Monday, March 23, 2009

Israeli soldiers in Gaza

Monday - Purity of arms

Had the car containing 40 kilograms of explosives detonated shortly after 9:20 p.m. Saturday at the outdoor car park adjacent to Haifa's Lev Hamifratz mall, the death toll would have been shockingly high - the equivalent, the bomb squad said, of seven or eight suicide bombers. Fortunately, the device malfunctioned and was discovered before Palestinian terrorists could turn a night at the mall into a murder-filled nightmare.

The incident reminds us Israelis of what we are up against: an enemy whose main modus operandi is anti-civilian warfare, necessitating that we guard everything from schools and supermarkets to cinemas and hospitals.

Many observers are fascinated by how a largely tolerant Western society, the epicenter of Jewish civilization, manages to function in an environment of relentless belligerency. When those outsiders combine empathy with insight, they tend to judge Israel as a work-in-progress worthy of encouragement despite its multitude of imperfections.

But starry-eyed idealists - at home and abroad - hold Israel to a different standard: Do we conduct ourselves 24/7 as paragons of virtue unhindered by the character flaws that burden ordinary mortals? And when - surprise, surprise - we fall short of this yardstick, they denigrate us as being no better than our enemies.

HOW ELSE to evaluate the so-called testimonies of troops who served in Gaza, solicited and disseminated by Dani Zamir, founder of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College outside Haifa? They allege that due to "loose rules of engagement" several Palestinian civilians were needlessly killed during Operation Cast Lead.

In one of the two most egregious cases, an IDF sharpshooter mistakenly shot a Palestinian mother and her two children. A soldier in Zamir's discussion group, however, felt the sharpshooter hadn't felt "too bad about it." In the second case, a Palestinian woman described as "elderly" was shot at 100 meters as she approached an IDF position (Was she suspected of being a suicide bomber? Zamir's testimonies don't say).

These "revelations" received three consecutive days of page 1 coverage in Haaretz, and were also featured in Friday's Ma'ariv, even though Zamir was disinclined to reveal the identities of his "witnesses." And whether the men who took part in his discussion session were aware their remarks would be publish as "testimony" is unclear.

Zamir's secular young people appeared perturbed by the presence of IDF chaplains in the field, and by the esprit de corps of the religiously observant soldiers.

While the BBC gave scant coverage to the attempted attack in Haifa, it played up Zamir's claims: "Israel troops admit Gaza abuses... including cold-blooded murder."

The International Herald Tribune led its Friday paper with "Grim testimony on Israeli assault: Soldiers report killing of unarmed civilians in Gaza." And London's matchless Independent splashed its entire front page with "Israel's dirty secrets in Gaza."

AS Post diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon noted in the Friday paper - alongside our own coverage of the allegations - Zamir is a man with an agenda. He was sentenced to 28 days in a military lock-up for refusing to protect West Bank settlers. Should the Kibbutz Movement deem him a worthy exemplar to prepare its youngsters for induction into the IDF?

Zamir's "witnesses" see themselves as virtuous upholders of liberal values, and the comrades-in-arms they criticize as religious fanatics, bloodthirsty and fascist.

More "revelations" are coming to light. Channel 10 unearthed a company commander who instructed his men as they were about to go into battle: "I want aggressiveness - if there's someone suspicious on the upper floor of a house, we'll shell it. If we have suspicions about a house, we'll take it down…If it is us or them, it will be them."

Gosh! How would Zamir have reacted to Gen. George S. Patton's famous line: "Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his…."

Zamir's uncorroborated claims help blur the distinction between "us and them." But we don't set out to kill innocents - and if we do, our society feels anguish. They set out to kill civilians - and when they fail, they're disappointed.

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