Friday, March 20, 2009

Child Abuse

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?


Hoots said...

Tragic but true.
This is a manifestation of one of mankind's ugliest atavistic traits.
I was reminded of a post I put up three and a half years ago.
Warrior children
The aftermath of war also includes a harvest of psychological ticking bombs... PTSD-, suicidal- and Intermittent Explosive Disorder-scarred veterans radiating their respective pains to all with whom they come in contact.

Jeff Blankfort said...

This sadistic racist phenomenon is not new within the IDF and by applying a similar attitude in Lebanon in 1982 towards the Shia on the basis that Israelis make no distinction between one Arab people and another,, they turned the Shia population that had welcomed the invasion into what is now Hezbollah. I was there in 1983 and in Israel. as well, where I interviewed members of Yesh G'vul who described to me the atrocities their fellow soldiers had commited during the invasion which caused them to become "refuseniks" afterward.

Poll after poll that has been taken of Israeli Jewish youth over the past two and a half decades has shown a marked increase in their out front racism against Arabs and at least half of Israeli Jewish society has supported ethn, ic cleansing of the Palestinian population since 1988 according to ever4y poll that I have seen. You are right about one thing. In a decent society, Child Protective Services would have been called in at an early age and removed these kids, now willing killers, from their racist homes. The majority of Israeli Jews today have virtually nothing in common with Jews pre-1948. The number who don't, some of whom are friends, has sadly become insignificant. Most of the reservists I interviewed back in 1983 who had emigrated to Israel had left by the last time I was there which was 2004. It will only get worse and the prospects of a solution, just or unjust, is at the moment long as Israel can count on the continuing support of the US and the American Jewish political establishment which arguably has a vested interest in maintaing the status quo and with it their power.

Jeff Blankfort

Potter said...

I am very moved by this entry, the anger in it ( which I share) and the comments above. Normally I am just a reader here.

We just got back from Israel where we have friends and relatives. It is getting harder and harder for me to say that we do. I feel, in truth, ashamed. These are my people.

We had a discussion with our friends on the kibbutz, old kibbutzniks. She was struggling, trying to justify ("you don't know what we are dealing with" she said). He, who fought in five wars starting in '48, a hero in the Palmach) is an old leftist; both I believe are at least former Labor voters. I was taken aback by her right wing positions. I really say right wing propaganda. He was more equivocal, nodded to some of what I said. Their daughter (in her late 30's, who did her service) listened and finally said "sometimes I think that the next generation is going to ask how we let this happen".

Larry said...

It's a beautiful, heartbreaking piece, Bernie, full of anger and at the same time full of compassion.

Shoded Yam said...

This kind of hatred cannot be formented in 6 months of tiranut(Basic Training). The problem is systemic. This is a comment that I made in response to a posting of Bernie's from Monday, November 10, 2008 titled; " Next Week In Jerusalem";

The concept of "Tohar HaNeshek" has become one of the cherished myths that American Jews(and many Israelis for that matter)love to trot out whenever comparisons are made between us and the cousins. Well heres a news flash. Vaudeville is dead and so is Tohar HaNeshek. That purity of arms crap was great when you're chasing shoeless felahhin from the back of half tracks through the desert. It was another story in Sidon, when some asshole in designer jeans fires an RPG rocket at your platoon from an apt block window, and yet another when 7 year olds are throwing pieces of cinder block on your head in Shchem

Because of these fantasies, everyone seems to always find themselves, in a state of cognitive dissonance when confronted with the reality of what Zahal has had to become, what it has had to do in order to pacify the territories sufficiently so as to build and secure such “neighborhoods” as Maale Adumim, Ariel, Ofra, Givat Zeev, etc, etc, and what inevitably has had to happen psychologically to the rank and file of the IDF. What kind of people do you think are produced when you expose them to the sort of systemic programming(high school trips to Auschwitz, Holocaust revenge fantasies, and transference techniques) that would be necessary in order to achieve the desired level of detachment in 18 and 19 year old recruits? If your going to allow facists to roam the countyside like packs of feral dogs, murdering, stealing land, attacking and terrorizing old men, women, and children at will, if your going to allow pseudo-political constructs such as the “Yesha Council” to “legitimize” their activities while running interference for them within the political and social establishment, then I guess you’re going to need an army of facists to protect them while they’re doing it, won’t you?

Steve said...

Have any of you commenters ever been in combat? It is the scariest, fastest, most intense time you'll ever know. All the training goes out the window. Just pray you remember how to use your weapon. There is no time for reflection. You could not even if you wanted to.

Some of the stories are unclear on context. If there was incoming fire in the area you are in combat. Your mind had best switch into combat more, if you and your friends want to go home. And combat for the most part is a team activity. Situational awareness is real important

If the shooter referred to were not under fire, then court martial them, and throw them in jail. You never fire your weapon in a combat zone without a real good reason. The worst reason is that someone, friend or foe, may be startled enough to shoot you, which seems to to be reasonable punishment for being an idiot.

Sorry for the rant.

Prof. Avishai, one of your better pieces. Very, very true and accurate. Indeed, a classic. I'm going to cut and save it. Thank you so much for posting it.

Shoded Yam said...

"...Have any of you commenters ever been in combat? It is the scariest, fastest, most intense time you'll ever know."

Its not something I enjoy talking about, but yes I was, sir. I was a "Tsalaf" in the Nachal Brigade in 1986 and served in Southern Lebanon in the "Ritsowah Bitachon" or Security Belt. You are absolutely correct. Things happen very quickly in combat. Whenever I attempted to recollect events afterwards, what would seem like a half-an-hour, would turn out to be only 5 minutes of the most horrifying, frightening, blood-curdling bedlam one can imagine. There was never a moment I wasn't scared shitless. That being said, I managed (along with the rest of the mahlakah) to keep my head and maintain at least a modicum of fire discipline. If I had to think about it, rather than attributing this "coolness under fire" (I felt anything but calm or cool)to my own inner resources, I credit the Mifaked Mahlakah and the Mifaked Plugah with excellent leadership (and the professional demeanor that precludes the sort of emotionally driven impulsivity and melo-dramatic clap-trap that seemed to be emanating from the lower echelon officer corps during Cast Lead) an ability to instill a sort of calm through out the chain of command during these fire fights, making sure everyone knew what their job was whenever contact with the enemy was made.

"..All the training goes out the window. Just pray you remember how to use your weapon. There is no time for reflection. You could not even if you wanted to."

The training is meaningless without the leadership. However, at no time time did my training "go out the window". How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice. To a large degree I credit the training with saving my life. During basic we ran alot around the base. After awhile on these "jogs" you being to take note of things. One of the thing I noticed was an axiom posted on the side of the Cheder Ochel. It read; Kisheh beh Emunim, Kal beh Krav". Translated this reads; "Difficult in training, easy in battle" There is a truth to this. What was absurd and onerous theoretically, became instinctive and reflexive later on.

There was an incident during Cast Lead where a Merkava commander fired a 120mm round into a schoolhouse full of kids, ostensibly because they were taking mortar fire from the vicinty of the schoolhouse. Rather than being evidence of the ineffectiveness of training, it was a display of poor leadership starting at the battalion level and working its way down to the squad. Shit rolls down hill. What a surprise. The Merkava commander, upon radioing the Plugah that they were taking fire from a school full of children, should've been ordered to pull back a hundred yards and await further orders from the battalion. Since Zahal had the phone numbers for every UNWRA installation in the strip, It would not have been a major effort to place a call and warn them to clear out of the school prior to opening fire. This was a failure of leadership and communications.

Shoded Yam said...

" long as Israel can count on the continuing support of the US and the American Jewish political establishment which arguably has a vested interest in maintaing the status quo and with it their power."

I agree Mr. Blankfort. Simply put, peace is a non-starter for American Jews for whom an Israel at war is and has been the entre to corridors of power and influence, and have placed them at the the top of the american political ziggurat. I suggest, that there is a concerted effort by an American Jewish propaganda machine (mainly stemming from the Orthodoc community) that is hell bent on depicting the State of Israel as one settler-loving, palestinian-hating, monolith. Given whats in the balance, this is understandable. An Israel that
is at peace with it’s neighbors, an Israel that has reconciled itself to the reality of a two-state solution, an Israel that is committed to social justice for all of its citizens, an Israel not torn apart by social dysfunction, is simply not in the interests of American Jews, either from the left or the right side of the political spectrum. Without an Israel on a perpetual war-footing, without an Israel as a supplicant client state, without an Israel that is willing to subordinate its own interests to that of the United States, without the perception that it is necessary for American Jews to intercede with the American government on Israel’s behalf, American Jews become a political non-entity (much as they were prior to June 1967), with all the attendant loss of power and influence that would entail. In short, American Jewish support has nothing to do with Israel’s welfare, it has to do with its own.

Steve said...

Shoded Yam, your war was more recent and different from mine. Your Merkava story is so chilling. The tank commander is the equivalent of an American NCO? But a young NCO? The point has been been made that there are no senior NCOs in IDF infantry. I was very young and very inexperienced officer leader.In the field I was at least afraid of my own side's jets, attack helicopters, artillery and armor. I knew that many of those pulling the triggers of those weapons were in my boat in regard to experience. In the field we were afraid of everything, and for good reason. Thus anything could be the enemy. Fire discipline is hard and many of my troops had shockingly little training. In time we became better, if we lived. I was a very lucky one; I have few leftover problems, possibly because I was always a loner as a child and had decent self-discipline. My brother in law , a year older than me, did two combat tours and is to this day a complete wreck. War stories on TV can send him running screaming from the room. He was a good soldier and a brave soldier and has the medals hanging on his wall to prove it, but he give them all back to have not been there.

I'm an American Jew with relatives in Yaffa, my grandmother's folks. I would like to see Peace in Israel and Palestine. The neighborhood next to the one I grew up in is heavily Palestinian American now, and have quite a few good friends there. They feel pretty much as I do. Israel has to become more moderate; open the effing Gaza borders. talk to Haas. It means nothing to talk. It probably won't do much, but try.
Israel used to be an attractive place to me, but isn't now. It has to slow down and get a grip on itself. And that doesn't mean sitting there as the Qassams come over, but it doesn't mean having F-16s on CAP ready to pounce.

Shoded Yam said...

You're ok, Steve. I assume your war was Vietnam. My war had no name, just the dead and the almost dead. I'm sorry about your brother-inlaw. I mean that sincerely. The bastards used up a good man. I think something in all of us died a little bit in these f**king wars they sent us to fight in.

"..The point has been been made that there are no senior NCOs in IDF infantry"

Indeed, a good point and well taken. After my service I went back to the states. People would ask; "Whats it like serving in the IDF?" and I would reply half-jokingly; "It's like Jewish summer camp with guns". This lack of even temperment that only comes with a certain amount of life expereinece and maturity is sorely evident in most of the active-duty formations of the IDF. The reserve formations are much more together, having an older and wiser cadre to draw upon.

"...Israel has to become more moderate; open the effing Gaza borders. talk to Haas. It means nothing to talk. It probably won't do much, but try.
Israel used to be an attractive place to me, but isn't now. It has to slow down and get a grip on itself. And that doesn't mean sitting there as the Qassams come over, but it doesn't mean having F-16s on CAP ready to pounce."

I'm in 100% agreement with you. I've always maintained that our beheviour is not conditional upon theirs. When you're a terrorist group you can get away with behaving like a terrorist. When you're a real country, its a funny thing. Everybody expects you to behave like a real country.

Good talking with you Steve. By the way, my name is Dave. Nice to meet you.

Shoded Yam said...

And Steve, one other thing. While its probably true that the guys under your command were under trained (6 weeks Basic Training? For a Zahal infantryman its 6 months)and while its also true they probably got better over time, they would not have survived if you not had been the CO that you were. From what you've communicated, I suspect that you were probably alot like my CO in Lebanon. I was fortunate and so were they. Some kid has a father today because of you. You should feel good about that.

Bernard Avishai said...

I just want to thank all the commentators who participated in this string, and particularly those who have shared combat experiences. It felt a privilege to have occasioned your exchange.

Steve said...

Professor Avishai, it really is we who thank you for providing the best forum and commentary on Israel, which despite differences I think we all care about.

Dave, basic back then was 16 or 17 weeks, still not 6 months and as we both know every extra day of training is priceless. I was a bit surprised about your comment that the reserve units were more together because of their older cadres. Upon reflection that makes sense. I was thinking of the US reserves which in my time were just short of hopeless. No serious training and lousy equipment.

As an American Jew and a reader of virtually everything I can get my hands on, I feel I was mentored as military leader by the stories of the IDF in 1967, and of course by he stories of Moshe Dayan, who knew how to lead troops, no matter what else he was in life. Leading from the front was the only way for me. And it works. But we know that. Back then if we were on a planned op, the freaking battalion commander was overhead in a helicopter. Aside from showing where we were on the ground, he had poor communications. But he could see things and write great after action reports. And that's what he needed to get his ticket punched. We had batt commanders who didn't know their officers names.

Shoded Yam said...

"...Leading from the front was the only way for me."

Steve, the creed of the Israeli Officer Corps was and I suppose, still is; "Kulam Acharei". This translates to; "Everyone After Me."

I knew you were one of the good ones.

Dr. Avishai,

in addition to Steves remarks, I'd like to add that what I think makes your blog special is your intellectual honesty and the transparency of your motives. Unlike some of the more shall we say, strident, Jewish or Israeli oriented blogs from both the left and the right.

Abe Bird said...

There were only two cases which found to be un true.
So, why celebrating?

Shoded Yam said...

Whats untrue, Abe?

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