The NY Times ran a front page article on Amos Harel's piece in Haaretz about IDF war crimes (see below). The most interesting observation was that of Yaron Ezrahi, a political scientist at Hebrew University, who has been lecturing at defense colleges.
Unfortunately, I think that selective use of killing civilians has been very much on the agenda for fighting terror. The army believes that a weak spot of Israeli deterrence is its strong commitment not to kill civilians, and there has grown the sense that it might have to temporarily overcome that weakness in order to restore deterrence.
Supporters of Israel, of course, want it both ways. They claim that Israel does not target civilians, and when soldiers do, they are punished. But they also claim that establishing deterrence in the war on terror requires, "regrettably," that civilians are killed. The terrorists shouldn't think that they can get away with disguising themselves as women in order to blow up Jews, or using civilians as human shields. In the Gaza campaign, the IDF knowingly killed civilians (sometimes after dropping leaflets warning them to leave) in order to establish deterrence.
As long as Israelis view the IDF as "the most moral army in the world," the IDF will be able to do anything short of mass rape with justification. They still don't get it that the IDF behaved worse in Gaza (It's Gaza, it's the Hamas; It's revenge for the chutzpah of the Muslim pishers sending in their damn rockets) than even in the Second Intifada, despite the fact that Israeli casualities were ten times less. Consider the following remarkable evidence
Amir Marmor, a 33-year-old history graduate student in Jerusalem and a military reservist, said in an interview with The New York Times that he was stunned to discover the way civilian casualties were discussed in training discussions before his tank unit entered Gaza in January. "Shoot and don't worry about the consequences," was the message from the top commanders, he said. Speaking of a lieutenant colonel who briefed the troops, Mr. Marmor said, "His whole demeanor was extremely gung ho. This is very, very different from my usual experience. I have been doing reserve duty for 12 years, and it was always an issue how to avoid causing civilian injuries. He said in this operation we are not taking any chances. Morality aside, we have to do our job. We will cry about it later.
Defense minister Ehud Barak responded to the stories with the following line:
"The Israeli Army is the most moral in the world, and I know what I'm talking about because I know what took place in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq."
Note who he is comparing the Israel army with – the Serbian army in Bosnia and the the US army in Iraq, both occupying forces that committed war crimes. But there is a difference. The Iraq war, which was senseless and immoral, was not a long-term affair; the war in Bosnia was nasty, brutish, and relatively short.
But what other country has been at war for over sixty years, with no end in sight? Length matters, and, in my opinion, an army that commits "minor" war crimes and acts of humiliation over a long period of time, is as bad or as worse as one that does much more serious things over a short period of time.
Which reminds my fable about Pete, which I hereby repeat:
Once upon a time, two small boys, Pete and Paul, were fighting over a garment. Pete grabbed the garment, wrestled Paul to the ground, and sat on him, at first for days, then for months, finally for years.
Pete had nothing against Paul personally. He even made sure that he had enough to eat and drink to stay alive. But Pete was afraid to get off Paul's stomach, because whenever he did, Paul would start clawing at him, and Pete was scared, for himself and for the garment.
Pete was even willing to share a bit of the garment with Paul – he certainly wasn't interested in taking care of Paul. But how could he be sure that Paul wouldn't use the opportunity to grab the garment from him, or worse, sit on him?
Whenever an onlooker started to rebuke Pete for sitting on Paul, he would say, "Why are you picking on me ? I am only sitting on the kid; he's not dead or nothin… If you turn around, you will see plenty of people doing worse things." And he was right; it was an awful neighborhood. Pete began to suspect that anybody who criticized him was really a friend or relative of Paul, or at least unwittingly gave him support. Because if he really cared about crime, why was he just going after Pete? There were wrose things going on in the neighborhood.
Pete was also right to be afraid of Paul. You see, Paul hated Pete and, aside from his getting his freedom and the garment, he would love nothing more than to see Pete dead for what he had suffered all these years.
But instead of sending somebody for the police, or seeking outside help, of which he was always suspicious, Pete just kept sitting there on Paul.
And there he sits, to this day: holding on to the garment and defending himself from the accusations of the onlookers by saying, "Hey, I am willing to let the guy up, provided that he…."