Today was a difficult day for those of us who like to think of the Israeli Defense Forces as one of the most ethical fighting forces in the world. We woke up to headline in Haaretz which read "IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement". Not something very appetizing to go with your morning oatmeal.
The article says that soldiers who fought in Gaza are claiming that many civilians were killed due to lax rules of engagement (rules of engagement which almost sound like "if it moves, shoot it"), and furthermore there was a great deal of gratuitous destruction of Palestinian property, as well as vandalism. Which contrasts greatly with the article right after the war from the self-righteous soldier who refrained from vandalizing the Gaza home he was occupying during the war.
The Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, is calling for a fast, saying this is a time of mourning. Many of us are giving serious thought to what is an appropriate response. One of the challenges is we don't really know what the full story is yet; are the stories from the soldiers a few limited anecdotes of the sort of abuse that always happens, hopefully in a limited fashion in war? Or are they indicators of a larger systemic problem, an erosion in the once cherished principles of "tohorat neshek," purity of arms? What about the rabbis, some working for the IDF, who painted the war as a religious battle and encouraged soldiers not to be compassionate?
When the rules of engagement are so lax that snipers "accidentally" shoot women and children, something is wrong. Yes, it's only natural to put concern for your soldiers above concern for people on the other side, and it's especially difficult when there have been women suicide bombers, and we can presume that Hamas would not hesitate to offer up children as "martyrs" either. But don't we need limits?
Some people just keep pointing to the Occupation as the root cause of the problems; yet the occupation in Gaza ended (not completely, but largely) a few years ago, and peace hasn't come.
Bradley Burston has an excellent blog post called "The racist Israeli fascist in me" which does a very good job of explaining why the left has collapsed and right has come to power in Israel. And he also points out that despite the right wing nature of the government, only 6% of the population voted for political parties that are avowedly against a 2 state solution.
You won't like the answer. But in all the blindingly complex bazaar of the Middle East equation, it really comes down to one word: rockets.
It was Saddam Hussein's rockets in 1991 that got us into this peace process, and it is Palestinian rockets right now, day after day after day, that sent that peace to its grave and which cover it with a little more silt and rubble every few hours.
It was fundamentally rockets and not racism that put Avigdor Lieberman where he is today. And it is rockets, more than any other single factor, that explains what happened to the Israeli left, to Meretz, and, in particular, to the Labor Party.
His whole post is well-written, and recommended reading, click on the title above to read it.
Difficult times, indeed…