The killing eye

Yesterday, a terrorist in a bulldozer rampaged through a crowded street in Jerusalem, killing four and wounding several score more. Coincidently or not, relatively well-shot footage was obtained from the attack and aired on Israeli television almost immediately after the story broke. I can’t say what events the complete, original footage captured, but what cycled unceasingly on the airwaves was a familiar sight: One Palestinian man, one Israeli with a gun, a muzzle flash and a slumping corpse.

In the video, a man at the controls of a dozer is trying to run over pedestrians while struggling with a cop who has mounted the vehicle. Meanwhile, a young, out-of-uniform soldier can be seen hanging onto the outside of the cab, cocking and checking his pistol against the window before reaching inside to fire into the driver’s head. The clip ends with the terrorist’s body collapsing limply in the cab while a second swat officer verifies the kill with two more shots from a rifle. Another angle showed the whole scene from the side, punctuated with a cape of blood that draped across the steps of the vehicle.

I assume that the same camera captured the deaths of some Israelis immediately prior to this kill scene, but that footage was not aired. The selected footage itself is immediately reminiscent of the February tag-team attack in Dimona, where a suicide bomber was wounded by the explosion of his partner. In that episode, the only footage aired was that of the wounded bomber laying on the ground, trying to detonate his own payload while an Israeli security officer approaches him with a gun. In that shot too, the tape slows to accentuate the blast from the handgun and the jolt of the terrorist’s body as the bullet enters his brain.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this type of stuff does not make it onto the news in the States. In fact, despite the local war-coverage habit of never showing “the good-guys” get hurt, I don’t think I’ve ever seen actual killing on Israeli TV before. Bodies under sheets, yes; those macabre slumberers are mainstays of “pigua” (terror-attack) reporting. Yitzchak Rabin embosomed his bullet thousands of times on Israeli television back in 1995, but that was a national trauma screaming for visual catharsis. Strange, then, that in the last few months I have been witness to brutal replays of two separate close-range killings on the national news. Could this be a coincidence, or has someone with a hand on the reins of the news-media decided to break with the status-quo?

It’s hard to imagine that behind closed doors, someone didn’t question the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes to the general public. Throughout the country, Israelis young and old were glued to TV screens, their foreheads hard and jaws set until the fateful shot, at which point the reactions scaled from minute relaxations of tension to hearty refrains of “Thats it–they should have blown that bastard’s head off way earlier.” Is it this cold and fortifying vengeance that the producers hoped to elicit? Sure, watching the objects of our national fear cut down to carcasses might do wonders for Israelis’ perpetual anxiety, but at what price? Have the news moguls considered the psychological impact? Perhaps Israeli’s are so desensitized that a few more splintered skulls couldn’t make a difference.

Then again, desensitized is the wrong word. Quite apart from the immediate evidence of strife, Israeli life is steeped in the accessories of war. Soldiers and weapons are visible everywhere, checkpoints dot the roads, and compulsory military service drags sons, husbands, boyfriends, fathers and friends into the battlefield. The dull music of war games punctuates sunny afternoons like birdsong. But beyond these front lines, militarism appears in other, weirder places. Today in Physics class, the professor began with a kinematics problem: “Suppose a bullet moving at 200m/s hits a fixed body. The bullet penetrates the body to a depth of 10 cm.” A pause.. “Actually, these numbers are relatively accurate.” A knowing look. “Anyway… If the frictional coefficient is 0.2, how much force has the bullet exerted?”

I can’t tell you how many physics problems I’ve solved involving munitions. In my GIS course, our practice exercises have included things like maps of tank-passable terrain, effective missile ranges and references to zones of radioactive fallout. Nearly every day, me and my lab-mates head down to the nearest bomb-shelter to play ping-pong. These are just a few of the subtler examples. In a country where the collective conciousness already has its tongue so close to the battery terminals of conflict, do such “heroic” acts of violence really need to be projected in front of our faces? I’m not talking about naivety; we know what’s going on here, it’s where we live; but just because we’re glad the killer was popped doesn’t mean we should be watching it in slow-mo.

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~ by jonlib on July 7, 2008.

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