Michael Sfard on the Gaza war and Jewish morality
It has been a year, just one year since, but we can already safely say it was not just another Operation Rainbow, Summer Rains, or Autumn Clouds, as IDF operations in Gaza were named in recent years. Perhaps the officer in charge of naming the operations was replaced by another, or perhaps the IDF ran out of pastoral names. In any event, our most recent brutal attack against Gaza was given a violent sounding name: Cast Lead. Looking back, Operation Cast Lead was a turning point in the way Israeli society expresses its values. There, in besieged Gaza Strip, we exposed ourselves to a crystal-clear, shameless, and unmasked truth that we had thus far avoided by using repression and self-deceit methods that became more complex and clever with every war and operation we waged. Like that macho man who grew tired of pretending he was politically correct and angrily yelled at his wife to go back to the kitchen, we came out of the closet. We are who we are and we are proud of it!
For three weeks, during Operation Cast Lead, we sent fighter jets to drop bombs on one of the world’s most densely populated areas. We aimed our guns at clearly civilian targets. We used [white?]phosphorous bombs. We deliberately and systematically demolished thousands of private houses and public buildings, and all the while we maintained a tight siege on the Gaza Strip, preventing civilians who wanted to from fleeing the war zone. We did not erect a temporary refugee camp for them. We did not create a humanitarian no-mans’-land corridor for them. We did not spare hospitals, food repositories, or even UN aid agencies’ buildings. At the same time, we did not express fake regret. We did not argue we made tragic mistakes. We did not even take wounded children to Israeli hospitals.
The results were horrendous. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, of which half did not partake in the fighting, 320 were minors, and 120 were women (according to B’Tselem data). In three weeks, we killed more Palestinians than in the entire first Intifada and all the violent incidents that preceded the second Intifada put together (that is, 1987-2000). Gaza residents, whom we earlier locked up in a prison we created for them, realized that the jailers set fire to the jailhouse and threw away the key. We no longer pretended we were meeting standards we did not believe in. We did not even pay lip service. Government offices were bombed? No problem. They are a legitimate target. Civilians worked there? Why should we care if this was the headquarters for civilian life, transportation, agriculture, and social welfare services for 1.5 million humans? What about the collective killing of more than 100 police cadets who were parading on their graduation day? No problem there. They were Palestinians in uniforms. No biggie. You say we fired white phosphorus, the kind of substance that keeps burning for days in alleys where children were playing? Our gut is made of iron. We can stomach anything. Our heart is made of steel. We spare no one.
Operation Cast Lead was our second war of independence. In the first, we freed ourselves of 2,000 years of living under and being oppressed by foreign regimes. In the second, we broke the shackles of Jewish morality and heritage that were shoved down our throats for years. We liberated ourselves of the ancient Jewish ban against killing the innocent with the evil, from the self-evident lessons and inevitable insights we should have reached of the our collective experience as a downtrodden nation that was denied its own civil rights, that was silenced, knocked down, downgraded, and treated as subhuman. Yes, we violated some of those rules in the past, but we did not even reveal that to ourselves.
Now, we decided that enough is enough. No more playacting and lying to ourselves and the world. As of today, we shall speak the truth: The Jewish State believes that the rules of war should be altered so that the threats that soldiers face are diminished, even at the expense of increasing threats to civilians. The Jewish state believes that in modern warfare, civilian targets are sometimes legit; that it is fine and even required that we bomb power stations that supply electricity to thousands of civilians, to destroy the food infrastructures, to eliminate schools and mosques. What is more, the state of the Jews will no longer tolerate criticism, domestic or foreign.
These new liberties were immediately implemented against the Israeli opposition. In unprecedented moves, the Israel Police arrested hundreds of anti-war demonstrators. The IDF spokesman, an officer in uniform, launched a smear and delegitimization campaign against organizations that criticized the army’s policies and actions, while the foreign minister made efforts to cut them off their financial resources. Everything became rotten: the officers who issued orders, the soldiers who carried them out, the lawyers who approved them, the judges who sent protesters to prison, the academics who kept silent, and the media that fanned the flames of war and surrendered to the IDF spokesman until it turned into a unit under his command.
Naturally, such processes have a price. They make Israeli society lose confidence in its ability to draw on its inner strength and return to the values it was founded on. They invite external pressure, international investigations, criminal charges abroad, as well as boycotts and sanctions. They now have a moral and legal ground to grow from, while we, who became addicted to the declared freedom of the trigger finger, do not even consider going into rehabilitation.