How did we turn from a “villa in the jungle,” as Ehud Barak once characterized Israel, to just another animal in the jungle? How did it come to be that we informed the world that “we’ve gone mad,” and then were surprised to be treated as madmen? How did Israel shift from being the spiritual center of Ehad Ha’am and Ben Gurion’s light unto the nations to the “neighborhood bully?” How did it all happen without us noticing it?
Perhaps those who say that in the Middle East we must behave in line with the local codes of conduct are correct. It is possible that there was no other choice but to launch a military operation in Gaza in the face of Hamas’ attacks. Yet it is impossible to understand why Israeli society is so indifferent to the change it has undergone, and to its ability to kill hundreds of children and reconcile itself to it; with some people showing understanding, others concurring, and yet others showing enthusiasm.
A society that does not engage in an incisive debate following the Gaza operation and its results is a numb society with meager values. A society that treats its domestic critics as anathema, traitors, and evil beings is a different society than what we used to have around here, and different than what we should have here.
Where do we draw the line? Is it after we killed one child, or 10, or 100, or 300? Would it happen next time, when we kill a thousand? Or perhaps it is the absence of a political border that dictates to us the absence of a moral border? Who even asks around here how would we know if we crossed the line?
We keep on losingForeign Minister Tzipi Livni justly said after the operation that we cannot be compared to Hamas. They murder civilians deliberately, she emphasized, while we kill unintentionally. This is the difference between murder and manslaughter, she ruled. Yet as an attorney and not just a politician, she certainly knows that manslaughter offences also carry a lengthy prison term.
IDF officers and soldiers should not be going to jail, and I don’t know whether any of them even needs to be indicted. Yet we all need to face a public debate. There is a direct and problematic line that connects the “death to the Arabs” chants at soccer stadiums, the disqualification of Arab parties from the upcoming Knesset elections, and the indifference of an Israeli woman who interrupted and slammed a Palestinian doctor who lost three of his daughters.
We are all at fault because we remained silent in the face of the racist grunts at sporting events, because we showed restraint to incitement by certain Knesset members vis-à-vis the minority living amongst us, and because we became used to saying that “in war one should act accordingly,” without understanding not only what this war does to them, but mostly what it does to us.
The Gaza operation apparently ended with military victory. We should hope that it also brings about a diplomatic victory. Yet we should now be engaging in a moral battle with ourselves. It is not enough to have the IDF win or the government secure its objectives. Only once we complete our own domestic battle, we would be able to say that Israel won. For the time being, we keep on losing.
Gadi Baltiansky is the director general of the Geneva Initiative