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Regrets but never an apology: When the IDF makes 'mistakes'

For Jews, Yom Kippur is a time to ask forgiveness from those one has harmed during the course of the year. The Israeli army has a hard time with the concept of saying it is sorry or asking forgiveness. Regretful? Sure. Sorry? Not when the victim is Palestinian.

By Noam Rotem

Funeral for the 26 members of the Abu Jame' family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Basel Yazouri / Activestills.org

Funeral for the 26 members of the Abu Jame’ family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli stike on the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Basel Yazouri / Activestills.org

Ma’amoun al-Dam was 12 years old when he left his house to play in a nearby field and an inexplicable chain of events led to an Israeli Air Force jet shooting a missile at him, killing him on the spot. “We found no fault in this attack, despite the regrettable outcome,” the military prosecution said in a statement about the tragic end to this innocent child. “There was no evidence to support a conclusion that the attack was carried out illegally.”

The Israeli army has killed hundreds of Palestinian children in recent years, but it has said sorry a grand total of no times. Al-Dam’s case is just one example of the creative ways the IDF apologizes. Or rather, the ways it does everything in its power to avoid asking for forgiveness. Often times it “regrets,” or it “didn’t intend to,” or it “looks into the incident” and comes out clean — there’s always some coincidence in which innocent civilians are killed by the IDF, which admits to their innocence but never asks for forgiveness for killing them.

That was the case for Lubna al-Hanash, a 21-year-old political science student from Bethlehem, who was killed while walking to her college with friends in 2013. The IDF recognizes the fact that she was innocent, and that Lt.-Col. Shachar Safda and his driver shot her to death. “But to our great regret,” the MAG concluded, Lubna’s death was not the result of negligence or any other criminal offense committed by the soldiers. In other words: shit happens.

Khalil ‘Anati was only 10 years old when an Israeli soldier drove into the al-Fawwar Refugee Camp in the West Bank, opened his jeep’s door, and fired a single shot into his back. “The IDF regrets his death,” the army spokesperson said at the time. Not a mistake, god forbid, or something one should apologize for. One can only regret that such things happen in this cruel world.

Iyad Abu Khusah, one and a half years old from the al-Bureij Refugee Camp in Gaza, could only wish that party responsible for firing the explosives that killed him might express regret — or even condolences. “No strike by IDF forces [matches] the particulars of the complaint,” IDF Operational Affairs Prosecutor Ronen Hirsh concluded about the air strike that killed the toddler.

The same goes for four-year-old Muhammad Hejazi and his two-year-old brother Suhaib from the Jabalya Refugee Camp in Gaza, who were killed along with their father Fuad by a bomb dropped, apparently in error, by the Israel Defense Forces. “Despite the fact that it is indisputable that three people died as a result of the attack,” the MAG said in a statement to B’Tselem, “there is no indication that the attack was disproportionate.”

The IDF MAG also expressed regret over the deaths of the four young boys slaughtered by an Israeli missile on the Gaza beach.* Don’t mistake expressing regret for assigning responsibility, or asking forgiveness from the families — just regret. The missile fired at the “Salam (Peace) Tower” in Gaza that took the lives of 15 members of the al-Kilani and Darbas families also managed to extract a little regret from the MAG. Regret that buildings tend to suddenly collapse on their innocent residents when they are struck by missiles.

Actually, one of the only two incidents in which a direct apology was made by a junior IDF officer, reported by Yossi Gurvitz on the Yesh Din blog (Hebrew), was when settlers torched Palestinian-owned cars in the West Bank town of Dir Jarir. “Whoever did this are animals, I’m embarrassed and I apologize in the name of the State of Israel,” a young officer said. The second case was an IDF officer apologizing for a grenade that was tossed into a home in which the Abu Haniyeh family was sleeping in Kfar Yanoun, after which soldiers returned to apologize. No senior officer was involved.

Despite the regret of the uniformed prosecutors, most of the cases here ended without guilt being assigned, and some without even an investigation. The IDF, the most moral army in Israel and the territories it controls, is never guilty. It will never formally apologize. It is liable to express regret, but never ask for forgiveness.

The people’s army has come to reflect the national narrative sold to us by Naftali Bennett, who seeks an end to what he termed a culture of apologies. That passive worldview, in which things happen but they are never anybody’s fault, or at least the fault of anybody on the Israeli side, is a worldview that grants full immunity to oneself. We have nothing to apologize for because we didn’t do anything. And if we did do it then it wasn’t on purpose. And if it was on purpose then surely there was a good reason. And if there wasn’t a good reason then it wasn’t illegal. And if it was illegal then it is simply routine. And if it’s routine, then for what do we have to apologize?

Editor’s note: The IDF has actually apologized a few times. For instance, the army officially apologized for jailing one of its own soldiers for eating an un-kosher sandwich this year. In the late 1980s the army also apologized, “sincerely” this time, for killing two Norweigan soldiers. In 2002 the army apologized for shelling a statue of the Virgin Mary at a church in Bethlehem. In 2011 Defense Minister Ehud Barak officially apologized to Egypt for killing two of its soldiers after Cairo rejected the Israeli army’s expression of “regret” as insufficient. In 2015, the army apologized for startling Jewish settlers by landing an attack helicopter in a West Bank settlement without giving them a heads-up. What do the recipients of these apologies have in common? None of them are Palestinian.

*Then-president Shimon Peres apologized for the deaths of the four Palestinian children on the beach in Gaza but the IDF, the party responsible for carrying out the air strike and then investigating its own actions, did no such thing.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is also a blogger.

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    1. Ben

      I love this one:

      “In 2015, the army apologized for startling Jewish settlers by landing an attack helicopter in a West Bank settlement without giving them a heads-up.”

      When the IDF invades a completely innocent family’s house in a sleeping village at 3:00 AM, a family specifically ascertained to be innocent so as not to cross paths with the Shabak, and drags the blindfolded father out and throws him into the floor of a jeep and drives him away and dumps him on the road, for practice, that “mistake” is honored by no apology for “startling” them, no expression of regret, no discussion of building characteristics. It’s honored by ‘kol hakhavod’ and endless repetition

      Compare and contrast.

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        Go find a job and start supporting yourself, moron, and quit depending on food-stamps provided by the United States government with my tax-dollars, while fixating 24/7 on Jews and Israel – none of which is no-way no-how any of your business.

        Quit your obsession with- and hatred of Jews, you little madman!

        Get a job!

        Reply to Comment
        • MuslimJew

          Complete nonsense. Just another idiotic mumbo jumbo from “BigCat” alias “Ginger Eis, alias “Merav” alias “ICat” alias “Hercules” alias etc. who is an unemployed foreign anti-Semitic madwoman with an irrational fixation on and compulsive obsession with Jews and Israel. Shouldn’t you be spending time on the affairs of your own country, Ginger Eis, and worrying about the very serious social quagmire that threatens the very existence of your own country and how to make your own country better? What exactly got you so hooked to Jews and Israel, Ginger Eis, that you even neglect yourself and won’t go find a job to support yourself, but instead depend on food-stamps provided by the United States government with Ben’s tax dollars to survive, while obsessing with and “doing research” on Jews and Israel 24/7 and coming back her to paste the result of your “research” and ranting endlessly? You have a psychiatric problem that is destroying you, Ginger Eis. Time to seek professional help, you little moron.

          Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            Apparently “Brian” alias “Ben” alias “MuslimJew” alias “Ben” alias “RichardFlantz” alias “AverageAmerican” alias etc. STILL obsessed with Ginger. Apparently Ben is now posing as “MuslimJew” and is copying and pasting here my replies to him on other threads where he posted as “Ben”. Apparently those replies he copies and pastes here really got under his skin – or they would not be occupying his mad mind so much that he copies and pastes them here!), while imagining me as Ginger Eis and apparently whacking it? My goodness! YOU “Ben/MuslimJew/etc.” are not just very ill, but also a fool whose mind is impoverished to produce anything original.

            Btw, “Ben”, why pose as “MuslimJew” to reply to me, you little coward?

            Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        “Compare and contrast”

        Ok Benny, let’s shall we…?

        “This is a long-standing rule of customary international law already recognized in the Lieber Code, the Brussels Declaration and the Oxford Manual.[1] It was codified in the Hague Regulations.[2] Additional Protocol I prohibits the use of enemy flags, military emblems, insignia or uniforms “while engaging in attacks or in order to shield, favour, protect or impede military operations”.[3] Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “making improper use … of the flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts”

        A WAR CRIME, get it Benny?! The Americans executed the SS soldiers who were guilty of this war crime but they did not do anything to their own agents who did the same to the Germans in reverse …

        Isn’t that having one standard for the enemy and another standard for yourselves? And isn’t that what you accuse Israel of? And isn’t that why you accuse us of apartheid?

        Aren’t you the one who is being illogical and bizarre when you expect higher standards from us than of anyone else on this earth, let alone than of yourselves?

        Reply to Comment
      • Jason Kidd

        Bens parents made a mistake and we trust that they have been apologizing ever since…

        Reply to Comment
    2. MuslimJew

      Kiwi/Tzutzik/Shmuel/Samuel/JohnW/Gustav/EuroFake and Sluggofuck/Panama/Simon Adebisi/C.C. DeVille/Electric Avenue/Jason Kidd/Window Licker, the psychotic Israel worshiping Jewpuppies, mindlessly yap yap yapping and chasing their stupid worthless tails again.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Yes Benny.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Poor old Benny forgot to take his medications again.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Gustav I thought you agreed not to engage in this kind of behavior. You’ve had a relapse. MuslimJew, Grosskatze, and Panama/Kidd are pre-contemplative but I thought you were in the contemplative stage of recovery. Is there a local chapter of Trolls Anonymous you could attend? Do you have a sponsor? MuslimJew is a “trigger” for you and relapse prevention involves avoiding such people, places and things. Remember the old joke? How many psychiatrists does it take to change a troll? Only one but the troll has got to want to change.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jason Kidd

            Do you think you are funny?
            Not only do you lack any humor, you are a raging bore.
            Sarcasm is the lowest form of dialog and you come across as whiney

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You guys are the LIONS of funniness. I feel about you guys the way John Stewart feels about Donald Trump: “Thank you Donald Trump for making my last six weeks, my best six weeks…. He is putting me in some kind of comedy hospice where all I’m getting is just straight morphine.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Jason Kidd

            Bem has limited capacity for independent thought but he is an excellent mimic. She how he exposed hmself? Can’t answer a question with his own worlds. Of course he did not even answer thr right question.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Bem is a she who exposed himself? That’s very confusing. I think Bem should look for a site for transgender exhibitionists and seek help. We can’t help Bem here. And you should try to stay on topic.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            “Gustav I thought you agreed not to engage in this kind of behavior”

            Really, MuslimJew? When did you and I agree on anything?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Israel Apologize?

      You just forgot to mention that at that time every town , village, and major city
      was being attacked by missiles, rockets and mortars. Israelis had from 0 to 150
      seconds to get into their shelters. These missiles fell daily and often every couple
      of hours.

      The Gazans used hospitals and schools from which to launch these missiles.
      In the photo there is no way of knowing who is under the sheet? those who
      were operating the launchers or innocent victims.

      You have no idea of what went on and you expect Israeli Defense Forces not to respond?

      Reply to Comment