Bad War, Good Soldiers

Haim Watzman

I recently bumped into a mild-mannered, bookish paratrooper I know. He had come home to Jerusalem for a short weekend after spending two weeks in Gaza. I didn’t know what to expect when I asked him what he thought of the war.

I thought I might hear him echo my own thoughts, and say that he was shocked and upset by the havoc wreaked by Israel. Instead, he responded roughly as follows: We had to show Hamas that we’re not suckers, we had to show them that we won’t hesitate to beat the hell out of them if they provoke us. We’re not, by military means, going to end Hamas rule in Gaza or stop them from smuggling in rockets — but we had to invade, and we had to be tough.

And I was happy to hear that.

Many of my fellow critics of the war would have reacted differently. They lament that Israeli soldiers have lost their moral compass and are shocked that we have soldiers who were willing participants in the carnage that we just saw in Gaza.

I take another view….

Read the rest in The Forward–Comment there or here.

28 thoughts on “Bad War, Good Soldiers”

  1. Haisoldiers are bound by law and honor to refuse to obey orders that are manifestly immoral and illegal, orders that, as Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case in the 1950s, have a “black flag flying over them.” m: you note “”

    Do you know, with no effort of looking on your part, of an English translation of this case? I would very much like to read it.

    A general question: How can one speak of Israeli Arab CITIZENS who, catagorically, do not serve in the nation’s army? A violation of equal risk is a violation of equal protection. Catagorical exclusion means, at best, a two tiered citizenry. Army service becomes a privilege for opportunity of better things.

    I would like to see the paratrooper you mention talk with his Arab fellow citizens in a public forum.

  2. Haim: I tried to use your name to ask you a question about an english translation of the 50’s case, but somehow my use of the quote sign, or the pasting itself, blotted out your name. Anyway, still asking, if it requires no effort on your part to provide a reference.

  3. Gregory, the “black flag” case was the Kafr Qassem massacre of Oct. 29, 1956. You can easily find accounts of the event on the web, but I have no idea where to find a translation of the SC opinion.

  4. “We had to show Hamas that we’re not suckers, we had to show them that we won’t hesitate to beat the hell out of them if they provoke us. We’re not, by military means, going to end Hamas rule in Gaza or stop them from smuggling in rockets — but we had to invade, and we had to be tough.”

    But that is a political statement, isn’t it? It’s not about firing mortars and shells and defending your buddy and preserving your soldier’s honour in the muck of it and all that. It’s how a neutral “willing to go to battle” morphs into “willing to swallow and regurgitate whatever justification your govt comes up with”. Is being a sucker for your own govt better than being a sucker for Hamas? I fully agree that the leaders, not the grunts bear the brunt of the responsibility for this onslaught. But this grunt says himself, apparently in concert with his leaders, we had to show them, even though we knew objective, positive results would be nil, i.e. the only reason for the war was to gratify our long-suffering machismo. How is that any different from lobbing Qassams at civilians – equally well knowing they won’t achieve anything positive? The choice of targets is irrelevant in this context, this is about jus ad bellum, not jus in bello.

  5. Gregory, I don’t know of an English translation of the “black flag” decision. Fiddler, my point is that a soldier, to be a good soldier, has to have the instinct to strike back with force. I don’t think that that makes a soldier a sucker for his government–soldiers do and should have that instinct even when their government pursues a policy of caution and restraint. It’s not the individual soldier’s job to decide whether the use of force will be effective, and whether there are better and less deadly ways of achieving those goals. And the young Palestinian launching missiles against Israel from Gaza is in the same position. It’s the job of his leaders to decide that that strategy is pointless and wrong.

  6. I’m afraid I don’t really understand this piece. On the one hand, you talk about how good it is that young Israeli men should be “willing, even eager, to use their strength against our enemies,” who apparently include the wives, children and neighbors of Nizar Rayyan, for example.

    You then say that a soldier is “bound by law and honor to refuse to obey orders that are manifestly immoral and illegal.” You don’t really draw the line here, though. You seem to admit in your last paragraph that Israel has committed war crimes (although your choice of the word “forbidden” as opposed to “illegal” is interesting to me), while still managing to be proud that the soldier is eager to be a part of what is essentially an exercise in vengeful muscle flexing.

    How can you reconcile these two points? Hundreds of civilians were killed so that Israel could show that they’re not suckers? If that’s not illegal, it’s certainly difficult for me to understand how it could be called anything but immoral, particularly since anyone who thinks Hamas has been “taught a lesson” is naive or blind. If anything, the lesson Hamas, and Hezbollah before them, learn in these bursts of cathartic violence is that the only common language between Israelis and Arabs is violence.

  7. Sean, I don’t think you read the piece very carefully–or you’re trying to fit my thoughts into a preconceived mold that’s not appropriate to my position. How about taking a second look?

  8. Haim,

    From your response, you don’t seem too keen on an exchange about this, but I’ll try again.

    I’ve just reread the piece — carefully, as it were — and the same problems present themselves. It’s difficult to say what, exactly, the point is, unless it’s the banal (but questionable) idea that one can be proud of the troops while disapproving of the war.

    This, though, is still based on the idea that the war itself is neither illegal nor immoral, raising the black flag, as you say. From here though, most of Israel’s actions in Gaza this month look if not illegal, then certainly immoral. (We seem to agree on the illegal part, e.g. white phosphorous.)

    If, then, soldiers are willing and eager to mete out violence that’s illegal and/or immoral, I’m not sure that it makes me feel any better that they understand that that violence will have little effect. If anything, it makes the violence seem that much more gratuitous.

    When Israel and Hezbollah were at war in 2006, I was embarrassed here in Beirut by rockets shot indiscriminately at Haifa. It’s saddening to me, though, that after the brutal violence in Gaza, you are proud of Israeli soldiers who were “just following orders.”

    While I agree that the primary blame should be placed on decision-makers, I think that it’s dangerous to strip those who are lower on the totem poll of all responsibility for their actions.

    And on a purely practical level, when we in the peace camp on this side of the border see our counterparts in Israel express pride after the brutal killing of hundreds of civilians, it makes our efforts at creating a just peace in the region that much more difficult.

  9. The “black flag” is about as vague as a moral imperative gets. Forget, for a moment, the fact that many black flags have been raised over the years (firing cluster bombs into civilian areas, allowing christian barbarians to massacre women and children, or “meerly” following orders to shoot a blindfolded handcoffed man protesting the theft of his land in the foot), but instead they seem to be transparent, and forget that soldiers do not really need orders to be just a little nasty (stopping a pregnant woman in the middle of the night at a roadblock for no good reason and watching her baby die in front of his weeping dad, or forcing a man at a checkpoint to fiddle for the good old troops amusment, or meerly scribbling “arabs need 2 die” on walls in gaza homes).

    The real problem is that you treat these 18-21 year-old as if they should be (to some extent) robots, or at best just morally seperated from the society they come from. from its beliefs, its politics, and crucially from it responsibility as a society.

    in any war, in any country, this is illogical. in a country like israel, where society and military are so intertwined, this is simply impossible. after all, these soldiers elect the leaders who send them to battle.

    What the question really boils down to is this:

    is occupying and colonializing another people considered a “black flag” to you? are all the machinations of the occupation “black flags”? if not, then who the heck cares about a few dozens innocent palestinians killed here and there? becasue i assure you, in the grand book of history, the former is sure worse than the latter.

    So should soldiers leave all their responsibilty as citizens – who elect the leaders ordering invasions, bombardments, and occupation – behind them when they become the policy’s enforcers?

  10. What I deciphered from it is: the soldier is only a tool being wielded by those who possess “grey hair”, ie their instincts as a “good soldier” should be applauded because that ultimately comes from a good place from concern for their citizens and country.

    It really does absolve alot of guilt from those who (a) are unwilling to question the order and (b) are MORE than willing to undertake the order and do so with more hubris. It is really a “banality of evil” here if I can evoke Hannah Arendt: I’m sure they are all doing this with no evil intentions at hand (even though there are plenty of reasons to discount this with reports of “the boss going mad”).

    I love it though: “We had to teach them a lesson,” or something to that nature. The Palestinians must be the stupidest people on this planet because they cannot learn from these “lessons” which usually culminates on the massive slaughter of innocent men, women and children.

    The deeply morbid part about it is that Israel seems to not learn anything from these “classes”. Would you advocate the same position through the enemy’s eyes?

    “We had to show Israel that we’re not suckers [like Fatah], we had to show them that we won’t hesitate to continue to resist the hell out of them if they provoke us. We’re not, by military means, going to end Israel’s existence or stop them from trading with the world — but we had to fire rockets, and we had to be tough to fight the blockade and the occupation.”

  11. A decade ago I was given a pass to visit the Dispora museum on the campus of the University of Tel Aviv. As I approached the building I saw a little mountain of dark green, taller than an average adult, spanning at base to about twice the length of an adult. Soon the mound became a very large pile of military backpacks. On duty, young, quite young, soldiers were being shown part of Jewish history. Inside I saw them, listening to their guide, seemingly happy for this day, some holding hands, young lovers found.

    The Israeli military is widely regarded as a fundemental glue for society. In draft the young are exposed to those of other backgrounds, yet present in the common purpose of the protection of that which protects them–the State of Israel. Many later marriages are begun in the military. Many stories of heroism are made there. Tales of sacrifice travel within. The military is secular yet sacred. Walking the halls of University, one will see many young men and women in uniform, on call yet studying, performing their civic duty, a reminder of potential sacrifice at the start of independent life.

    A sight unthinkable in the economically seggregated military of the United States.

    I do not write this to defend our blog host Haim, but to point out that abstract discussions of ethical obligation can evoke feelings in others for reasons rather unrelated to the actual question at hand. Sean’s comments, above, made me think of these past observations. If we fail to understand the social engine behind things, our words will not have the reasoned impact we expect. Indeed, they may generate reactions we, seeking hands reaching for our hands, wish to avoid.

    I end with another observation: this social mixing, this glue called the drafted Israeli military, sets up a dynamic which completely excludes the Israeli Arabs, who, “because they do not want to serve,” I was once told, are exempted from the draft obligation. Seeing what the draft does for Israeli Jewish society, this exclusion has an impact beyond the “military security” needs of the State.

    The Jewish draft (for that is what it is) insures a social labeling supporting a two tiered class society based on race. In fact, the Jewish draft, as social process, supports, conditions, the very fear (of military instability) used to support the exclusion.

    As a thought experiment, what would happen if young Israeli Arabs were told they were to be drafted? Fear, anger, insecurity, on all sides. And maybe riots. That, methinks, says much.

  12. Sorry to those of you who got frustrated when your comments weren’t posted. Gershom and I don’t open our computers on Shabbat and some of these comments were put on hold by our spam filter.

    Sean, my position is that the war itself–that is, an Israeli attack on Gaza–was not in and of itself immoral, since Israel is under attack from Gaza. And Alon, I don’t think that the occupation–which I have condemned and worked against for three decades–obviates Israel’s right and need to defend itself against its enemies.

    I do think that some of the means used in the war were immoral and, as I have written in other posts, I think that the war was carried on longer than was necessary or right given its goals and achievements. I supported from the start the strategy outlined in the David Grossman piece I translated–an attack, then a halt–and a continuation of the attack only if it turned out that the offensive against Israel’s population centers continued.

    That the occupation is wrong doesn’t mean that Israel divests itself of any right to defend itself. That would be absurd–by the same metric, the U.S. should not have fought Nazi Germany so long as it had Jim Crow laws, and the Palestinians should lay down their arms until they establish a just and perfectly democratic society.

    Israel, for all its many faults, is a country with a leadership that governs on the basis of the consent of the governed, and a society in which there is free and open debate about government policies. And it’s a country with real enemies. The relative justice of those enemies claims–some of which are justified, to my mind, and some of which are not–do not impinge on this fundamental right to self-defense.

    If the state has the right to self-defense, then it needs an army. And an army, to be effective, has to be, yes, a machine, for carrying out the policies of the government. Soldiers are certainly not expected to be robots, but their freedom of action is necessarily limited. And to be good soldiers, they have to believe in their strength.

    The “black flag” concept, like other such general concepts, leaves a large gray area, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be clear about specific kinds of cases in which the black flag clearly flies. My claim is that when a soldier is dealing with that large gray area, he should err on the side of his moral responsibilities to his comrades and his country rather than on the side of abstract moral duty to the enemy’s fighters and civilians.

  13. How can you occupy and still call it self-defense? I find that highly oxymoron, backward and “having your cake and eating it too”. You put your enemy in a situation where they want to hate you and when they lash out at you and puts some of your citizens’ existence in question all the while making their own life a living purgatory and we can call it self-defense? I’m sorry, that just doesn’t suit well.

  14. Living in Israel and seeing myself as a Zionist, I fully agree that Israel has a right to self-defense. And i agree that we have real enemies.

    But what are we defending against?

    Albert Memmi, in his book “the colonizer and the colonized” wrote of something that engenders a distorted feeling of self-defense : self-forgiveness.

    in rough translation, he wrote : “This is how the oppression creates its justification itself: the oppressors create and preserve by force the ills that make the occupied more and more similar to what — in the occupiers’ view — they need to be in order to justify their fate.”

    Now, it is true that Israel has left Gaza, and that Hamas is intransigent and blind and evil. And i’m not going to go into the foolishness of the blockade, of ignoring the signs of relative, gradual moderation hamas had begun to show after it joined fatah in a unity government (as some experts have said, and i certainly witnessed as well) — because although they are crucial to counter the claim of “we are under attack from gaza”, there is a much more important point.

    The point is that mistakes of the past cannot be relegated to oblivion. The point is that today’s roadblock, today’s airstrike, today’s blockade are tomorrow’s past. And just as that past will live on into the present and the future, and will take time to let its grip go, so will the grave mistakes and crimes of a more distant past live on.

    when colonial regimes leave in a great a hurry and slam the door behind them after many years of havoc, they always leave a great mess (examples in history are obvious).

    our case is worse in at least one respect: we live right next to each other.

    personally, i objected to the disengagement from the start. i believed, as i believe today about the west bank, that our colonialism is the great mistake and crime — much less so our military presence — and therefore only the settlers should had been evacuated, and the army should had stayed there until a negotiated agreement was reached.

    Yet it was Israel’s idiotic choice not to do so.
    Well, this is getting a bit long, and i could go on and on, but to cut it short i’ll just say that our terrible 38-year impact on gaza must not underestimated and ignored, especially since we are still continuing it and occupying the other half of the palestinians in the west bank.

    and please don’t tell me Israelis would like to end it all ( i.e. bibi, lieberman, shas, national union, et al)

    Israel has made error after error, awful crime after awful crime, and is still facing the results. we are defending ourselves, in a way, against ourselves.

    i guess the troops really need to be tough for that.

  15. alon, you are the first blogger I’ve read here who is willing to entertain the possibility that Hamas was not always monolithic. Jimmy Carter urged discourse with Hamas over a year ago. We do indeed make our enemies. I look for what is not said on this blog, as much as for what is said.

    Joshua, I have found that neo-cons see one correct path for the world. If you do not follow that path, you must be made to. See how Somalia has gone: the Ethiopians are gone, an Islamist President of some sort elected, whatever that might mean, some famine present, and many dead. Yet this means nothing; only the goal matters. So too, I see, the path being taken by Israel.

    If Jewish Israelis will not talk to their nearest, I see no hope for a settlement with the almost near. You have Jim Crowed your country, people, you have Jim Crowed your country.

    I apologize for saying this.

  16. because Israelis have Jim Crowed their country, they have lost their legitimacy and must be distributed (peacefully) to the 4 corners of the earth. Zionists will bring up Darfur, Rwanda, etc, but what Israel has done is worse. On Nov 28, 2007 on Hardball (Chris Matthews), Jimmy Carter stated that Israels crimes are worse than Rwanda

  17. “Jimmy Carter stated that Israels crimes are worse than Rwanda”
    Do you actually expect Carter to say something pro-Israel?
    He is fundamentalist Christian who aches at the fact that the Jews have returned to the “Holy Land”.
    And do not forget that this is the Middle East, normalcy is not one of the constituents of this region. Therefore things unfortunately are run but multiple “tribalities” that change their “chiefs” quite often so Israel is not dealing with a central entity.

  18. Gregory:

    See what you did? You gave the nutcase Mr. Kami a new word to beat up Israel with: Jim Crow.

    Anyhow in regards to your post about Jim Crow, there is some comparison between America and Israel and its treatment of minorities. But to suggest that Israel is discriminating against Arab-Israeli’s is true but it is completely legal and I see no ethical problem with it when compared against the American system; America discrimates as well. In our American system, only MEN are allowed to sign up for the draft and under federal law only MEN age 17 and over are considered part of the “unorganized militia” (cannon fodder is a better term). Nothing prohibits women in America or Arabs in Israel to sign up voluntarily for military service. And if either group wanted equal access to hand over the blank check (up to giving one’s life), each group should non-violently fight for that right. No one has a birth-right to serve in the organized military in Israel or America. In the Coast Guard for example, color blindness will stop you from ever applying to be an officer. Period. That’s it. Regardless of moral and educational qualifications this is legal discrimination. African-American women are genetically heavier in the bones than their N. European American sisters, but guess what? The same military weight standard will apply to both groups. I don’t like it but that is legal discrimination.

    My two cents.

  19. it would also be quite realistic of the soldiers to assume that if they carpet-bomb the whole place and kick out the population, then, well, “the goals would be achieved.” so would it be ok for them to be all eager and gung-ho in that case? (and i can tell you many israelis are very keen on this idea).

  20. Lloyd,

    Let Kami rage; best way to get rid of him, ultimately. [side comment: Yaron, you REALLY have no understanding of American Fundamental Christians at all.]

    Lloyd, a white 19 year old blind man will not be allowed to pilot a military jet. He cannot sue charging discrimination. If a class (racial or not) disproportionately exhibits some adverse trait, such as large body weight, those actually exhibiting that trait may be excluded, if the trait is rationally related to task. This is not discrimination, as some in the class will be allowed the task, if they have not the trait. So a white seeing man can fly a jet.

    I think the US latent draft does indeed discriminate; two Justices, in the 1970’s thought so too, but the majority went along with public opinion. After all, drafted women could do supply work even if disalowed combat, freeing more men for the final sacrifice. Certainly the American volunteer army has loads of women, and some have died in Iraq. So, I agree–the Court erred and I hope for its correction some day.

    Jewish Israelis are drafted, Arabs are not. That America practices a weaker form does not right that wrong. This constitutes legal discrimination, and, being racial, is far more significant than excluding American women from latent draft registration. If Arabs do not want to serve, give Jews the same option. The State, I suggest, will not–save for the religious study exclusion, which could be generalized to Arabs as well.

    The Israeli Army is fundamental to social mixing in that society. Excluding 20% of its citizenry (and what is the cause–you are dangerous, not one of us; no one says this of American women) produces, I suggest, an invidious discrimination which stacks the life deck of Arabs.

    My overall point is that racial analysis is endemic WITHIN Israel. And in that quite understandable wrong lies hope. If those supporting Israel are willing to hear these Arabs called citizens, allow them to speak and organize and face their internal Israeli opponents, then, I say and hope, you will find a new weapon for peace in that land. These Arabs are just people. But they live a life which has changed their vision. They can see things I cannot. They may be able to see paths I cannot. They can approach other Palestinians, perhaps, in ways I and others cannot. Here is a possible lever for peace. But to use it, one must be willing to give autonomy to an other, an other not like yourself. Is this not what Israel must ultimately do if it is not to ever bomb its closest neighbor with “disproprtionate” punishment?

    Thank you for replying, Llyod. You are the only person who has ever taken my comments seriously.

  21. Mr. Watzman,

    I find your logic elusive. Was your paratrooper friend speaking as a soldier or as a citizen? When he votes next week, will he be voting as a soldier or a citizen?

    You seem to be suggesting that in order for a soldier to be effective he must believe 100 percent in his mission. It is not enough for him to simply want to get through the operation intact along with his buddies. Israel is a nation of soldier citizens. My generation of friends have finished doing miluim in the last few years, and now their children are entering the army. Can they afford not to believe in the mission or to express doubt as to its morality?

    You want to hold the politicians accountable, but how about the people who elected them? Perhaps if the elections resulted in victory for the left wing parties, and we witnessed a serious attempt to deal with the West Bank Settlements, your reasoning would be vindicated. Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be what will happen.

  22. Gregory:

    I’m suddenly reminded of that old retort, “how can I be an anti-semite? I am a semite!” Except this time, it’s the Jewish-Israeli speaking. Cute.

    Anyhow, you say race-discrimation. I say religious-discrimination. You say Arab; I say Muslim. You know what? Israel is a democracy and it is up to the citizens of that country to figure it out for themselves. If one Arab-Israeli wants the draft to apply equally to all male citizens or all citizens, then that person can choose to act politically or not. I would be arrogant to think that I’m doing someone a favor by suggesting that he receive the blessings of liberty instead of making the more difficult and thus rewarding task of taking it.

    Homosexuality has nothing to do with one’s ability to shoot straight but the American military discriminates against patriotic out-of-the closet gays. I can see a similar but weak argument by Israel for not requiring Muslim-Israeli’s to sign up for the draft. Usually the reason is something to do with “unit-cohesion.” Like you said, “riots might break out.” I may be conservative politically but when it comes to serving my country, I’m all for gays, lesbians, mixed gender, handicapped (for admin work/computer work) etc. I’ve often thought that one good consequence of an American draft would be that the President might be less willing to sacrifice American lives overseas and more willingness to use diplomacy.

    When it comes to Israel keeping up with social change, I’ve read or been told to take the current year and subtract 20 and you’ll have where Israel currently is in terms of attitudes towards sex. harrassment, etc. etc. I don’t know if its true but it is an interesting thought.

  23. (Repost, not sure why the first did not work, I fixed some grammar errors in case that was the reason)

    I agree with you that soldiers cannot be blamed for decision they do not make.

    I have been living in Australia so what I am going to say next might be totally of the mark, but its an impression I am getting and is really worrying me. I am going to express it in the hope that people tell me I am wrong.

    The IDF has changed drastically. My evidence are articles like this: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3665302,00.html

    and footage of a magad in Golani telling his soldiers to blow themselves up with their own grenade rather than been kidnapped (shaids in the IDF?):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv21RP9m_XY

    My question to all the members of the Left that so easily criticize the soldiers is simple: What happened in Israel that an overwhelming majority of soldiers in units like Golani and shyrion are Right wing, often right wing religious?

    Did you serve in a combat unit? do your children serve in one? Obviously the answer for some of you is yes, but clearly the answer for many on the Left these days is no.

    When I served (more than 20 years ago now) in a tank platoon the entire Israeli society was represented in the platoon, there were Right wing, there were Meretz supporters, there were Meimad , there were North Tel Avivians, Kibbutznicks, Moshavnicks, there was everything. We argued lots and we did our job together to the best of our ability.

    It does not seem to be the case anymore.

    I am not talking about the few in sayarot and special units, I am talking about those that do the hard daily work: Golani, Shyrion etc. The ones that do the hard work not the ones there for the glory.

    So my answer to all those people from the Left that criticize the soldiers so readily is that perhaps the reason the soldiers are behaving the way they are is because YOU the educated Left are no longer there.

    Once the Left lead from the front, it seems not anymore

  24. Lloyd,

    I focused on the exclusion of Israeli-Arab citizens from the draft to emphasize the obvious point that such exclusionary categories cannot but produce and enhance a home grown version of Jim Crow in Israel. It is my view that attack on this Jim Crow, by Israeli Arabs, is 1) a natural locus for civil resistence and 2) might create indigenous paths to face the Palestinian divide.

    The exclusionary categories among both Jewish and Arab Israelis make it quite unlikely that a mass movement of any kind will form for expanding the draft. American homosexuals want to serve openly, in a volunteer army. All we have been able to do is tell them to go hide, rather than realize how rare it is to fight for access to a dangerous job. As in the case of excluding females from the latent draft, I do not see American discrimination as a positive argument in addressing the obvious, and I think massive, Jim Crow in Israel. And remember, the US Supreme Court’s first response to Jim Crow, in the late 1800’s was to affirm it through the self delusion of “separate but equal.”

    Recall the 13 (I think) Arab Isreali citizens shot to their deaths at the beginning of the 2000 intafada. The commander ordering live fire was not suspended pending investigation, to my knowledge (tell me, anyone, if I am wrong–on this I dearly want to be wrong). Several years passed before an inquiry and, again I think I recall, the upshot thereafter was too much time had gone by to do anything about it, legally.

    I have no doubt that an American officer ordering live fire in similar circumstance, on American citizens, would be immediately suspended from command. I also have no doubt that an inqury would be immediate. Something is very wrong in Israel, internally. It is my view that this attitude makes the success of Likud and Olmert like policy quite likely. “Disproportionate response” is played out in minor key in Israel all the time.

    As important as the erradication of Jim Crow is for Israel internally, I also believe it is Israel’s best hope for long term Palestinian peace. Isreal’s State action in Gaza is unbelievably blind to the daily lives of Gazans. Without doubt, in my view, Israel has turned 1.5 million Gazans into a giant Warsaw Ghetto. The infant mortality rate, before the bombing/incurrsion, was, according to the UN if I may chance that source, has high as that in Bangladesh; some 40% of all Gazans were completely dependent on food aid, well over 60% at least partially so; for many Gazans, the economy had devolved to barter. Is it really surprising that violence as rocket fire began? What would Israelis do in such an environment? To claim that Hamas should have been internally overthrown is most absurd. Israel has become drunk on collective punishment, as in the demolition of the houses of relatives of designated terrorists.

    I no longer believe the social political world of Israelis can end this (note the comment of Yair N, above: “Once the Left lead from the front, it seems not anymore.”). Enabling the Arab Israelis to act politically and socially offers hope for a new path. I do not know what that path might be, or if it will come. I do believe, however, that only those who live with discrimination and loss of opportunity, who have natural religious, ethnic, and familial links with Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens, only these offer untapped possibility for a new path. But it will be scary. For not only would Israel have to face these foregin citizens as life as important as they, it would also have to entertain the possibility of true peace next to the foregin. Overlaying all of this is the implict danger of democracy in a State that wants to see itself as fundamentally Jewish.

    In a democracy, one must risk loss. Even loss of that Jewish definition. A very frightening prospect, although I think unlikely for some time even if Arab citizens fully participate.

    Finally, rights are not a matter of democratic majority; rights bound what such a majority can do. If we relied solely on democracy, Jim Crow might well still be with America. The articulation and protection of rights in democracy is a constant dilemma. Articulation–rights must be identfied, as must too be their implementation. Frankly, the United States failed totally to do this with the Native Americans. Israel is trapped: they must succeed where America failed.

    Thank you for talking with me.

  25. Your bookish soldier is no different from Adolf Eichmann. Why do you glofify him? I have a better solution-send all the soldiers on a one way trip to the Hague.

  26. Raed Kami:
    “Your bookish soldier is no different from Adolf Eichmann. Why do you glofify him? I have a better solution-send all the soldiers on a one way trip to the Hague.”

    And from where does the Hague have its authority?

  27. People here expect too much from the soldiers. A tank will return fire when shot at, when it does civilians might die.

    A tank is a big target, it cannot hide. It relies on fire power (and mobility) for its survival. It takes a fair amount of courage to climb into a metal machine full of explosives and oil when you know that you will be the main target. Fighting in a built area is particularly stressful. It’s unreasonable to expect the tank crew (who lets not forget is made of 4 people ages 19-21) to go against 100 years of armour doctrine and make a decision on the spot not fire back. The blame is with the people that put the tank there in the first place (and they too had logical reasons for their actions and those can be debated).

    In the case of the paratrooper, it is essential for his survival that his enemy will be scared of him, it is not a political choice it’s a simple reality: the probability of survival of said paratrooper goes down drastically if the Hamasnicks are not afraid of him.

    I also agree completely with Haim when he says that a soldier should err on the side of protecting his/her crew, would you want in your tank a soldier that didn’t?
    The ease with which people here criticise the soldiers is also unfortunate for another reason. In any given day of combat a soldier makes many decisions, many IDF soldiers will sometimes decide to take extra risks to try to avoid hurting civilians. If said risk is not acknowledged (by people here, by the nation, by the world) the soldiers are less likely to take those risks (why risk your life if you are going to be considered a criminal regardless?). I am sure that there are soldiers that read South Jerusalem and I would hate to think that they will read his comments and think their efforts to remain human in difficult circumstances goes unacknowledged.

    Even if we accept the casualty numbers given by the Palestinians without question (and we shouldn’t) it is clear that many soldiers made some effort to spare innocent civilians (if you don’t agree I will remind you that a MAG machine gun can shoot 900 bullets a minute, and there are 3 of them on a tank, think about it!). Those that scream massacre! And Criminals! run the risk of becoming partly responsible for creating real massacres and bigger criminals.

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