The appointment of Dan Halutz as the Israeli military’s new Chief of Staff has infuriated many Palestinians who consider the former Commander of the Israeli Air Force a criminal. During his tenure as Air Force Commander between 2000-2004, Halutz approved and oversaw operations that caused the death of many Palestinian civilians, including numerous children.
In July 2002, Halutz ordered the Israeli air force to drop a one-tonne bomb on a Gaza apartment complex, killing 14 civilians, including at least 10 children.
The target of the bombing was Salah Shehadeh, a Hamas leader Israel accused of masterminding resistance operations against Israeli targets. Shehadeh and his wife were killed in the bombing. Halutz took over as the 18th Chief of Staff on Wednesday.
Halutz never apologised for the children’s deaths. In a July 2002 interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz he said ”I sleep well at night” when asked about the deaths of so many children in an air assault he ordered.
“What do I feel when I drop a bomb? - a slight bump to the wing of [the] plane as a result of dropping the bomb”. But Ra’ed Matar, of the Daraj neighbourhood in Gaza, feels the air attack devastated his life. Matar, 33, lost three of his children in the bombing: Ayman, 6 months, Muhammad, 3, and Dalya, 5.
Asked what he would tell him if he were to meet him face to face, Matar, after a moment of silence, said: “I would ask him why you killed my children? You are not really fit to be a human being let alone a Chief of Staff.”
“I don’t know what to say except that he is a war criminal who annihilated my family and destroyed my life.”
“But I am not sure the man has conscience, how can you appeal to one who has no conscience. If he had conscience he would not have done what he did.”
Matar, now a taxi driver, said he has been trying hard to overcome his devastating ordeal. “I pray a lot and I see that many of our people are suffering no less than I am. This gives me some solace.” The Palestinian Authority has not issued any official statement protesting the appointment of Halutz as Chief of Staff. However, one PA Foreign Ministry official, who asked not to be named, told Aljazeera.net that “our problem with Israel far exceeds Halutz”.
Some liberal Israeli politicians and civil and human rights groups have sought unsuccessfully to block the appointment of Halutz as Chief of Staff. The Israeli peace group, Yesh Gvul (There is Border) tried to challenge his appointment in court, but to no avail. The group’s spokesman, Yishai Menuchin, described Halutz as “a war criminal”.
“There are orders that decent people don’t give, and all the justifications and evasions from responsibility will not clear them. Halutz is party to a war crime and must pay for it.”
Similarly, efforts by the leaders of the Israeli centre-left, Yahad, and other peace-minded public figures, such as Uri Avnery, head of the Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc), were utterly ignored by the hardline political-military establishment.
Avnery told Aljazeera on Wednesday night that it was too late to do anything about the appointment, suggesting that Halutz represented the norm, not the exception, in the Israeli army.
The fact that Halutz’s appointment as Chief of Staff has failed to raise a real outcry in the Israeli society is explained by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy.
Levy, who reports regularly on Israeli army violations of Palestinian civil and human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, says most Israelis don’t see any problem with killing Palestinian children and civilians.
“I can say there are two main reasons in this regard: First, the terrible, terrible indifference among Israelis, with the exception of one active group, namely the settlers and their supporters.”
“And then the Israeli society is brainwashed to the point of seeing Palestinians as less than full human beings. In fact most Israelis don’t see any problem in what Halutz did.” Israeli government officials didn’t return phone calls or respond to interview requests regarding Halutz’s appointment.
Khalid Amayreh is a journalist based in the occupied West Bank. This article was originally published by aljazeera.net on June 24, 2005 and reprinted on EI permission.