repeated killings.
Thus, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett found himself during the summer of 2014, when hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip by Israel’s “surgical” bombings, declaring in a CNN interview that “Hamas is conducting massive self-genocide.” Bennett was thus already openly discussing the genuine implications of Israel’s usage of military force policies. He attempted to make the crime acceptable by blaming the victim, but his recognition of the scale of the bloodletting—and still more so of its deep meaning—reflected an internalization of reality.
In December 2017, former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak touched on the same subject, warning that “an attempt to implement the one-state agenda will lead to a situation where some of the members of the military and the Shin Bet—who under Israeli law are not merely permitted to disobey an illegal order, but are obliged to do so—are liable not to follow the orders they receive.” Barak failed to mention the real danger, however: that some of those who receive these overtly illegal orders would obey.
On Friday, once again, this is what happened: The orders were illegal, and a military operation commanded, according to reports, by the chief of staff himself, realized the danger that Barak failed to mention. Soldiers obeyed, and Palestinians were shot with live fire, over a period of many hours. The scale of the casualties was clear to the Israeli leadership, but no one stopped it. Not after a hundred injured Palestinians, and not after many, many more.
As usual, the official propaganda declares that Hamas is responsible for it all, just as it declared Hamas responsible for the annihilation of dozens of families and the death of hundreds of children and youths during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in 2014. The IDF Spokesperson outdid himself, boasting in a tweet (that was later deleted): “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”
Apparently our smart bullets—that struck hundreds of Palestinians—were able with surgical precision to determine that each of them presented a mortal danger and that there was no other course of action. Even those shot from a great distance. Even those shot in the back. Even those shot as they moved away from the soldiers.
Israel is not “attempting to realize the one-state agenda.” One-state is not an agenda—it is reality. It is not being realized solely by “members of the military and the Shin Bet,” but also by Israeli judges, civil servants, voters, and politicians.
The one-state’s Gaza province is managed from the outside like a huge prison. The wardens determine how much electricity, water, and food will reach almost two million non-citizens living non-lives. Live fire is used for crowd control. The prisoners have no right to protest. Their desperation is their fault. Their injury and death are solely their responsibility: our hands did not shed this blood, since they stormed forward into our bullets.
Friday was a bloody day, but Israel has already long since become an expert at whitewashing such bloody days and weeks. Do not anticipate any investigation, and even if eventually one is conducted, certainly do not expect accountability. “Investigations” are merely a routine stage in the organized whitewash. But even so, how fortunate that they are to blame for it all—they who kill themselves by themselves. After all, if—heaven forbid—it was our fault, what could we do with our shame?
From time to time, control over another people requires days of killing and slaughter. More bloody days lie ahead.
Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B'Tselem, The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories