It happens without any warning. First a hesitant little note, an email or twitter message, or something on Facebook. Then there’s another, and another and several more; together, heralding the oncoming flood.Within hours you discover that you’ve turned into Public Enemy No. 1, a modern day pariah; a man who calls for the rape of young girls and destruction of families; a contemporary Nazi. A rare combination of circumstances, a phrase taken out of context, an inaccurate translation and a great deal of evil intention have planted in your keyboard things you never said, and in your brain, things you never thought. All that is left it to chase after the eternal wind in the cyber willows.The term “shaming” suddenly takes on a real entity, develops a shape that leads straight into your face. No one bothers to ask him/herself whether or not you’ve devoted your entire career to the peace cause, supported and continue to support all the peace agreements and proposals, support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, see in the settlements an enterprise that has caused more harm than good and is considered in Netanyahu’s office as one of the Right’s greatest media enemies. Is it logical, therefore, to believe that such a man would issue a call on IDF soldiers to rape Palestinian girls?What’s it all about? A meeting between two IDF soldiers and the Tamimi family from the village of Nebi Salah that was leaked to the Israeli media last Monday. The video made every Israeli’s blood boil, regardless of his/her political inclinations.The picture of an IDF officer standing stone-still and silent opposite Palestinian teenage girls, shouting at him, goading him, pushing him and, finally, slapping him hard on the face, aroused a massive wave of protest against the behavior of the officer and the soldier beside him. The main thesis behind this was the “harm done to Israel’s deterrence.” It is inconceivable, said most of the country’s opinion makers, for a soldier in uniform to be so humiliated and beaten on camera. What will the Arabs think of Israel now?
I thought something completely different. Last Monday, I even had the courage to write my thoughts, even though I knew this would expose me to scorn and shaming from the Right. The dilemma that evening in Israel was whether to arrest 17-year-old Ahad Tamimi on the spot, or whether it would be better to exercise restraint, to repress our urges and carry out an arrest later away from the flashing lights of cameras, as the IDF has become accustomed to in recent years? A quiet night arrest, devoid of violence and victims.My headline, which turned me into a contemporary Nazi was: “The Power in Restraint.” My subtitle was: “The video of the Palestinian girls lashing out at IDF soldiers is nauseating, but in fact, by not responding, the officer and the soldier demonstrate strength and common sense, since it was obvious that the girls sought the response that would ignite the entire region.”Here, I made a connection to recent events along Israel’s southern border with Gaza: “This constraint is what Israel should exert vis-à-vis the provocation from Gaza. You should never start a war if you don’t know how you’ll get out of it.”In the article itself, I praised the IDF soldiers, for their “superhuman restraint” against Palestinian provocation. I wrote that I was grateful for not being there in their place. I admitted that, in their place, I would not have been able to contain myself. “Sometimes, restraint is power and in this case, the soldiers are worthy of being decorated for valor, instead of being reprimanded,” I wrote in response to the news that the IDF was considering reprimanding the officer who refrained from arresting Ahad Tamimi on the spot.I wrote that restraint, in cases such as this, is much harder than using force against teenage girls, especially when it is crystal clear that any raised hand on the part of an IDF soldier would be interpreted as a provocation that could set the whole region on fire, or serve as ammunition to shame Israel.Here, I moved to a comparison between the situation involving the girls and the soldiers to the one between the IDF and the terrorists in Gaza. I summed up by writing that like in Gaza where it is better to contain the events and not allow ourselves to be dragged into an all-out war, the same applies to the Palestinian girls. It was better, I wrote, to get our pay-back later, in the dark, with no witnesses and no cameras. In other words, to carry out the girl’s arrest without having it turn into another shaming video that would go viral on social media. I never imagined that this leftie and defeatist article (as it was tagged that day in Israel) would turn into a shaming campaign from the opposite direction altogether.That same night, between Monday and Tuesday, the IDF arrested Ahad Tamimi, quietly, without provocation or violence, in a clean and well-planned operation. Israeli policewomen, and not policemen, carried out the arrest, and it was completed in utter silence.
Palestinian teens filmed slapping IDF soldiers (Credit: Facebook/The Israel Project)
On my 5 PM radio show that day, I celebrated the victory of my own approach and said that the “bad cop” in this story were “all those who are convinced that the immediate non-arrest of Tamimi caused harm to Israeli deterrence.” In my opening monologue, I attacked once again Israel’s constant pursuit for signs of respect and pride, and disregard for forethought, which is what is really needed in such a complex and explosive region like ours. I did all this following Tamimi’s arrest, which was carried out quietly and far from media intervention, just as I had recommended.Almost all my radio show that day was devoted to the Palestinian girl’s arrest. I continued to state my position that the IDF acted with wisdom and sensitivity by avoiding any unnecessary complications. Throughout, I found myself facing fierce arguments from my colleagues on the show, as well as with interviewees, who insisted that the IDF’s response was weak, hesitant and too late. At one point on the show, I even read out a series of talkbacks from the Arab social media, in order to prove my thesis: the restraint displayed by the Israeli office is the best propaganda video presented by Israel in recent weeks, and the Arabs realize this, too.Where, then, did the social media masses find the story, according to which I had proposed that the IDF should rape Ahad Tamimi under the cover of darkness? Where did the Satanic plan – accredited to me – to make Palestinian families disappear or to carry out terrible crimes on them in the dark of night come from? No one in Israel understood my article in this light because it was read in the right context – regarding the argument over the timing of Ahad Tamimi’s arrest.Outside Israel though, different forces were at work. These forces, which decided to adorn me with sick opinions, even enjoyed some partial success.No one bothered to ask how a journalist, who supported the trial of IDF soldier Elor Azaria for shooting a wounded terrorist, and the the prison sentence he was subsequently given, be connected to such allegations. Where did the call for rape come from? Over the last 50 years, there have been many disputes between the IDF and the Palestinian residents of the territories. Rape has never, ever, been a part of this very difficult reality. We have never been accused of this lie. And just like that I am the first to be so accused.As this article is being written, it has been announced that Ahad Tamimi’s custody has been extended by four days. Just as I had originally thought that it was best to arrest her quietly, I now believe that it is unnecessary to keep her for so long in custody.In our part of the world overkill has never proved to be productive. If there is enough evidence of a crime, she will be charged. As far as I know, she is not suspected of terrorist activity, only of provocation, and it’s best to keep things in proportion. The problem with this opinion is that it could bring on me a new shaming campaign, this time from the Right.If that happens, at least now I’ll be prepared.Ben Caspit is a senior columnist for Ma’ariv.
IDF arrests Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi (credit: IDF Spokesperson)