On Wednesday evening, a 17-year-old Palestinian boy approached an Israeli checkpoint near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. As is standard procedure, the border policeman on guard requested his identity card. When the boy presented it, the officer in command — a 20-year-old female sergeant — went inside to do a background check on the document.
When she looked up for a minute, she noticed that the boy had grabbed the guard by the neck with one hand, and put a pistol to his temple with the other. Immediately, she cocked her weapon and tried to aim at the perpetrator without hitting the border policeman. She fired one shot, but the boy still had the gun to her subordinate’s head. She then released two more bullets, and the boy was dead. Shortly after the incident, it was determined that the gun was fake.
As soon as the word got out about the action of the border policewoman (though “girl” would be a more appropriate word, since she was not much older than the boy she killed), her photo began to circulate on Arab Web sites. She has been receiving frighteningly explicit threats ever since.
When interviewed by the Israeli media the following day, she stood firmly by her behavior. She had witnessed one of her men in danger, she said, and had done what she was trained to do in such a situation.
Of course, the Palestinians don’t see it this way — or, at least, they don’t want facts and circumstances to interfere with their riot-lust. And nothing arouses it more than the funeral of a compatriot who has been “martyred” by the Zionist enemy.
Indeed, for the past two days, there has been an escalation of the already ongoing clashes involving Palestinians attacking Israel Defense Forces troops. On Thursday evening, IDF soldiers ended up critically wounding another Palestinian teenager in Hebron. This was because the youth had thrown a Molotov cocktail at them. But this does not enter into the debate. It most certainly does not make it into the Palestinian press. Instead, it is investigated by the IDF.
And while on the subject of IDF investigations: two other incidents that took place over the past week in the West Bank have caused a stir, but for the exact opposite reason. Soldiers sent to disperse rioting Palestinians fled from menacing mobs pummeling them with rocks, and only fired in the air when they had gotten far enough away so as not to injure any rioters.
This behavior was the result of the order not to shoot demonstrators. Due to the advent of the cell-phone camera, it was all documented in digital Technicolor. And it was not the least bit photogenic for the troops, who came off as cowardly. (As it would turn out, the footage in both cases was misleading, as it did not capture panoramic views of the soldiers’ attempts to protect one another while deterring the rock-throwers.)
IDF soldiers are exceptional. They accept their military service as a part of life, no matter what it entails or what they have to forfeit during those precious years after high school when their counterparts overseas are off in college. They spend much time learning and discussing the dilemmas of wartime. They worry about becoming insensitive to the plight of the Palestinians who are pawns of the more radical forces and caught in the cross-fire they are incapable of avoiding.
But what makes our Israeli sons and daughters true heroes and heroines is that they continue to enter the battlefield while being given mixed messages by the defense establishment.
Are they supposed to shoot to kill the enemy, or take him to the hospital? Should they put themselves at peril so as not to incur the wrath of the international community? Need they consult with a lawyer about the wisdom of fighting first or fighting back?
That they manage to do this delicate dance on a daily basis, when faced with enemies who know this about them and take advantage of it, is a testament to their greatness. They deserve to be saluted by all, not damned by any, for doing a job that also requires refraining from doing it, depending on the political climate.
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the Arab Spring.”