Almost a year before the Gaza campaign, on Dec. 27, 2007, I wrote a post that began with an Israeli joke
Two Israeli Jews meet each other on the street:
-Oy, Shimon, this business in Sderot is awful. How come we can't stop those Kassam rockets?
-Nu, we are afraid of the Americans. Now here's what we should do. We should drop leaflets over Gaza saying that we will give them five days to stop the Kassams. We wait five days, and then if the Kassams don't stop, we bomb the hell out of them.
--Why wait five days? Why not bomb them now?
--Nu, there's no need to exaggerate.
And then I commented on the "joke"
I was reminded of this joke when I read one of the Letters to the Editor in Haaretz today, which seriously proposed "Shimon's" solution…I hope I don't exaggerate if I suggest that this sums up the moral reasoning of many Israelis.
I don't mean to say that most Israelis advocate "bombing the hell out of Gaza". Many would approve of less drastic measures, such as cutting off their electricity and fuel supply. But the reasoning goes like this: "We could, if we wanted to, flatten Gaza. The reason that we don't is that we are Jews, and therefore generous, and exceedingly moral, and while we would be justified in taking such drastic measures -- such is the world we live in -- that is not what Jews do."
That was a year ago. Now, Israelis and their supporters simply cannot understand what the world wants from them. If Israel really wanted to smash Gaza, it could have done so big time. The fact that "only" 1300 people died, many of them "terrorists" showed that the IDF stuck to its ethical code. OK, there were some infractions, but very few. And the civilian deaths are not their fault; it is because of Hamas.
I wrote then that the reason that most Israelis cannot understand why they are being criticized is that they are moral chauvinists, and that moral chauvinism (the belief that you are ethically superior to the other) blinds people to their own immorality. I also claimed, based on my knowledge of Jewish sources, that moral chauvinism is deeply rooted in Judaism, though I acknowledged that it is common in other civilizations and religions.
That was a year ago. The joke is even less funny now.
Because so many Israelis and their supporters are moral chauvinists, they create fantastical images of themselves, such as the "Most Moral Army in the World" fantasy. For example, ask most Israelis about the current Gaza operation and they will say, "We gave them Gaza; they launched rockets. We did not react until we could take it no longer." When you tell them that during over the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, during the period of "not reacting," Israel killed 1,275 Gazans – they will at first deny the number; then they will say that most of them were terrorists; and then they will say that it was Hamas's fault. Why? Because the belief in their superior morality is so deeply rooted in the Jewish psyche, both traditionally, and certainly after the Holocaust, that Israelis do not allow the facts of their immorality to confuse them.
Let me make something clear. I do not claim that the IDF, or the people who sent them, deliberately set out to massacre civilians as part of military policy. But I do believe that the IDF was figuratively and literally quick on the trigger, as it always has been in the West Bank and Gaza. I believe that they when they used white phosphorus in an urban area, they knew full well that it was possible, perhaps likely, that civilians would be burned. They decided to use it anyway because they simply didn't care about the civilians; they knew that they could always hide behind the claim that white phosphorus is not banned, and that regrettable accidents happen. Perhaps they decided to use it in some cases and not in others. But that does not mean that their reasoning in the "acceptable" cases was correct.