It is not difficult to do
evil. One does not have to be the exception to the rule. People are born
into language and messages and channels of meaning into which the great
majority will be absorbed, which they will follow. The boys will be
swept along the paths made ready for boys, and the girls in those
awaiting the girls. Right and wrong will be made known through messages
of their time, for words are not just denotations but rather shadings
and contexts, transcending the sum of their significances, and the world
view which is revealed in language and its echoes will be this or the
Thus in certain worlds the term 'womanly' also means 'weak', 'manly'
means 'strong', and 'Arabic work' is synonymous with 'a job badly done'
in Jewish Israeli jargon. And to say 'pilot' is only partially the same
as saying 'a man who has learned to fly a plane'. It is rather like
saying he is one of the 'chosen'.
And the word 'soldier', both here and there, is synonymous to
'sacrifice' and 'positive citizenship', regardless of what he does in
fact. It is rather like a characteristic of his nature.
Then, too, soldiers did not examine the policy they were sent to serve,
but rather proceeded to serve it because it existed. And it could have
been another policy just as well.
Then, just like now, those who opposed the acts of their state (and
there were such people then, as there are today) said that the regime is
evil but the soldiers are good.
Because they are soldiers.
And then, too, that strange dichotomy embraced the regime and its
perpetrators; the perception of policy, and the soldiers who perpetrate
it, just like the Occupation and the soldiers who carry it out.
Then, as now, those members of society who were not at peace with the
acts of their state still continued to send their children to serve it.
Because we need an army, they said - then too - and what if everyone
refused and a just and proper war would suddenly break out.
And what will people say if he won't go. And he'll have less
opportunities open for him in the future, they said.
And the fathers thought then and still think - it was an important
formative experience, and remembered then and still remember - the
previous war they participated in, the just war. The exciting war. And
like then, today too the youngsters all went, because it is considered
the right thing to do, and it is manly, and to hold a weapon and fire it
at long last, has been their heart's longing, even if it was called
'giving of oneself to one's country'.
And it is not good to be an exception, naturally my son would not dodge
his duty, if everyone does it, how could it be wrong.
Some of the soldiers and their parents, of course, identified and still
identify with the regime in the first place. There always are such
people. And some went to put their firm belief to practice. But they are
the few, the marginal. The majority go ahead and serve the acts of their
state while the question of identification remains irrelevant. Most go
automatically, regardless of any world view, at times even in opposition
to the acts of the state. But it does not change the fact that they go
to serve it.
And then, as now, they said it better be him there rather than the
other. Because he is good. And humane. Because after all he is my son.
And it is better to have the good one there rather than the bad. Serving
a policy he did not choose nor wish. And it's not him that's the matter.
It is the regime. The upper echelons. The politicians. And he is a
victim too. Better to have him there, not like others, who identify with
this killer regime. He will not raise his voice at a kidney-diseased old
Palestinian woman while preventing her from crossing the checkpoint on
her way to hospital, for these are the instructions he is required to
follow. For he is not against her. He is just following the rules that
are not of his own making. And if the rules were different, he would be
driving her to hospital himself. It is not her fault, he knows. But nor
is it his own.
And he was the one back then, there - who had said nicely and
pleasantly, would you move over there, please. Not like those other ones
who were glad to annihilate and pushed and swore. He, unlike them, he
who hadn't a bit of hatred in him, who wasn't even an anti-Semite, like
the soldier here and now who is against occupation quietly says 'move
over there'. And he did not yell or kick, he did not strike blows with
his rifle-butt, he wept and suffered inside while carrying out the rules
of his own time.
They obeyed then and they do now, because this is what ordinary people
do, as if obedience is a value in itself and the law is justice.
For this is easy. So habitual. So valued. And national. And loyal. And
patriotic. And it means to belong. And be like everyone else. And bear
the burden. Because it is his country. And we need an army, they said
and they keep saying, and what if everyone will refuse, after all
someone has to, for there are enemies. And better be it he than others.
That's what was said back then, as now, and they went, one generation
after the other, and they will keep going, to perpetuate the regime
whatever it is.
Only at the extreme margins there were and are racists par
excellence, who think the other is not human, is sub-human, or sadists
whose sinister drives were legitimized. Those who really thought Jews
jeopardize the world and contaminate blood, and that the Arabs all want
to annihilate us and that this country is God's gift to the Jews.
Only at the extreme margins were and are those who were willing not
to do what was considered the thing to do in their time, and did not
follow the crowd and do not follow the rules just because such are the
rules, and did not obey just because it is the state that sets them, or
because it is valued, or because it is branded, and even though
otherwise things are complicated. They were the few back then, too, who
did not go for they were or are against the acts of the state, and would
have fought another war.
But the majority are the normal ones, who do not call their going to
serve the regime 'an act' or 'a choice', but rather 'the natural order
of things', because it is a duty. The norm. Because that is how things
have always been done, and that is what they were bought up and
programmed to do. To carry out and to want and to bless and to desire
the act of soldiering. And they go to it most willingly, as if this is
how the world is, and they carry out the acts of their state whatever
And because they do, they do not want to know. Because they did, they
Obeying and doing the acts of state, they sometimes crossed the lines of
common morality, their own morality. And in order to carry on the acts
of their state, because it's easier that way, without any pangs of
conscience or moral conflict, they will continue not to know, and not to
look in the mirror, and not to name their acts.
For that is what everyone does.
And culture, too, serves policy. Provides education and general
discourse with clichιs, like equating 'military service' with
'contributing to society', 'sacrificing', 'defending our homes'. Clichιs
that the perpetrators of horror have been waving for generations on end,
normally and habitually, borrowing from them or finding shelter in them
But if indeed in order to 'contribute to society', these normal
youngsters would forego the desired, collective battlefield, and
contribute by helping the elderly and the poor and the needy, forego
risking death, forego bravery and guns and sweat
would he who claims to defending his home, would he stand in his own
home and defend it with his own gun and body and passion? Would he
forego defending the collective, the state, in its name, there, with
everyone else? Would he forego the battlefield, the belonging, the light
of history and the thrill of togetherness, to defend his particular
family, on his own?
There were mothers back then, too, and sons.
Then, too, they gave lofty names to petty reasons. Then, too, flocking
was called 'patriotism', and reckless youthful passion was called
'sacrifice', and futile death 'bravery', 'their deaths forged our
Not the horrible racists then, nor the awful racists now not they are
the reason, that the killer-regime lasted quite a while back then, and
the horrific regime here now continues to exist.
Not because of them. But because of the normal ones, the good ones, the
obedient ones, who automatically carry out the rules of their time,
mostly without intention or thought.
Those same nice guys who usually do good in their other spheres of life,
who not always hate those whom they have been sent to kill or slaughter
or oppress or rob, but sometimes they learn to hate and blame their
victims just so as to be able to bear what they do to them. What they
have been sent to do to them. And even this, not always. And still they
perpetrate these particular acts of horror, as did those of back then,
too, shooting and crying, and carrying on. With malignant, horrifying
One of those who go to the Israeli army and serve the Occupation in
spite of claiming to oppose it would say that Israeli Occupation and
dispossession and state-terror are still a far cry from a death camp.
And it's true. They are not the same. Not by a long shot.
Not all evil is the same. The Nazi horror is not like Israel's crime
against the Palestinian people. But if that same person would tell me
that he would not have served at the death camp, that he couldn't have
done - he whose family was murdered in the Holocaust then I argue with
him. I tell him simply and flatly that he would serve anywhere, even in
a death camp.
Was the policy of his state ever questioned, when he went to the army? I
ask him. Is it because of his belief in this policy that he enlisted in
the first place? He, who is against Occupation.
And if he still insists and says he would not serve just any regime,
certainly not the Nazis, then I ask him where is that line that Israel
has not crossed, the line that had it been crossed, Israel's automatic
servants would no longer serve it.
What is the moral point for the sake of which it would be proper and
worthy to waive the hallowed idea of obedience as a value, the duty and
meaning of serving in the army as a civic act, the reasoning that an
army is necessary, and all the other claims he made, I assume, to
justify and explain why he went to serve the Occupation he claims he
Standing at checkpoints that prevent Palestinians from moving around in
the space of their lives, shutting them in closed enclaves guarded by
soldiers who say who is to enter and exit them, on their way to school
and to the garage and to visit family and to the hospital, sometimes
even determining who will live and who will die deep inside occupied
territory, far far away from the 'green line' just because they are
Palestinians this goes? Bombing from the air a house and all of its
dwellers because a terrorist may have taken shelter inside, and then
perhaps not, and perhaps others too, is this not crossing a line?
Securing Jews-only roads which Palestinians are forbidden to travel,
roads built on land stolen, roads with road-signs showing entrances to
Jewish colonies, while entrances to Palestinian villages are blocked and
no sign tells of their existence that is worthy of service? Guarding
ghettos where Jews were crowded and held was not worthy? Preventing
Palestinian cancer patients from accessing medical care unless they
collaborate and betray their people, denying sustenance and starving
them that is worthy, but standing guard over railway stations where
transports to death-camps begin, is not worthy? Protecting Jewish
colonists from their Palestinian victims as they settle their lands,
denying the Palestinians access to their fields, securing the colonists
while they perpetrate their crimes, only because the assailants are Jews
and the victims 'merely' Palestinians this is worthy?
Systematically oppressing the Palestinian people while dispossessing it
of its lands, colonizing them with Jews, that is worthy, while serving a
policy that oppresses and murders Jews only for being Jews that is
And shooting children who throw stones, that is worthy? And executing
without trial suspects of uprising, that is worthy? Taking part in a
policy of imprisonment, starvation, humiliation, robbery, murder and
collective punishment that is worthy, while giving a hand to a policy
that promotes annihilation is not?
Know that you who serve Occupation and Israel's policies present and
past would have served the policy of annihilation.
You would have been the one throwing your grandfather into the furnace,
transporting your grandmother, imprisoning your mother's uncle in the
ghetto to slowly starve to death, if you had been ordered to do so in
force of the state's official policy, for that is what soldiers do. Obey
their country's policy no matter what it perpetrates.
And just as you went and perpetrated the 'little' crimes of Occupation
naturally, obediently you would have gone there, too, and perpetrated
the 'big' crimes naturally and obediently.
That is the nature of service. For that is human nature.
If people had not gone to serve their country automatically, even though
such service is mandatory, then as now, if they had examined their
willingness to serve by considering what it perpetrates in fact, if the
reason to serve were not general, abstract principles such as 'we need
an army' and 'what if there were no army' aside from what the army
If the parents of those who serve had not zealously guarded the strange
dichotomy of acts of state and their soldier-perpetrators, the dichotomy
of the fist and the fingers, only because it was their sons who carry
the act of state no matter why the Holocaust could not have taken
place, and the violent ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people could
not take place.
Nothing bad would have happened had it not been served and perpetrated.
It is neither the politicians nor the leaders, neither the cruel
marginal racists here nor there, it is the normal parents who send their
normal sons to serve policy no matter what it is, and it is the sons who
go so willingly for this is what they have been brought up to do they
are ones responsible for the horrors.
And these are the ones who did not necessarily or especially want to
annihilate Jews and gypsies and homosexuals, who made sure that would
happen. These are the ones who are not necessarily for Occupation and
oppression and robbery and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people,
and it is the majority, who make sure this continues to take place.
These horrors happen because there are people who are willing to make
them happen. All those normal people who only do what they are told, and
not always gladly.
The soldiers. Subordinates. The little, normal cogs in the machine.
Because of them, everything can happen with such ease. For if they would
not obey, it would not happen.
It is, after all, very simple.
Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran. 30.10.2009