Let’s take a step back: neither I nor Breaking the Silence are in a battle to tarnish the IDF wantonly. It may feel that way. But I’m not. Because I’ve worked so closely with the Breaking the Silence staff, their patriotism is irrefutable for me, and I’d stand with them against any naysayer. I realize not everyone has that benefit.
The reasons you, distant reader, should be concerned with anonymous, unattributed whistleblowers from inside the IDF is because purity of arms is the only value that makes an army civilized. Anything else, even in national defense, is just organized killing. The alleged deterioration of the IDF’s principles should be worrying to all for many reasons:
Israel’s conduct in conflict powerfully sets the tone of Israeli-Arab relations. It can make not only Palestinians unwilling to negotiate with Israel, but unite the other Arab states behind even the most appalling of Hamas’ activities.
Understanding the substance and truth behind misconduct claims not only allows us to bridge to Palestinians’ grievances, but limits the disconnect of Jews themselves believing two hugely disparate versions of history. Polls and media indicate Israelis are mostly convinced that zero abuses happened, not that such abuses were unavoidable. Breaking the Silence has helped rectify the gap.
Human rights abuses are a call to reform the system, both at the foreign policy level and the military’s field strategy. Operation Cast Lead was a failure for Israel’s strategic concerns in the region, achieving little deterance at great cost. High civilian casualities may not have been intended for such a short-term excursion (albeit unsurprising to some of us) means this approach cannot be repeated.
A failure by the IDF to fully account and be transparent will encourage an attitude of permissibility. Even if no abuses occurred this time, a swift and thorough investigation reinforces the awareness that such conduct is STILL unacceptable. It proves that rhetoric is actually belief. The IDF’s record-quick and closed-doored investigation is a disservice to that end.
The occupation has a corrosive effect on societal attitudes towards the sanctity of life. That the military killed less civilians “compared to other armies” corodes the very value of life. Military action itself is a last resort only and that hundreds of civilians died to accomplish a stalemate is itself an affront to the purity of arms, a waste of it. Its meaning is slowly creeping towards a legal definition with little spirit.
The IDF is not a magical, impervious force for good; it not only can do wrong, but it has. Facing its limitations and shortcomings forces us to recognize that it cannot solve our problems. The conflict itself cannot be solved militarily, and only a negotiated settlement in an atmosphere of trustbuilding can accomplish an ending, be it a warm friendship or a cold peace.
Allowing this deep level of intransparency permits other countries to do the same. Every country engaging in military actions should be forced to prove to the world their concern for civilians. Particularly in an age of urban terrorism where these incidents will (God forbid) become more common, telling the truthful from the liars is exceedingly important. Villains the world over will eagerly use these same reasons to bomb and demolish civilian centers. Proof must be laid before the world court.
To raise these red flags, it is necessary to put this uncomfortable information in your face — in the world’s face — in order to force everyday Jews to consider it seriously. Prophets are hardly welcome in their own homes, and Jews will avoid this information at all costs. Particularly when they lose face to the world as a result.
So for those of you who read or watched the testimonies, thank you. It takes a deep breath and resilient heart to do so. Thanks. For those who haven’t but are participating in the conversation, please do. It will make a world of difference in what we’re talking about: not saving someone’s credibility but saving a country’s soul.