Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Captive Children File I

Every once a while I will waste my time and respond to tinokot she-nishbu, "captive children," or in this case, folks who have been so brainwashed by the Israel party line (in contemporary parlance, hasbara) that they are unable to think straight.

Judith Weiss complains that "Breaking the Silence" is guilty of slander, i.e., leshon ho-ro' (or lashon horah, to use the common yeshivish mispronunciation that Ms. Weiss uses) because the group has publicized testimonies of soldiers who have confessed to, or witnessed, inappropriate behavior towards civilians.

I find the halakhic argument that Ms. Weiss raises interesting. If it is lashon horah to decry embarrasing behavior that violates the halakha -- like pedophilia and wife-beating, for example -- then she has a point. In fact, some orthodox have used that argument to stifle orthodox pedophilia and wife-beating. When Gary Rosenblatt, the New York Jewish Week's editor, exposed an orthodox rabbi who was accused of sexual molestation, he was accused by some people of lashon horah. Ms. Weiss apparently is of the "Don't-wash-our-dirty-laundry-in public." Or maybe she is more tolerant of Jewish sex offenders than of IDF soldiers humiliating Arabs.

Note that when "Breaking the Silence" toured the US last fall, they were accused of distorting the IDF record, which is a shande for the goyim (you can figure that out, if you read this far.) Fair enough. But now, according to Ms. Weiss, they can't even talk about it in Israel to an Israeli crowd!

The group has collected close to a thousand testimonies, four hundred of which are on their website. Conservatively speaking, I figure that for every soldier who testifies to a representative of this group, at least ten do not. How do I come to that conclusion? First, occupying armies, especially in long-term occupations, and when they are in stressful situations, dehumanize the population. That is just the way things are everywhere. For another, what motivation do soldiers have to offer testimonies to other soldiers? Another reason -- who wants to make a big deal about ordering an old Arab man to clean up a checkpoint? Most of the humiliations published on the Breaking the Silence website are not considered as such by Israelis. She-lo yarimu rosh!

What Ms. Weiss doesn't get -- and here the analogy with the pedophile breaks down -- is that it is perfectly normal for good, moral, eighteen-year soldiers, to do immoral things.That can't be prevented. You can call it unintentional, and much of it is. But it's a fact. The testimonies speak for themselves.

What I expect from Ms. Weiss and her cohorts is to deal with the testimonies themselves, and not invent straw men. Let her read them and comment on them. Let her feel the pain of the soldiers who are giving the testimonies.

Because if you can't understand how soldiers are traumatized by seeing old Arab men humiliated by their buddies -- if your defense-mechanism reflexibly spits out, "out-of-context," "small minority," "most moral army in the world" then it is about time that you let your heart melt -- before you and your friends do serious damage to that army.

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