Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Response to the Bombastic "Open Letter to Breaking the Silence"

A few months ago, the Stand-With-Israel organization, upset over the fact that the Israel Campus Coalition had voted unanimously to allow ideological diversity among its constitutent groups, circulated an "Open Letter to 'Breaking the Silence'." Now, the Magnes Zionist is not a member of "Breaking the Silence," so I can't speak for them. But since the letter has resurfaced on the Israel Hasbarah (Hebrew for: "Party Line") website, and since shabbes was out late tonight, I thought I would write my response. An Open Letter to Members of "Breaking the Silence"
We, the soldiers and people of the State of Israel, are deeply pained and outraged by the activities of your group, “Breaking the Silence.”
Now, how's that for a bombastic opening! "We, the soldiers," as if the letter is signed by the entire Israeli people and the IDF! Couldn't you guys drop the definite article? Or were you attempting to imitate Jefferson?
You, a handful of former IDF soldiers, travel abroad to tell foreign audiences we allegedly committed abuses during our IDF service. You claim such abuses are typical.
Most of the members of "Breaking the Silence" are present IDF soldiers who do reserve duty -- more than I can say for a lot of the yordim who signed the "Open Letter." But let that pass... Note in the paragraph above that the "alleged abuses" in the first sentence become just "abuses" in the following sentence. Come on, guys -- are they abuses? Then they aren't "alleged." If they are only "alleged" -- then how can anybody claim that they are typical! But in fact, BTS doesn't claim that they are typical; they claim that based on their experience, and on the experiences of other soldiers whom they know, these abuses are widespread. How widespread? That is not the issue. The issue is that they are widespread enough, and are not dealt with by the IDF. And if you don't believe them, then read the BTS website.

You claim to speak for us. You do not.

"Breaking the Silence" claims to speak for the group, and not for anybody else. They realize that they are a minority of voices crying in the wilderness, and that many people disagree with them. They also recognize that many soldiers haven't had the experiences that they have had. They are the lucky ones.

You claim we are silenced. But we regularly speak up. No army is perfect and we, too, face difficult issues, but we work through them just as every army in a democratic society does. We will not let you misrepresent us. We have the right and the duty as the majority to testify that your accounts do not reflect what we have seen with our own eyes and what we have experienced.

I don't want to picky, but nobody is denying anybody the right to speak up. Soldiers who have not experienced what the other soldiers have -- as reflected in the testimonies on the website -- have a moral obligation to say so. If you think that the testimonies are lies, or exaggerations, or made up, then please explain why you think so.

You say there is need for new self-critical dialogue, but in Israel all voices, including yours, are heard. Yet you deceive foreign audiences by telling them otherwise.

I don't get this at all. None of the group said that they were silenced in Israel, except when the IDF broke up their picture exhibition. After the initial media splash in Israel, interest died down. That is not surprising in a country where Kohav Nolad (the Israeli "American Idol") had better ratings than the coverage of the evacuation from Gaza.

You give alleged examples of terrible IDF abuses, but your goal is not to uphold the IDF’s ethic of “purity of arms.” You are aware that there is a chain of command for reporting abuses, and when proven, they are severely punished. Once again you deceive foreign audiences by telling them otherwise.

Yada, yada, yada...It is hard for me that anybody who served in the IDF could write such a line. Nu, hevreh, be'emet. The IDF, like any army, like any organization, engages in covering their ass ("kisuy tahat", be-'ivrit zehah). It's no different from the US army in that regard. Sure, when it has to, in order to enforce army discipline, or because some photographer managed to capture a beating without his film being confiscated, it investigates. There are procedures. There is even an ethical code. And it is taught to the soldiers. There are orders for when one is allowed to open fire. And I genuinely believe that the IDF, like any other normal army, wants to enforce discipline.

But READ THE TESTIMONIES ON THE WEBSITE -- all this is dealt with there. There are enough screwups, foulups, stam rishut, that thousands of Palestinians civilians have been shot, and very few people have been punished. After all, the army investigates the army.

Would you like to live under a Palestinian occupation, and have a Palestinian army justice system investigate their abuses? Don't you see that this is a recipe for injustice? Or are you so brainwashed that you think the army bureaucracy is a paragon of virtue.

Your goal apparently is to introduce a debate about Israel’s policy in the Territories. That is a legitimate topic for discussion.

Hello...that's not their goal. Their goal is to expose abuses and to let the Israeli public and the world know what is happening. See the website

But you want it to be their goal. You see, you would love them to be another leftwing IDF-bashing group. The fact that a lot of these people are combat officers drives you nuts, doesn't it. We are not talking about Norman Finkelstein or Noam Chomsky here. We are talking about the people who are guarding you (the ones of you who live in Israel and not in LA.)

Look, I can understand somebody who answers , "All this is regrettable, but Israel's existence is at stake. Maybe the price for Israel's existence is subduing 3 1/2 million Palestinians. If they don't like it, let them move to Detroit." That's ok; I can understand that. But just know the price you have to pay. Don't kid yourself into denying the abuses.

But instead of debating the issues, you have chosen to defame the IDF and misrepresent Israel to foreign audiences hoping that you will win support for your political agenda. This is dishonest, sensationalist manipulation. You are simply exploiting foreigners’ ignorance about us and spreading misinformation and hate.

And what is the political agenda? Can you find a quote on the website which will tell me what that is? Note how the authors invent a political agenda for the group, then criticize them for not debating the issues. The group is not interested in debating the "issues." They are not well-heeled propagandists (oops, masbirim) who are taught how to score points on college campuses. These guys are disgusted with what they have done or witnessed.

And the testimonies themselves come from left, right, and center -- hilonim, datiyim, and even mitnahalim.

Can you bring a single example from the website which is" misinformation."

We, the soldiers who served at border patrols, in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza raise our voices in protest. You dishonor yourselves and us, and you demean our sacrifices. We have done everything in our power to uphold the purity of arms and to be true to Jewish ethics during even the most difficult times.

May God bless you for that (and punish you for your immature, rhetorical excesses....)

We raise our voices to remind you of the tens of thousands of us who have endured physical pain, faced death, been taken hostage and been severely wounded just because we upheld our principles and our core value that all human life is precious. We remind you of the difficult moral dilemmas we face daily because terrorists embed themselves among Palestinian civilians and use them as human shields since terrorists do not abide by the Geneva Convention.

Neither does Israel, but we'll let that pass. Or maybe you haven't heard about nohal shakhen, where Palestinian civilians have been used as human shields by the IDF. After years of complaints by human rights group, the Israel supreme court struck it down. But, of course, the army still does it, despite the court.

Let me put it this way -- if Palestinian terrorists blew up ten thousand Jews and ate them for breakfast, that would not excuse, condone, or justify trashing a Palestinian doctor's office and leaving two piles of shit in the middle of the room.

"Breaking the Silence" is not saying that Israelis soldiers are bad people, or are particularly immoral. (If it was, then there would be no group. You don't see "Breaking the Silence" in Serbia or Rwanda.)

BTS is not Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. This is not the UN talking. These are combat soldiers who are perpretrators or witnesses of the abuses. They are confessing to their own crimes, not to the crimes of others. They know that the army does not punish the perpretrators unless the press has gotten to them. That is not because the IDF is is because it is an army.

The only argument you can have with the group is that what they have witnessed is not representative. Fair enough. I wonder what it would take to convince you that these abuses are more widespread than you think...or are you immune to change, since the IDF is always right....

But let me tell you something -- if what you are saying is right, and what they are saying is wrong..

How come it took three years for the opponents of "Breaking the Silence" to start a petition?

How come the "Open Letter" originated in the US and not in Israel?

How come most Israelis I know, even those who don't like the group, don't contest their war experiences?

They may try to contextualize them ("Look, most of these things happened during the dark days of the second intifada, when the soldiers were under pressure") or they may criticize the testifiers ("Why didn't they report the behavior to their commanding officer?"), or they may justify the practice ("Hey, we have to show the Arabs who are the bosses, or otherwise there will be chaos.")

Or is your petition initiative that of rightwing American Jews, some of whom have made aliyah, the sort of folks who are willing to talk about IDF abuses only when settlers are evicted.

To sum up: the point of the group is not to say that IDF is not a moral army.

The point of the group is to say that the "most moral army in the world" will inevitably commit such abuses -- even if it doesn't want to -- because that is what an open-ended occupation does to you.

After all, if the IDF needs koah harta'ah (deterrence) it has to teach the civilians a lesson, If it has to demonstrate the IDF presence (le-hafgin nokhahut), it has to scare the civilians. So you trash a few offices, you take a few souvenirs, you smash a few cards, you make a few Arabs clean up the mess -- she lo yarimu rosh.

Every once a while, when a magavnik (Border Police) stam beats up a Palestinian to show him who is boss, somebody catches it on camera. Then the politicians get upset, the army says it will investigate, and takhlis, nothing happens. And that is for the one out of thousands of cases which make it to the press.

Don't believe me? Read about it, ye defenders of Israel, here. Then watch the video.

So this is our reply to you—our signatures to show that you, a handful of misguided individuals, are not telling the real story, that you magnify the few exceptions to our standard behavior and miss the total picture which is far greater than your collective experiences and imaginations. We are replying to your misguided words with far more than the 140 politically-motivated academics who signed your letter.

As if the "Open Letter" is not politically-motivated....

We, the people of this land, come to you out of the great tapestry that is Israel—young soldiers, reservists in their thirties and forties, who are people of color, Christians, Arabs and Druze—who believe that Israel has a right to live in peace and security. We come from across the political spectrum but all of us care deeply and have lost and wept and yearned for a peace that we have tried to usher in with dignity, respect and honesty.

(Wait till I wring out my handkerchief....)

How can anybody write of "honesty" when they write such emotional drivel as this? I guess that, according to the authors, the newspapers who published the Abu Ghaib pictures believed that the US does not have the right to live in peace and security. Or they were guilty of lashon haroh

For us and for our children, we ask you to cease your destructive and misleading activities.

What about your parents?

1 comment:

Larry Silverstein said...

Go Israel! Go Jews!

We are the master-race, and we are the daddy of America and the world.

I am so happy to be Jewish and Zionist, and who really cares if we killed Jesus>