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Haaretz: The general of onions and garlic

By Gideon Levy

To view original article, published by Haaretz on the 13th July, click here

Here is the “next thing” in the war against terror: the war against hairdressers. After Hamas took over half the Palestinian people, in no small measure because of Israel’s policies, after we tried to fight Hamas with weapons and siege, destruction and killing, mass arrests and deportations, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service have invented something new: a war on shopping malls, bakeries, schools and orphanages. First in Hebron, now in Nablus. The IDF is closing beauty salons, clothing stores and clinics, and even one dairy farm, all on the pretext that they are connected to Hamas, or the rent they pay is given to a terror organization.

These bizarre pictures of a closure order issued by the general of command, stuck on the window of a cosmetics store or a physiotherapy center, of a confiscation order stuck to a pita oven, show that the Israeli occupation has gone crazy. A few months ago I visited the charity institutions and commercial centers the IDF has begun closing in Hebron; I saw infuriatingly absurd scenes. A modern school, intended for 1,200 students, standing closed on orders of the GOC, and a library for young people about to shut.

Thus the occupation proves once again that there is no place in Palestinians’ lives that it cannot reach, and that it has no boundaries: An army that closes a school, library, bakery and boarding school; soldiers who raid a licensed commercial television station, confiscating its equipment and threatening its closure, as happened recently at the Afaq TV station in Nablus.

In Israel no voices were raised in protest, of course, either against the closing of the school or the closing of the TV station. According to the Israeli train of thought, if we close a bakery making bagels for orphans, Hamas’ power will weaken; if we throw hundreds of needy children into the streets from their boarding school, they and their relatives will become sympathetic to Israel; if we close a crowded shopping mall, its irate owners and customers will become Fatah supporters.

The Israeli occupation has not been seen for a long time in such a ludicrous and inhumane light as in these closure and confiscation operations ordered by GOC Central Command Gadi Shamni, the general of onions and garlic, to judge by the produce his soldiers confiscated from the Hebron food warehouses. Illegal, certainly immoral, but no less shortsighted, these operations broadcast a message loud and clear: The occupation has lost all moral inhibitions and any shred of wisdom. How wretched is an army that empties storerooms of food and clothing for the needy, how ridiculous that the GOC signs orders to close hairdressing salons, how pathetic is a military raid on bakeries and how cruel is an occupation that shuts down clinics on any pretext.

Hamas has entered the vacuum created in the West Bank and Gaza. Like any religious movement, it sprouted in the soil of distress and poverty. Now Israel comes along and says let’s make the poverty and distress even worse. Why? To fight Hamas. There is nothing more absurd. Tens of thousands of poor children in the West Bank have nowhere to turn to aside from the Islamic charities that Israel suspects of being linked to Hamas, although many were established long before the organization was born. Israel stopped seeing to the population’s welfare under the occupation, despite its obligation under international law, and the Palestinian Authority is also not showing any special interest in social and economic needs. Fatah has always devoted more resources to military camps, guns and official cars than to orphanages, hospital beds and dialysis machines.

This is the vacuum the Islamic Movement is filling, offering an impressive level of services. The orphanage I visited in Hebron is one of the most beautiful and well-cared for I have seen. It takes quite a bit of cruelty to threaten its closure, quite a bit of audacity to argue that doing so will serve the war on terror, and quite a bit of stupidity to think that such a measure will help. The closing of stores and malls will only land another blow on the Palestinian economy, which even now is struggling to hold up under conditions of quarantine. Has Israel learned nothing from the failure of the siege on Gaza?

Anyone who visits the charity institutions would see that not all the money flowing to these organizations is earmarked for buying suicide belts and explosives. The West Bank’s residents cannot be simultaneously imprisoned, prohibited from earning a living and offered no social-welfare assistance while we strike at those who are trying to do so, whatever their motives. If Israel wants to fight the charitable associations, it must at least offer alternative services. On whose back are we fighting terror? Widows? Orphans? It’s shameful.