Monday, March 23, 2009

Soldiers' Testimony On Gaza Heightens Secular-Religious Tensions

Dany Zamir, director of the Oranim Academic College in Tivon, Israel, leaked testimony of IDF soldiers to the newspapers Maariv and Haaretz alleging lax rules of engagement in the Gaza conflict that resulted in Palestinian civilian deaths and destruction of property. Since its initial report, Haaretz published a second account with more extensive testimony. The reports reached the New York Times:

In the two months since Israel ended its military assault on Gaza, Palestinians and international rights groups have accused it of excessive force and wanton killing in that operation, but the Israeli military has said it followed high ethical standards and took great care to avoid civilian casualties.

Now testimony is emerging from within the ranks of soldiers and officers alleging a permissive attitude toward the killing of civilians and reckless destruction of property that is sure to inflame the domestic and international debate about the army’s conduct in Gaza. On Thursday, the military’s chief advocate general ordered an investigation into a soldier’s account of a sniper killing a woman and her two children who walked too close to a designated no-go area by mistake, and another account of a sharpshooter who killed an elderly woman who came within 100 yards of a commandeered house.

The testimony has heightened tensions between the secular left who traditionally dominated the IDF and the religious nationalists who are assuming more command positions:

Several of the testimonies, published by an institute that runs a premilitary course and is affiliated with the left-leaning secular kibbutz movement, showed a distinct impatience with religious soldiers, portraying them as self-appointed holy warriors.

A soldier, identified by the pseudonym Ram, is quoted as saying that in Gaza, “the rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”

This particular soldier questioned these doctrines and gave those under his command a different message:

He said that as a commander, he had tried to explain to his men that “not everyone who is in Gaza is Hamas,” and that “this war was not a war for the sanctification of the holy name, but rather one to stop the Qassam rockets.”

Dany Zamir did Israel a service by leaking these testimonies, which expose the indoctrination on the part of the religious right–the type of group whose doctrines in recent years have led to fanatical nationalism and militarism not only in Israel, but throughout the world.

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