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Moral Cancer



Following “Operation Protective Edge” in August 2014, the last war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, I pointed out the excessive force (l was not alone in doing so, for sure) the Israeli army had used, and the massive civilian death it has caused. For that, here and elsewhere, I received my fair amount of criticism. When I specifically pointed out the butchering of four innocent Palestinian kids playing soccer on the beach by an Israeli army boat, using a missile to slaughter them, I was called names, since of course – especially in the eyes of some Jewish Americans – the Israeli army can do no wrong. Period. It’s simply impossible. I felt kind of good, admittedly, when the Jewish presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had made the same argument, even though I’m a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton (you can read my blogpost about it, “Evolution not Revulsion,” from February of this year). But now I really am feeling vindicated, what with the decision by the IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot to do away with the infamous Hannibal Directive.

Let me explain. The Hannibal Directive is not the cause of all evils, nor is it solely to blame for some of the ills that had inflicted the IDF in the last decade. But it is symptomatic; it represents these ills appropriately. For those of you not familiar with the Hannibal Directive, here’s a summation about it as reported lately in The Telegraph: “The ‘Hannibal Directive’ was established in the 1980s and has long been one of Israel’s signature military doctrines. But it has also been a target for serious criticism by human rights groups and a spark for ethical debates within Israeli society. The directive is meant to stop Israel’s enemies from using captured soldiers as a bargaining chip and calls for troops to open fire when one of their own is being captured even if it causes the death of their comrade. Critics argue that the vague policy is interpreted by soldiers as a justification for indiscriminate shooting and massive civilian casualties.”

Which I believe was actually the case in that Gaza operation. I.e., the “justification for indiscriminate shooting and massive civilian casualties.” And now we have Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and his second in command General Yair Golan, actually agreeing with that conclusion. Soldiers and commanders in the IDF have become too trigger-happy, and too blasé about human life, especially Arab human life. Before going to that same Gaza operation, there was a battalion commander, and an army rabbi, who actually encouraged soldiers to kill Arabs, no matter whether the battlefield was actually dictating it. It was, supposedly, a “Mitzvah.” And in that operation, as reported lately in Haaretz “… the incident that seemingly convinced the chief of staff once and for all of the need for change happened on ‘Black Friday’ – the battle in Rafah in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge in August 2014, during the course of which Hamas captured the dead body of Lt. Hadar Goldin. Some of the measures taken during the battle could indicate that at the junior command level, there was a very broad interpretation of the protocol, contrary to the written text.”

It is no wonder then that that semi-war gave prominence to a protest group such as “Breaking The Silence.” A group of soldiers and commanders in the IDF, active since the Second Intifada, who participated in that operation and came out of it traumatized not so much by the war itself, but by the lack of moral conduct, and moral fortitude – as it had used to be when I was a soldier and commander in the IDF – within the ranks and files within the army. No wonder it had led lately to an Israeli soldier taking the law into his own hands and executing in cold blood a helpless Palestinian, indeed one who had just participated in a terrorist attempt, lying on the ground wounded. It was a murder, execution-style, getting applauds from, you guessed it, the fervent religious right in Israel.

There were other incidents, too numerous to count here. Recently, as reported again in Haaretz, “… comments Golan (Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan, H.D.) made recently on a military forum concerning the need to reduce harm to enemy civilians was widely interpreted (in synagogue bulletins, H.D.) as meaning that he was indifferent to the lives of Israeli soldiers. The headline was unambiguous: ‘Moral cancer in the body of the IDF.’” Which ‘Moral Cancer,’ I wonder? In what part of that body, exactly?

It seems there is a growing battle going on in Israel in regard to the moral core values of the Israeli Army. A battle between the old guard, the upper echelon of commanders – a battle which apparently brought about the dismissal of Moshe Ya’alon as Defense Minister – and the fervent, religious right, representing the most extremist elements in the Israeli Army and society. For whom the old saying that “a good Arab is a dead Arab,” hold truth. This is a major struggle, in which the cancellation of the Hannibal Directive is but the first shot. A small step in the right direction. It is not only a battle on the soul, the character and future of the Israeli Army alone, but of the country itself.

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Build Peace – Not Walls



The “Christians United for Israel” evangelical organization, CUFI, had recently brought an Israeli Colonel, Dan Tirza, to the Sacramento Conservative Jewish Congregation of Mosaic Law, to do some “Hasbara.” The Hebrew word for explaining, and informing in a patriotic way. As the chief architect of the “Security Barrier,” he was to explain to the congregants – who, by the way, needed no explanation or persuasion on the matter – why the “Barrier had to be Built.” Colonel Tirza who, according to himself and to the CUFI local official who introduced him, had participated in previous peace negotiations between Israeli diplomats and Palestinian officials, was bombastically justifying (he actually refused to use the microphone, and spoke loudly, directly to the disciples) the need for building the notorious Separation Wall. Or Separation Fence. Or Separation Barrier. Or the Apartheid Wall, as the Palestinians call it. Call it what you will – indeed, in its short time of existence it has accumulated many names – it most definitely built a notorious, nasty reputation for itself.

To the delight of my fellow congregates, the Colonel first gave a short explanation as to why Israel had to build the fence. (According to him, it is 95% barrier fence, and only 5% barrier wall.) Following the collapse of the Oslo Accords, he proclaimed, and the eruption of the Second Intifada, which caused many civilian casualties, death and injury in Israel, the necessity for the barrier had become a reality. Naturally, he squarely blamed the Palestinians for the collapse of the peace negotiations and the Oslo Accords. Hence the need for the fence/wall. (Let’s settle here on this compromise: fence/wall.) What he clearly forgot to mention, purposely I believe, was that much of the fence/wall “is built outside the 1949 Armistice Line (Green Line), annexing potentially 10 percent of Palestinian land,” (per the UN in Wikipedia). “It cuts far into the West Bank territory at places, and encompasses Israel’s largest settlement blocs containing hundreds of thousands of settlers.” Annexation de facto, I call it. Not less important, to my mind, he forgot to mention that the Oslo Accords had collapsed mainly because one Jewish religious extremist – supported from the back, directly and indirectly by many others, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the opposition then – who took the law into his own hands in the form of a handgun, and assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, who was about to make the peace accords a reality.

Typical oversight, when you do such “Israeli Hasbara” to American Jews. Because you see, the collapse of said peace initiative, and any and all other peace initiatives to follow, is exactly because Israel has refused to make peace following PM Rabin’s assassination. You might call me to order here, and remind me of Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David. Correctly so. However, what Ehud Barak had tried to achieve, with a strong helping hand from President Bill Clinton, was destined to failure from the get go. Yes, Yasser Arafat was a fool not to accept this peace proposal. But no, it had no chance of success no matter what. In Israel there were forces, led by strongman Ariel Sharon, who were already taking upon themselves to derail that peace initiative by any means necessary. Result: they brought about the current unending, unresolved conflict. Yes, following the Oslo Accords some of the Palestinians continued to arm themselves, and resist the occupation. (Shame on them, really.) And yes, Israel – systematically and purposely (shame on them, too) – continued to build settlements on the land the Palestinians are supposed to have a state of their own. Under these circumstances, there was no chance for peace. Therefore, the architect of the “No Peace” strategy, the builder of the “Managing the Situation” policy, i.e. PM Netanyahu, had asked the Colonel to be the architect of that fence/wall.

It reminds me, strangely enough, of the nonchalant remark attributed to Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake.” Since the French people had no bread, as result of the long natural famine and human corruption, then let them eat cake. In our case, by analogy, if you don’t have peace, you have the fence/wall. That the citizens of France were hungry, and might’ve simply needed better economic policies and distribution of wealth and resources, was not something the queen could comprehend. With King Bibi it’s the same. (Don’t wait for the revolution, though, it may never come.) And so, if we don’t have peace, citizens of Israel, let’s build walls. Because for peace, as is the case with bread, you need to work. And because the fence/wall will prevent the Arabs from attacking the Jews. And, as anybody and his brother will tell you, that’s why the notorious wall was so successful. It prevented all those terrorist attacks. The citizens of Israel are now living peacefully, separated from their enemies.

Well guess what – terribly sorry to break it to you, my friends – last month two Palestinians from the West Bank infiltrated Israel in spite of the “enormously successful” fence/wall, and murdered in cold blood four Israelis enjoying themselves in the bustling center of the beautiful, peace loving city of Tel Aviv. Previous to that, in about six months, numerous terrorist attacks in that same fashion had occurred in Israel, mainly in Jerusalem. (This week an exposé in the NY Times documented very clearly how the Security Barrier isn’t secure at all; Palestinians in the West Bank are crossing, and jumping over this wall at will to work in Israel in large numbers.) So what’s next, maybe a dome. A bubble. Like in Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome. Cover the whole state with a bullet-resistant, bomb-resistant dome, and our brothers and sisters in Israel will live forever in peace and tranquility under that dome. In the absence of peace (i.e. bread), let them have a dome (i.e. cake). Where is this Colonel now, when we need him again? Hopefully, Mr. Donald Trump is yet to hire him to build that wall on the border of America and Mexico.

But let me end, this time, with the words of someone else, much wiser and accomplished than yours truly. At the end of his very successful, deeply researched and absorbing PBS TV Documentary series, “The Story of the Jews,” historian Simon Schama – who explored the story of the Jewish people from ancient times to the present day – is standing and walking slowly in front of the huge Separation Wall. Among other things, stressing a caveat to his right to speak on the matter, he says this: “Today in Israel the distance between dream and reality can be measured in hundreds of miles of barb wires and concrete… The bible is full of encounters between men and god, between men and other men, between even enemy brothers. It’s very difficult for me to stand here and say that that’s kind of Judaism, the Judaism of openness, of encounter, has chance of new life here. This is Judaism, a Jewishness that looks, scurries beneath the shadows of these towns for safety. It’s not ultimately a Judaism of bravery. It’s not ultimately a Judaism of life.”

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


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