An Open Letter to the General
by Yigal Bronner
GENERAL, YOUR TANK IS A POWERFUL VEHICLE
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.
-- Bertolt Brecht
In your letter to me, you wrote that "given the ongoing war in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and in view of the military needs," I am called upon to "participate in army operations" in the West Bank.
I am writing to tell you that I do not intend to heed your call.
During the 1980s, Ariel Sharon erected dozens of settler colonies in the heart of the occupied territories, a strategy whose ultimate goal was the subjugation of the Palestinian people and the expropriation of their land. Today, these colonies control nearly half of the occupied territories and are strangling Palestinian cities and villages as well as obstructing -- if not altogether prohibiting -- the movement of their residents. Sharon is now prime minister, and in the past year he has been advancing towards the definitive stage of the initiative he began twenty years ago. Indeed, Sharon gave his order to his lackey, the Defense Minister, and from there it trickled down the chain of command.
The Chief of Staff has announced that the Palestinians constitute a cancerous threat and has commanded that chemotherapy be applied against them. The brigadier has imposed curfews without time limits, and the colonel has ordered the destruction of Palestinian fields. The division commander has placed tanks on the hills between their houses, and has not allowed ambulances to evacuate their wounded. The lieutenant colonel announced that the open-fire regulations have been amended to an indiscriminate order "fire!" The tank commander, in turn, spotted a number of people and ordered his artilleryman to launch a missile.
I am that artilleryman. I am the small screw in the perfect war machine. I am the last and smallest link in the chain of command. I am supposed to simply follow orders -- to reduce my existence down to stimulus and reaction, to hear the sound of "fire" and pull the trigger, to bring the overall plan to completion. And I am supposed to do all this with the simplicity and naturalness of a robot, who -- at most -- feels the shaking tremor of the tank as the missile is launched towards the target.
But as Bertolt Brecht wrote:
General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.
And indeed, general, whoever you may be-- colonel, brigadier, chief of staff, defense minister, prime minister, or all of the above-- I can think. Perhaps I am not capable of much more than that. I confess that I am not an especially gifted or courageous soldier; I am not the best shot, and my technical skills are minimal. I am not even very athletic, and my uniform does not sit comfortably on my body. But I am capable of thinking.
I can see where you are leading me. I understand that we will kill, destroy, get hurt and die, and that there is no end in sight. I know that the "ongoing war" of which you speak, will go on and on. I can see that if the "military needs" lead us to lay siege to, hunt down, and starve a whole people, then something about these "needs" is terribly wrong.
I am therefore forced to disobey your call. I will not pull the trigger.
I do not delude myself, of course. You will shoo me away. You will find another artilleryman -- one who is more obedient and talented than I. There is no dearth of such soldiers. Your tank will continue to roll; a gadfly like me cannot stop a rolling tank, surely not a column of tanks, and definitely not the entire march of folly. But a gadfly can buzz, annoy, nudge, and at times even bite.
Eventually other artillerymen, drivers, and commanders, who will observe the senseless killings and endless cycle of violence will also begin to think and buzz. We are already hundreds strong. And at the end of the day, our buzzing will turn into a deafening roar, a roar that will echo in your ears and in those of your children. Our protest will be recorded in the history books, for all generations to see.
So general, before you shoo me away, perhaps you too should begin to think.
Dr. Yigal Bronner teaches Sanskrit at Tel-Aviv University, and will be able to respond to letters after completing his 28-day term in prison. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org