Friday, March 20, 2009

The Times on the Gaza War Crimes

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…."



Anonymous said...

"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."

Somebody always says this when the US or one of its close allies is caught committing war crimes. You know, we're normally so moral and wonderful, and isn't it awful how This One Time we really did something bad. Now I suppose this guy is telling the truth about his own personal experience, but I don't think that if you look at either American or Israeli history that one has any right to be surprised when they commit atrocities.


Anonymous said...

I'm certain a Netanyu-Lieberman government will show all these charges are false and lies instigated by left wing by provocateurs in the Army, and then things will return to the most moral army in the world continuing to act as morally as it did in Gaza despite all the antisemites and Arab lovers who claim otherwise.

Joachim Martillo said...

I put my own version of the fable up at The Magnes Zionist: The Times on the Gaza War Crimes.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the parable of Pete and Paul should instead read that Pete grabbed Paul's garment claiming that God had given it to him, and that Pete was not a bit interested in sharing the garment with Paul but couldn't wrench the damn thing entirely from his grasp, and that while Pete spoke often as though he was willing to give Paul his freedom in exchange for certain concessions on Paul's part, whenever Paul agreed to those concessions Pete merely made ever increasing demands.

Anonymous said...

Jerry, do we need another crazy Jew hater like this Joachim Martillo? Did you really read the stuff he writes on his blog ? The terminology has changed ("Jewish Zionists" instead of «Jews") but the old anti-Semitic hatred doesn’t. It only evolves. There is something you seem a bit unaware of. It’s the demonization that’s going on in some circles about Israel and the Jews altogether. Of course, with their crazy politics towards the Palestinian, the Israelis do all they can to enhance and amplify this anti-Jewish sentiment. Nevertheless, we should be aware to distinguish people we can and must talk to and people who really hate us and use the Palestinian cause to perpetuate the old anti-Jewish sentiment.

Unknown said...

Mike - Magnes did not endorse or site any of Martillo's writings in this post. He also doesn't list him in his blogroll (unlike Phil Weiss, who I wish wouldn't). It's up to him whether to ban him or not.

Jerry Haber said...

Mike, the only comments I don't post are either the usual suspects (Viagra ads, requests for donations, etc.), or vicious stuff, of which there is almost none.

As for Joachim, we don't always agree, but we often do, and I certainly haven't seen anything he says qualify as anti-semitism. That is a rough accusation, but some people say it about me.

And Kathy, I put that blogroll up over a year ago, when I just started, but there are many other blogs I would put up if I had the time and patience. I feel guilty when I see the Magnes Zionist on somebody else's blogroll but not theirs on mine. If I ever get a chance to breathe, I will update that, as well as the top posts.

As you all can see, I am amataeurish blogger, for which I apologize.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I was just wondering... One of Martillo's posts starts with the following sentence "Because the lachrymose pogrom and persecution version of Jewish history..." and develops the idea that there where no trace of antisemism under Stalin's rule. Yes, why not? All the suffering was just an illusion. Anything goes, these days. The new historians did a necessary job to debunk a lot of myths about sionism but I think it gave a special breed of self-proclaimed historians the permission to rewrite the whole story from scratch.

Joachim Martillo said...

I referenced Robert Lindsay's blog entry on Stalin's alleged anti-Semitism and explicitly stated that I did not necessarily agree with all points Lindsay made.

The history is very complex, but we should try to understand it because it is part of the origin of the world in which we live.

In his personal life Stalin was certainly not an anti-Semite. A lot of the anti-Jewish policies that are ascribed to Stalin seem to have originated with Jews that were close to him and that were trying to prove utter fidelity to communist ideology.

I have the impression that Stalin became suspicious of all his Jewish associates after the founding of the State of Israel, but we need more access to Soviet archives to understand completely the period from the end of Stalin's rule until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We do know that some of the absolute pinnacle of the Soviet elite discovered their Jewish roots after 1991 even though their nationality papers gave no indication of Jewish ancestry.

Joachim Martillo said...

BTW, Salo Baron invented the term lachrymose version of Jewish history in order to deride a certain class of Jewish historiographers.

I saw the following (false) claim in the June 1918 edition of The Menorah Journal. On page 191 Al Weinberg claims in The Enemy Within Ourselves that [the Jew's] history has been a nightmare of pogrom and persecution.

I am not sure if that is the first reference to the pogrom and persecution version of Jewish history, but it is hardly the only place I have seen it.

I just combined the two phrases.