Most of us Israelis feel about our army units the way Americans feel about their colleges. When you’re 18 and you become a part of some large institution, you develop an affinity for it that lasts a lifetime. When someone tarnishes its reputation, you reel.
This is what happened to me this weekend.
On Friday, a young Palestinian man, Mustafa Tamimi, participated in a demonstration against the seizure of lands by a nearby Jewish settlement, Halamish. (Israeli courts had deemed the seizure illegal, but never mind.) Shortly after the demonstration began, Tamimi was struck by a tear gas canister fired at close range (in violation of the army’s rules of engagement) by an IDF soldier. Later that weekend, Tamimi died. His death saddened and enraged me. But what really made my blood boil was, of all things, a tweet.
The tweeter was Peter Lerner, a career officer in my alma mater, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. He wrote: “What was Mustafa thinking running after a moving jeep while throwing stones? #Fail.”
When I served in the unit—which, fortunately, was before Lerner had arrived—I was trained to realize that as the official voice of the army, I had to remain courteous, considerate, and factual. I was told—as if I needed to be told!—that special restraint was called for when dealing with death and injury, and that no matter what the specifics of a given incident might have been, compassion and care were always of the essence. Calling Tamimi “Mustafa,” as if he was a wayward boy; linking to a photo of him lying dying on the ground; attaching the familiar, casual hashtag, “#fail,” as if the whole thing belonged on some hilarious Internet catalogue of goofs and blunders: all of that is inexcusable.
But even leaving behind the moral implications of Lerner’s statement, I find it inconceivable that a spokesperson might think that the best way to speak, officially and publicly, would be by making sport of a human being’s death. That Lerner is still employed makes me deeply ashamed of my unit; but as long as Lerner has a job, I hope you’ll join me in letting him know what you think of his sensibilities. His Twitter handle is @MajPeterLerner; some hashtags you might consider include #utterdisregardforhumanlife, #shameonyou, and, my favorite, #moralfail.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.