A little perspective
Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, was compelled this week to defend the actions of his army during the recent fighting in Gaza.
He did so after a steady string of accusations about the behavior of the army, which included firing at civilians and using a child as a human shield.
A group of nine U.N. human rights experts said Monday that Israeli soldiers ordered an 11-year-old boy to walk in front of them on Jan. 15 in a Gaza residential neighborhood where they were being fired on.
That incident was included in a 43-page report released that same day. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. secretary-general’s envoy for protecting children in armed conflict, called it a violation of Israeli and international law.
One U.N. investigator, Richard Falk, who has been highly critical of Israel in the past, asked how a military assault with modern weapons could have been made “against an essentially defenseless society.”
Last week, the Israeli daily newspaper, Ha’aretz, reported statements from unidentified Israeli soldiers that they witnessed personally disturbing acts committed by some of their comrades.
The Israeli military says it is investigating specific claims of abuses. Meanwhile, Ashkenzai made this statement:
“I’ve known the IDF for many years, and as the person who accompanied the preparations for Operation Cast Lead, briefed the commanders in the field, and is well acquainted with commanders and soldiers of the IDF, I tell you that this is a moral and ideological army.”
“I don’t believe that soldiers serving in the IDF hurt civilians in cold blood, but we shall wait for the results of the investigation,” the general continued, adding that the IDF “is the most humane army in the world.”
Let’s make a couple points clear. Israel does have a humane army — as humane as any army can be while waging war — but in the heat of battle, brutal, appalling things do happen. Some of the accusations the IDF is investigating will probably be proven true.
However, and this is the point the
general media rarely makes clear, Israel didn’t commit those acts. Specific rogue Israelis did. To accuse Israel of war crimes implies that it was government or military policy to do such things — an extremely reckless statement.
On most occasions, Israeli forces took great pains to avoid civilian casualties. Anyone who sees the documentary, “The Case for Israel: Democracy’s Outpost,” this weekend at the Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival, will see actual video and radio transmissions from Israeli aircraft during the Gaza campaign that prove the IDF broke off assaults when it became evident that civilians were in danger of being hit. You won’t hear Mr. Falk talking about that.
War is, indeed, hell, and no army is squeaky clean while fighting it. U.S. Army soldiers massacred Vietnamese villagers at Mei Lai, and mistreated Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, but those actions were not representative of the Army or the United States. Israel deserves the same recognition.