The Israeli press is full of stories, now broadcast around the world, of Israeli soldiers acting ruthlessly in Gaza. In various reported cases, soldiers revealed a cavalier attitude toward the lives of civilians, including women and children; consistently, they used overwhelming force--artillery against rifles in built up neighborhoods, say--to protect the lives of fellow soldiers. We are now hearing, in addition, knowing comments about the rules of engagement and the ethics of war. According to one scholar who helped write the IDF's code of conduct, a soldier has to "do his utmost" to avoid civilian casualties and that involves taking some risk. "From the testimonies of these soldiers, it sounds like they didn't practice this norm.”
Let me get this straight. We take tens of thousands of 18 and 19-year-olds, young people who are little more than children themselves, and at a time of life when showing the utmost cool is a kind of sexual ante; a time when ideas about the world are largely received wisdoms; when bodies are at their utmost strength but so is the fear of death, which only reinforces the fear of displaying cowardice; when the people from whom wisdoms are received are parents or mentors loved to the utmost; when minds are just intimidated enough about life's scrum to feel utmost gratitude for family and commonwealth--when the desire to prove one's loyalty is at its most intense.
Then we take these youth--for God's sake, kids who can barely even remember the time of Rabin's assassination--and tell them that the Arabs, deep down, will never want a Jewish state in the neighborhood; that, in any case, the land is sacred, and giving ground is an utmost sin of Jewish law, as is showing mercy to those who would kill you; that "Oslo" offered Palestinians a deal with utmost generosity, but that they came back with terrorism nevertheless; that (though this much has been obvious) terrorism can come in any form, male and female, young and old; that protecting our civilians from random cruelties is the reason they are there.
We tell them, moreover, that the civilians they are facing at least tolerated, or even encouraged, the terrorism they must now root out, which is why terrorists are allowed to blend in; that these Arabs are secretly all waiting and hoping for Iran, the new Amalek, to incinerate Tel-Aviv; that if the world had not flinched from hitting at Hitler in 1938, the utmost tragedy would have been prevented; that, anyway, the strategic goal is to reestablish deterrence, which means scaring the shit out of Arabs, so that they will finally accept the fact that, as former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon put it, they are a "defeated" people; oh, and that our great friends in the Bush administration are about to leave office, so time is of the utmost importance, too.Then, after our children have killed and killed for us, we turn around and tell them they did not take the utmost care in trying to save civilian lives; that "this involves taking some risk"--that if they were braver, more willing to risk their own or their buddies' deaths, they would not have violated the "norm" of combat--in effect, that if they were more worthy, they would not be war criminals.Presumably, some European state prosecuter will now want to take our children to the world court. But I wonder: if the court had a social worker, would she not just be threatening to take them away from their parents?