Culture, Israel, Politics

The most normal army in the world

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.

6 thoughts on “The most normal army in the world

  1. Thanks for the expose, but as to your last comments, sorry it is not you and me. I would have refused every one of those orders, I would have stood up to every soldier and happily gone to prison. I would have torn up the rabbinic manual on killing civilians as a mitsvah and threw it in the face of the fascist who wrote it while pretending he is a religious authority. Then I would have been proud to be a Jew, and proud of my rabbinical ordination. We have become a nation of moral cowards beneath the wait of this madness. This was not a war. Hamas barely fought, and the Jewish commanders knew it and were frustrat. This was a slaughter, yet another punishment of civilians because they cannot crush the Palestinian spirit. This was really for themselves, to show how tough Jews. But the sad truth is that they cannot do the one thing in the Middle East, or in the world, that would make them truly safe and normal, make anyone like them. The tough Jew cannot do this because he thinks that kind of softness got us killed in the Holocaust. Let them continue to fight the Holocaust in the Middle East. One day they will discover the old Jew as having ten times more wisdom of survival then the new tough Jews.
    Marc Gopin

  2. it is interesting that the concern with the IDF is that it is moral. israel and all who are connected to her fight these wars (whether moral or not, just or not) first within ourselves. gaza, lebanon and all the other of israel’s wars stretching back are outpicturing of these internal battles we fight everyday.
    a moral army, the whole concept is ludicrous. it is honorable to be willing to sacrifice one’s life for others yet it becomes morally gray at best when the same willingness is applied towards killing and oppressing others even when it is done in the name of protecting and defending others.
    the most moral thing to do is to work for an alternative that is peaceful not just in its ends but also peaceful in its means. israel’s aims are peaceful – security for jews. but her means are not and breaking the silence’s reports attest to that.
    isn’t it more moral to have no need for an army? isn’t more moral to have an army that is dedicated to peace both in ends and in means?

  3. “israel’s aims are peaceful”
    Is that why it keeps building settlements? or is it because Israel’s aims are pieceful?”

  4. “I would have refused every one of those orders, I would have stood up to every soldier and happily gone to prison. I would have torn up the rabbinic manual on killing civilians as a mitsvah and threw it in the face of the fascist who wrote it while pretending he is a religious authority.”
    You would have…but instead you elected to live a compfortable life in America…

  5. Marc, with all due respect (because I hold a lot for you and your work, particularly with Syria), if you were an 18 year old having not even gone to college yet, I honestly don’t think you would have done much differently than any Israeli. There are exceptions in people, of course.
    But having worked intimately with the Breaking the Silence tour this time last year, the most frightening aspects of those veterans’ post-service admissions is how many of them stayed quiet in the service and continued duties that repeatedly violated human rights abuses because they felt, in their words, that if THEY quit, the asshole who really DIDN’T care about Arab life would take their place at the checkpoint, in the unit, as commander of the mission, etc. Or they waited until the end of their service to have the credentials to be taken seriously on the outside. Because complaints on the inside are ignored.
    You’re an exceptional person, but you’re not holier than them. I think the point of what you think you would do is to be honored (expected of all soliders) but the issue is more grey than anyone could think.

  6. Dear Kung Fu Jew, I just put your blog on my blog roll because I was really impressed by it and hope to interact with you more often. I respect your respect for the average 18 year old and what they do in war. But here is where I think you need to respect differences and personal biographies. I never hit anyone as a kid, they could not train me to box or do martial arts. i just couldn’t. I have hated violence my whole life and I know what I would have done and not done in this situation. I have faced it many times. I was studying Stanley Milgram as a kid, best thing that ever happened to me at 13 was reading those experiments cuz it anesthetized me to the power of the mob. i did make a mistake about the Iraq war based on false information from my government. In any case, i respectfully differ with your conclusions and believe that with a new approach to education we can help most 18 year olds resist the power of authoritarian imposition of immorality or mob psychology.

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