Killing Donkeys for Sport: Time-Honored IDF Tradition
One might ask: of all the horrors perpetrated by the IDF in Gaza, why davka, display this image?
In my grad school days I pursued a PhD in Hebrew literature. One of the most powerful literary evocations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in the writing of S. Yizhar. I even prepared a translation of his novella Hirbet Hiza–(recently published in English and featured here) about the decimation of an Arab village during the 1948 war–I loved the work so.
One of the hallmarks of Yizhar’s writing was an affinity for portraying the small-talk, ennui and cruelty of the Israeli soldier pulling duty in villages like this one. One of the more compelling portrayals is a story of a soldier killing an Arab donkey for sport. What shocks is the petty cruelty and depravity of the act; the studied detachment of the soldier showering it with bullets and watching its death throes; the relief from boredom it provides. When you’re raised on the concept of tohar neshek, it is revelatory to read such characterizations of Israeli brutality harkening to the beginnings of the State:
“Whadya say about those doneys and their incredible vitality,” the [radio] operator said.
“What are you talking about, said Shmulik.
“Yesterday I pumped three bullets into one and it didn’t die.”
“Where’d you hit it?”
“One in the neck. Another here in the head just beneath the ear and the third next to the eye.”
“It didn’t die, it just went on walking.”
“Come off it. That’s impossible.”
“I swear. Yesterday, right by the camp. I’d just gone to check the equipment. I saw it wandering around by the fence. I just blasted it right away.”
“At what range?”
“Up close. No more than ten yards or more.”
“And it didn’t die?”
“No way. It just went right on walking. And then it dropped.”
“When it got hit in the neck it lifted its head and looked. Blood was already spurting out of it like a faucet. So what does this donkey do, it goes on munching grass. I got it below the ear, but it gave a start but went on standing there, looking. That was too much already. I shot it in the eye at closer range and it took a few steps farther in the grass and then really slowly, lazily, it dropped and sprawled over. What incredible vitality!”
“…It’s the bones they have, like iron.”
“…Once I shot a donkey from behind and it dropped right away. This great balloon came out of its behind, and it pushed its head into the sand and fell over.
—Khirbet Khizeh, pp. 19-20
The donkey is the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine in this passage. A soldier who can shoot a villager’s donkey as if he was kicking a stone in the road will treat the villager himself no better. This soldier’s coarseness highlights the moral debasement of the Zionist ethos brought on by the War of Independence. It is Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” writ small. After reading Hirbet Hizeh one can no longer be starry-eyed and idealistic about the IDF or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So I immediately grasped the significance of this N.Y. Times image. The IDF soldier who killed this poor beast was taking target practice. He killed an animal crucial to the livelihood of its Gazan owner. And he did it for sport; for the relief from boredom it provided.
There are more profound indictments of the Gaza war to be found. But this one, for all its everydayness, captures well the brutality and hopelessness of Israel’s mad adventure in Gaza. It also brings to mind Lear’s comment:
As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They kill us for sport
So are the Palestinians and their domestic animals sport for the IDF. This is what the Occupation does to the Israeli soul. It kills it in the most mundane of ways.
The other images in Tyler Hicks photo essay on the suffering of El Atatra are equalling compelling. No question, he deserves a Pulitzer.
A big thank you to reader Eurosabra who provided the page numbers and to the Bellevue branch of the King County Library which provided the scans of the pages. This is the wonder of the internet age: an Israeli living in Europe tells me the page numbers I’m looking for in the source text and a reference librarian scans the pages and e mails them to me–all without leaving my desk. Pretty cool.
18 thoughts on “Killing Donkeys for Sport: Time-Honored IDF Tradition – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Why didn’t you study Arab literature?
I am not defending the idf, but equines just don’t fair well in modern warfare. They have huge bodies and are just flesh and bone like us.
And yet, when all our words and observations can do little more than catalogue whatever crimes and indignities man can heap upon his fellowman, what, then, is the point of them? If the record of our shortcomings and failures as a species, already so voluminous, can be compiled with such ease, then shouldn’t it serve some purpose other than that of mere commentary? Otherwise, there is no real value in any of these endeavours.
Think of a man being chased through a forest by a pack of wolves. He’s running for his life and he knows it. In consequence, while the thorns and brambles he stumbles across in his flight may impede his progress to some extent, the pain they inflict upon his person has scant influence on the direction and speed of his passage through the forest. He cannot, at this testing time, be overly occupied by such minor irritants. It is only when considerable distance has been placed between himself and his pursuers that the man can begin to assess his overall condition, take note of the injuries he has sustained and make proper provision for his next move.
The Israelis and Palestinians have been stumbling around in just such a manner for generations. Both have sought to escape the forest but every attempt has led them that much deeper into it. With mind sets geared primarily to the proximity of wolves, their failure to spot one obvious course of action is, perhaps, understandable. Although still deep within the forest, a way out, albeit temporary, does exist. The possibility of climbing a tree is always available. The wolves are thus kept at bay and time is gained for a more leisurely appreciation of the surrounding area. This, in turn, may very well indicate an exit, one revealed only when a higher and more secure vantage point has been reached.
The paths we’ve travelled to date seem more like those of endless circles, trampled and strewn with the detritus of failures past and hopes cruelly dashed.
Trying to pick our way through this forest has got us all precisely nowhere. Maybe, in 2009, it will be a year for climbing trees instead. The view then, it must be hoped, will be a lot better than the one we’re faced with now.
This donkey killing is not only a hobby of IDF soldiers, also the settlers love to do that.
On the other hand one Israeli loves donkeys
MR SILVERSTEIN: You seem to conveniently forget that the IDF is “The Most Moral Army on Earth™”. Why, they even send text messages! So says Sen. Chuck Schumer.
A SOMEWHAT RELATED ITEM:
Religious Extremists Rising Through the Ranks
An IDF Jihad?
By Jonathan Cook, from Nazareth – February 4, 2009
Extremist rabbis and their followers, bent on waging holy war against the Palestinians, are taking over the Israeli army by stealth, according to critics.
In a process one military historian has termed the rapid “theologisation” of the Israeli army, there are now entire units of religious combat soldiers, many of them based in West Bank settlements. They answer to hardline rabbis who call for the establishment of a Greater Israel that includes the occupied Palestinian territories…….
ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.counterpunch.org/cook02042009.html
And yet it is the Arab nations that are compared to Borat’s fictional Kazakhstan.
Thanks for bringing up Chuck Schumer’s idiotic, offensive comment, M. Dickerson. Looking at it again for myself, I’m struck by the fact that this is a U.S. politician giving top props to the military of a foreign country. It does make one wonder where his deepest sympathies really lie. Beyond the totality of the lie of the statement–Schumer said this in the midst of Israel’s butchering of helpless children, women and men in Gaza–it’s just kind of a bizarre thing for an American politician to say.
Schumer is a disgrace to the Democratic party. Not only is he an apologist for Israeli (& American) occupation and aggression, he’s the worse sort of fat cat Wall Street establishment Dem, not a progressive bone in his body. FDR must be rolling over in his grave considering some of the cretins that currently wear the party label. I’m still holding out (diminishing) hope for Obama being some kind of new FDR. Or maybe a Franklin Roosevelt-Jack Kennedy hybrid with a little MLK thrown in. You gotta hope. What else can you do?
As for the donkey, I guess to IDF eyes these donkeys are ‘Palestinian’ and so automatically deserving of death. Yeah, it’s nauseating in its (almost banal) cruelty. But I have to admit that it’s hard for the IDF to surprise me anymore with their level of degradation. What does one say? Par for the course. Oh, I forgot, the Israeli Defense Forces are the “most moral army in the world”. Silly me.
(Heck, I’m sure monsieur Witty will find some way to rationalize l’Affaire Donkey, or point out some bad thing the Palestinians are doing hence we shouldn’t be talking about this. Pardon, maybe I’m getting jaded…)
NILI, do you actually think your little Junior High trash talk comment is clever or witty? A little advice: you might attempt not advertising your moronicity with quite the gusto that you show in the opening remark. Better to hide it, there’s a good chap (Didn’t a friend ever tell you as much?). I suppose in your one-dimensional universe one cannot possibly be a self-aware Jew who is steeped in his own culture and also be critical of Israel? What a sad, claustrophobic space that must be.
It reminds me of the film “Waltz With Bashir” when a soldier’s bubble of “tv” burst when he saw the slaughter of horses.
That was a legitimate question-if someone is so critical of Israel and believes in the Arab cause, why not study Arabic literature?
You’re being an utter moron. I don’t “believe in the Arab cause.” What the hell is that supposed to mean anyway? I believe in the HUMAN cause that transcends the Arab cause. The HUMAN cause says that neither Jews nor Arabs should have to suffer due to the cretinous, brutal beliefs of the leadership of Israel (& to a lesser extent Palestinian militant groups).
But I’m actually much more committed to the Jewish cause than to the Arab cause though that will annoy you no end to hear. Your perception that I am committed to the Arab cause only displays your tribal loyalties to a narrow, ultra nationalist view of Israeli Jewish interests. My concern that Palestinian interests are addressed derives from my even greater desire that ISRAEL live in peace & security; and my conviction that this can only happen if Palestinians are accomodated as well as Israelis.
It’s the exchange that begins on p.19 of the De Lange and Dweck translation.
Reading Yizhar in English by De Lange seems odd to me, it’s like a travelogue by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
It’s the same way that the “Eat sand and die of thirst, Jew” addressed to a prisoner doesn’t have the same sting in the English translations of Kanafani.
Prophetically, in 1918, thirty years before the State of Israel was established, the great Jewish philosopher of the 20th century, Martin Buber, said he rejected the concept of a “Jewish state with cannons, flags, and military decorations.”
SOURCE – http://www.counterpunch.org/rabin02062009.html
Anita Shapira compellingly explores why this isn’t quite true in Israel, why the “unpleasant memory” of the multiple Hirbet Hizahs is still not assimilated in the collective conscience the way the Third Reich and the Vichy regime are in Germany and France.
It’s a long essay, but well worth the time.
Dealing with similar issues in later years, and equally conveniently half-forgotten is Livia Rokach’s monograph, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism, based on Moshe Sharett’s diaries.
Sorry I wasn’t able to provide you a scan of the pages, I have fallen a bit under the weather prior to the elections. Although my politics on Zionism are diametrically opposed to yours (and the Magnes Zionist’s) I will be voting Hadash for their domestic program. I don’t feel right about voting Ra’am-Ta’al, they are, after all, Islamists, my vote for them adds an outsider’s voice to their mandate and seems like interference.
In terms of symbolism, the killing of animals is also a factor in Dan Ben-Amotz’s “Story of the Camel and of Victory”, where it operates as the same sort of dynamic as the doubling of the symbolic Arab victim in Orpaz’s “At the Bullet’s Tip” or Tammuz’s “Swimming Contest”, where another Israeli’s mistaken violence kills the narrator’s Palestinian Arab alter ego. (“At the Bullet’s Tip” is itself interesting in what it does say, since it is about the 1956 Gaza conflict, but the story artlessly comments “The Strip was in our hands, but not ours.”)
Well, knock me down with a feather. Jerry Haber, you & I would vote Hadash if we could & our respective politics are still diametrically opposed. Are you to our right or left??
I’m from a classic Likud background, having once worked for a research center tied to them as a research assistant. However, I’m also terrified of the OAS-style implications of their policy, especially with Lieberman in the cabinet. Part of how Algeria imploded was by making liberal citizenship useless to the Arabs and Berbers who were so inclined, which threw them back on Islam as the major source of identity. The same evolution risks happening with Israeli-Palestinians but they are still playing by the democratic “rules of the game”.