To Col. Aviv Kohavi
Brigade Commander of the
I presume you remember me. In any event, I remember you. We
first met in the paratrooper brigade. I was a platoon sergeant in the corporals
company; you were a young platoon officer. Even then friends of mine who were
serving with you in the same post in Lebanon related that you were a sensible,
serious and above all decent officer.
The better part of our acquaintance occurred, though, at Hebrew
University. We were studying toward a bachelors in philosophy -- you in
preparation for a career in the military; I as a human rights activist. During
that period we had more than one political discussion. I couldnt help but
admire you. I found you to be a thinking person, imaginative and judicious --
quite different from the typical army officer that one meets at the university,
one who registers merely to snatch a degree and to run off. Looking back, I
believe that you really enjoyed your studies, a number of which, it should be
noted, dealt with ethical theory.
Years have passed since we last met. You became the
paratroopers brigade commander; I a lecturer in the department of
politics and government at Ben Gurion University. On Thursday, March 1, 2002, I
once again saw you, not face to face, but on television. You were on a news
program: the commander of the troops that entered Balata refugee camp near
Nablus. You solemnly explained that at that very moment your soldiers were
transmitting a forceful message to the Palestinian terrorists: The Israeli army
will hunt them down in every nook and cranny.
In the days after the interview, news began to trickle about
what took place in the camp: Prior to the incursion, the Israeli military
reigned terror on the inhabitants, employing helicopters and tanks; then, Aviv,
you imposed a curfew on the camp, blew up the electric transmission lines,
cutting off electricity to 20,000 civilian inhabitants; bulldozers ruined the
water supply pipelines. Your soldiers, Aviv, then moved from house to house by
smashing holes in the interior walls; they destroyed furniture and other
property, and riddled bullets in water tanks on roof tops. The soldiers spread
terror on the inhabitants, most of whom were women, elderly and children.
But that wasnt all. I learned that your soldiers also used
inhabitants as human shields. Also, in the first few hours of the incursion the
Palestinians had 120 wounded, and that you, Aviv, refused to allow ambulances
to enter and leave the camp.
There were, of course, several battles in the camp during the
incursion; two Palestinians and one of your soldiers were killed. You also
reported that you confiscated weapons and that your operation prevented future
terrorist acts from happening. But you totally ignored the connection between
Israeli military violence perpetrated in the occupied territories and
Palestinian violence in Israel, as if the incursions into the camps and the
reign of terror that you and your soldiers imposed do not drive
Israel/Palestine into a bloodbath from which none can escape.
How, Aviv, do you think that your incursion affected the
children whom you locked up for hours with other members of their families,
while you searched their houses and blasted holes through their walls? Did your
incursion contribute a smithereen to peace or did it instead spread seeds of
hatred, despondence and death in the crowded, poverty-stricken, hopeless
I have not stopped thinking about you since that television
interview, trying to understand what was going on in your mind. What caused you
to lead your soldiers -- soldiers of the paratrooper brigade -- to a war
against a civilian population?
Aviv, I am presently teaching a course titled The Politics
of Human Rights. One of the topics I discuss during the semester is the
intifada and its lessons with respect to human rights. From the standpoint of
international conventions, at least, your acts in Balata constitute blatant
violations of human rights. Such acts are, in fact, war crimes.
Aviv, what happened to the sensible and judicious officer? How
did you become a war criminal?
Dr. Neve Gordon