The Los Angeles Times reports that Israel’s assault on the small farm town of Khozaa in Gaza from Jan. 11-13 may hold the key to the war crimes investigation currently being conducted by the International Criminal Court into the recent Israeli offensive. It was in Khozaa where the heaviest use of white phosphorus occurred and where witnesses say civilians were bombed and shot while waving white flags. What distinguishes this story from other horrific dispatches from Gaza isn’t the bombing of innocent families by distant, anonymous pilots, but an incident involving a single Israeli soldier that brought to mind questions raised by the recent, excellent Israeli film, Waltz With Bashir.
According to numerous witnesses and Human Rights Watch, a 47-year-old Palestinian woman, Rawhiya Najar, led a group of 20 women and children out of a Palestinian home where they had huddled in fear, until ordered to leave by the IDF. The women waved shreds of white sheets and a tablecloth, but after they had walked a short distance, an Israeli soldier stepped out from behind a red door and shot Najar in the temple. A younger woman came to her aid and was also shot to death.
What struck me about this apparent cold-blooded execution was that it appeared to be the act of one solitary soldier. It made me wonder what led the soldier to that moment, to feel justified in shooting a woman in the head while she was waving a white flag in each hand. What prompted the question were the insights of Ari Folman, the director of Bashir, who fought as an Israeli soldier in the 1982 Lebanon War and was a witness to the massacres of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps at the hands of Christian Phalangists. The film tells the story of his attempts to retrieve his memory of the events, which had been blocked for 20 years. As he interviews fellow soldiers he served with, each recounts their own attempts to distance themselves from the killings they helped to facilitate.
In that context, I wonder about the soldier who shot the two women, what mechanisms he’ll need to disassociate himself from what he did, and who will accept the ultimate responsibility for what took place in towns like Khozaa during the recent war. In Lebanon, the blame fell on Ariel Sharon, who was forced to step down as Minister of Defense. The IDF is conducting its own investigation of the killings in Khozaa, but after the last Lebanon war and now this, it seems unlikely that there will be a reckoning like the one that brought Sharon down. 25 years later, there seems to be little appetite for national soul-searching, which leaves the soldier who killed Rawhiya Najar to fend for himself against his own conscience.