Friday, March 20, 2009

A Moral Failure and Outrage

Ha'aretz follows up on yesterday's devastating report about the breakdown of the IDF's behavior during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza with more testimony from soldiers who were part of the fighting. Along with military, diplomatic and political, we can now clearly add "moral" to the list of the operation's various failures. The testimony given by these soldiers is a deeply disturbing indication of how the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians is quickly degrading the IDF as a just fighting force and rotting Israel's moral core from the inside.

If there are any bright spots in the soldiers' testimonies, it is from a few commanders who questioned some of the egregious orders they were given and lobbied successfully to have them changed. But one part of the testimony, from a soldier named Ram, jumped out at me and suggests another very dangerous systemic problem that the IDF will have to contend with if it doesn't want of keep sliding down further. 

From Ram's testimony:
"What I do remember in particular at the beginning is the feeling of almost a religious mission. My sergeant is a student at a hesder yeshiva [a program that combines religious study and military service]. Before we went in, he assembled the whole platoon and led the prayer for those going into battle. A brigade rabbi was there, who afterward came into Gaza and went around patting us on the shoulder and encouraging us, and praying with people. And also when we were inside they sent in those booklets, full of Psalms, a ton of Psalms. I think that at least in the house I was in for a week, we could have filled a room with the Psalms they sent us, and other booklets like that.

"There was a huge gap between what the Education Corps sent out and what the IDF rabbinate sent out. The Education Corps published a pamphlet for commanders - something about the history of Israel's fighting in Gaza from 1948 to the present. The rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles, and ... their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war. From my position as a commander and 'explainer,' I attempted to talk about the politics - the streams in Palestinian society, about how not everyone who is in Gaza is Hamas, and not every inhabitant wants to vanquish us. I wanted to explain to the soldiers that this war is not a war for the sanctification of the holy name, but rather one to stop the Qassams."
This really should be a wake up call for Israel's military and political leadership. I hope somebody hears it.

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