Sigh. Israel’s claim and that of her cheif apologists is that the Israeli Defense Forces are the “most moral army in the world.” To any critical thinker, it’s a preposterous assertion that is obviously PR sloganeering. Are there Moral Army Olympics? Who won the bronze? My politically incorrect mind has created a whole range of competitions. But morbid jokes aside, time and again the IDF proves itself to be at least quite normal and sometimes shockingly brutal.
So I’ve been patiently waiting for the stories of soldier misconduct to percolate up. Breaking the Silence has been glumly foretelling a rash of stories to come. And, against my hopes, the stories emerged:
Haaretz first broke Breaking the Silence’s testimonies on March 6, quickly carried by BBC. JTA gave a wink of coverage as evidence was raised two weeks ago as Palestinian families begin suing Israel. Haaretz followed up with more last week. And today the NY Times has covered the latest reports in Friday’s Haaretz. (Richard Silverstein translated the Hebrew in the Haaretz article not available in English.) And still, Breaking the Silence is due to publish a Gaza testimonials booklet in the coming months.
[Update: The Israeli spokeswoman bubbles in this audio clip of a BBC interview, by admitting they received a letter notifying them of the problem two weeks ago but only launching the investigation “10 hours ago,” presumably after seeing it in Haaretz. It’s a painful interview to listen to.]
The stories involve sharpshooters gunning down a woman with children, knowingly and under orders. Defacating on the posessions of Gazan families, grafitting on the walls, and hiding civilian captives from the Red Cross. Ordering opening fire on homes before giving warning to the occupants, over the objections of foot soldiers.
Breaking the Silence stated:
From what we have heard so far in our investigations, the stories published this morning in Ha’aretz are not unique, but represent a trend in the behavior of soldiers in Gaza. From the soldiers we have spoken with, and from the testimonies of the gathering in Oranim, it is clear that the moral failures described are not simply the behavior of individual soldiers, but the workings of military policy and decision-making about the operation in Gaza.
It will be (and has always been) the policy of the IDF and the cheerleaders to claim that the soldiers are the bad apples. But it’s our job to recognize that this is not unexpected. Who didn’t expect to see this afterwards? Perhaps the Israeli and American Jewish publics didn’t, because they think if soldiers are Jewish they are better or more humane. False. They’re normal people, in uniform. It is the role of the military’s owners — the government, and civil society — to give the military acheivable goals. Olmert, Barak and the ministers of the Israeli administration gave the IDF an impossible task: root out the terrorists with excessive force, without hurting civilians. Impossible. So who’s fault is it? The IDF? In some ways.
But the bulk of the blame lies on the warmongers in government. And the segments of the Israeli public who support war at first and then regret it afterwards, predictably. It’s a cycle we’re able to predict now.
So the cheerleaders can stop calling the IDF the most moral army in the world anytime now. The rest of us who are grappling with how these offenses affect our relationship to Israel, I advise something simple: it’s time to stop idealizing and demonizing Israeli soldiers for what they’re not, and recognize them for what they are: you and me, in a uniform, on an impossible mission, with commanders like Olmert. You and I would be no different. If you disagree, then I have some Israeli veterans I’d like to introduce you to.