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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