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 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 Tikun 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…

7 thoughts on “Gaza: Soldiers Are Speaking Out

  1. Kristin Brown

    It was a pleasure to meet you today at Leah’s Bat Mitzvah. I enjoyed the service, Leah’s lesson and your commentary – and the fact that you had the same Torah portion as Leah at your Bar Mitzvah. I particularly appreciated the points about building community – so important in a place like Evanston where we’ve come so far, but have so far yet to go to really reach across racial and ethnic lines. Of course, the divide is far greater in Israel/Palestine – and I want to thank you again for all that you do to work toward bridging that gap.

  2. Lisa Pildes

    So now that the 2 stories and videos have proved to be hearsay and/or manufactured propaganda, will any of you retract or refine your comments? Or will you be like the NYTimes and not bother?

  3. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


    Thus far the only investigation into these allegations was a hastily concluded one that the IDF itself conducted. I agree with the Israeli human rights org B’tselem, who stated “The speedy closing of the investigation raises suspicions that the very opening of this investigation was merely the army’s attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity during Operation Cast Lead.”

    With all due respect, a military investigating itself is no investigation at all. A significant coalition of Israeli human rights orgs has called upon the Attorney General to appoint an independant investigation into these alleged abuses. Until that happens, I think it will be premature to conclude that these allegations are “hearsay” or “manufactured propaganda.”

    For more:

  4. Ron Edwards

    To clarify my position, I think the videos and testimony cry out for a deep, *non*-IDF investigation into the policies of the assault on Gaza, and ideally into those of other actions in the past.

    Lisa, I do not understand what you mean by “proved to be hearsay.” The IDF has issued a profoundly dubious statement; they have not proved anything.

    The link I provided was to an intermediate article; the primary one is from the Washington Post:

    I find it very hard to credit the IDF with conducting any investigation at all in 11 whole days. My take is that they are dodging responsibility even more grossly than if they’d actually investigated themselves and produced a whitewash.

    Amos Harel’s article in al-Ha’aretz makes that precise point (and doesn’t spare the sarcasm either):

    Best, Ron

  5. Stu

    I agree that the IDF investigation is not really adequate, but perhaps what Lisa was hoping for was a retraction or some other qualifier for the phrase “expect more horrifying news in coming weeks…”
    So, what horrifying news, exactly?

    And in a broader sense, it seems that far too many people had difficulty understanding exactly what was and wasn’t said in the ha’aretz piece. These were indeed troubling allegations, the kinds of things that should be investigated, but some people apparently don’t know the difference between soldiers discussing the sorts of bad things they heard and soldiers actually describing what they saw happen.
    The people who confused unfiltered hearsay with actual testimony and proceeded to speak and act out accordingly are perhaps the people who should be making retractions.


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