Haaretz Last update - 09:06 31/07/2008
Neither an officer nor a gentleman
By Gideon Levy
Brigadier General Moshe "Chico" Tamir is a devoted and loving father who let his 14-year-old son drive a military all-terrain vehicle. Being the law-abiding organization that it is, the Israel Defense Forces probed the incident, calling it "serious." As a result, Tamir's promotion may be put on hold and he may be indicted. Certainly, a brigade commander who tried to cover up his son's accident by lying deserves to be punished. But the commander of the Gaza Brigade deserves much more for acts considerably more serious - acts that the world defines as war crimes and for which no one has been held accountable. I would like Tamir, the dedicated father, to meet a girl the same age as his beloved son whose world fell apart when she was 14 years old. I saw her in mourning in November 2006, in the courtyard of her destroyed house in Beit Hanun. Islam Athamneh lost eight family members: Her mother, grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins. They fled their house when it was struck by a shell and were killed by another onslaught. The legs of Abdullah, her three-year-old brother, were blown off. Islam, whose father had died years earlier, became an orphan. The soldiers who fired the 11 shells at houses in Beit Hanun were under the command of Tamir, the dedicated dad who let his son take a Tomcar for a joyride. Some 22 people were killed in the shelling and another 40 were hurt. Most lost limbs or sustained head wounds.
It was the Gaza Brigade commander, Tamir, who was responsible for that atrocity, but the IDF quickly absolved him of blame. Instead, they placed it on a faulty electronic component in the gun barrel. It was the chip, not Chico, who was to blame. In the seven days before the heinous shelling, which violates international law, Tamir's troops managed to kill 80 Palestinians, 40 of whom were innocent civilians, as part of Operation Autumn Clouds. Their blood was let and their deaths pale in significance to the Tomcar affair as far as the army is concerned. After all, what's some unlawful killing en masse next to illegally driving an ATV?
If indicted, it won't be the first time Tamir has been tried in court. In the summer of 2002, when he was the commander of the Golani Brigade, his soldiers fired a tank shell at a grocers' market in Jenin. That, too, was a war crime, but not to Israel. A 53-year-old vendor and three other children - two of whom were brothers - died in the shelling. They also had fathers who loved their sons just as much as Tamir loves his. The Military Advocate General believed Tamir was guilty of negligence, but a court cleared him of all charges. A few weeks later, Tamir's tanks fired a shell at the same market. This time, they killed a vendor who was loading onions onto his Peugeot 504.
Former IDF chief Moshe Yaalon once said about this officer and gentleman that he needs "reeducating" because of endemic disciplinary problems in his brigade. The person who bragged that his brigade behaved like Rottweilers; who thought more violence should be used against Palestinians; who said that the destruction his soldiers caused in a Jenin refugee camp did not "cause him any moral dilemmas," may now finally be punished. And for what? A Tomcar. And what might just spare him? For all his misdoings, this man may be cleared of blame because he is considered a "well-respected and important" officer in the IDF.