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Gaza: Soldiers are Speaking Out

Once permission has been given to the destroyer to do harm, it does not discriminate between the guilty and the innocent. (Mechilta, Bo) Today the NY Times reported on an issue that has gripped the Israeli press and public for some … Read More

By / March 20, 2009

Once permission has been given to the destroyer to do harm, it does not discriminate between the guilty and the innocent. (Mechilta, Bo)

Today the NY Times reported on an issue that has gripped the Israeli press and public for some time now:

In the two months since Israel ended its military assault on Gaza…testimony is emerging from within the ranks of soldiers and officers alleging a permissive attitude toward the killing of civilians and reckless destruction of property…On Thursday, the military’s chief advocate general ordered an investigation into a soldier’s account of a sniper killing a woman and her two children who walked too close to a designated no-go area by mistake, and another account of a sharpshooter who killed an elderly woman who came within 100 yards of a commandeered house.

In reading these accounts, I’m especially struck by the powerfully defensive reaction of many within Israel – insisting that these were either isolated incidents or that they were simply untrue. Witness Defense Minister Barak’s recent statement on Israel radio:

The Israeli Army is the most moral in the world, and I know what I’m talking about because I know what took place in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq.

I don’t know if Israel’s army is the "most moral" in the world. I’m not sure if I even know what that means. I don’t know what we really expect when we train young men and women to kill, give them the most sophisticated killing instruments on earth, then demonize their enemies before sending them off to battle.

Israel has long claimed its army follows the military war ethic of Tohar Haneshek ("Purity of Arms"). Whether or not this was ever true, there is seems to be growing evidence that in the heat of battle (or if you prefer, the "fog of war"), the difference between "legal killing" and "war crimes" becomes increasingly fuzzy to those who wield the weapons. And I’m fairly sure that this is the case whether or not the soldiers in question happen to be Jewish.

Even more disturbing are the reports from Israeli soldiers that the Israeli rabbinate is urging them to view this conflict as nothing less than a holy war. Richard Silverstein, blogging over at Tikkun Olam, has translated some of the Hebrew press accounts, uncovering this jaw-dropping testimony from a commander named Ran:

The military rabbis sent us lots of material and in these articles the message was clear: we are the nation of Israel.  We arrived by a miracle in Israel.  God returned us to the Land (of Israel).  Now we must battle to remove the non-Jews who disturb us in our conquest of the Holy Land.  That was the main message.  And the sense of many of the soldiers in this operation was that it was a religious war.  From my perspective as a commander, I tried to talk about politics and various strains within Palestinian society.  That not everyone in Gaza was Hamas and not every resident wants to conquer us.  I wanted to explain to them that this war was not about Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying the name of God), but about stopping Qassam fire.

Expect more horrifying news in the coming weeks…

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