The easiest thing is to claim that the testimonies of soldiers who took part in Operation Cast Lead are based on rumors, represent “rotten apples,” and were possibly even elicited from people posing as soldiers. Such response requires no more than recycling the previous reactions to such testimonials, which reflect the slippery slope our military establishment finds itself in.
Inspired by the army’s spokesman, we tend to address anything that undermines the IDF ethos we were raised on with a dismissive hand gesture. We question the veracity of the story, cling to any detail that hints to operational necessity, and mostly turn a blind eye, in the hopes we will not have to deal with a different reality.
The reality that emerges from the stories of soldiers is not easy to digest, yet it exists in areas we never entered. The 30 soldiers interviewed by Breaking the Silence members constitute a mere aperture to the darkness that envelops Operation Cast Lead. Our civic duty, at the very least, is to listen to them.
The reality described in the testimonials presents more than one cause for concern. The fact that more horrific acts took place in Kosovo and Chechnya is not an excuse that should let us sleep well at night, because these are not the moral criteria we wanted to live by.
An army that invests such great resources in the Education Corps and trains thousands of soldiers and officers every year to that end cannot afford to skip the phase of implementation on the ground.
For two and a half years I was a member of the Education Corps and memorized all the “IDF spirit” values I was trained to impart. The first place where I encountered the immense gap between the Education Corp’s training base and reality on the ground was in Hebron. There, the blue notebook that details values such as purity of arms, credibility, human life, responsibility, discipline, and personal example remained in one’s pocket. Hebron is not too far from here, yet it is located in a different world. After all, most of us don’t go there.
Moral decayWhen we send 18-year-old children to other worlds, we tend to think that there too they act in line with the rules we taught them; we hope that the hand that guides them is familiar with morality and limits, and is not merely concerned with keeping them alive. Therefore, we confidently declared, partly to the outside world and partly to ourselves, that the IDF is the most moral army in the world.
But what are we in fact conveying through our silence in the face of children who return from battle and are willing to swear that we do not see everything? Are we trying to say that we, without leaving our sofa, still know better than them?
A senior commander who briefs his subordinates upon entering Gaza and tells them they must “bring back 2,000 terrorists,” instead of defining the rules of engagement, should not be a commander in our army. The same is true for a commander who warns that “we’re going to kick their ass, to rape them, and to screw them” or for a commander who tells his soldiers “not to be bothered by moral questions; you’ll deal with that later.” We can dispatch thousands of Education Corps soldiers to “impart values,” but none of them will be able to do this better than a commander who faces his subordinates.
It’s a big mistake to think that this violent and permissive tone, as well as the belligerence and hatred, are left far behind. The dark corners where the indiscriminate definition of enemy expands taint the face of the whole of Israeli society.
Our silence in the face of these testimonials nurtures the moral decay and enables low-ranked and senior commanders to lead our soldiers into an abyss that offers no way back. The IDF was never the Chechen army, and it will never aspire to be like that.
In the face of the values defining the army’s spirit, we see daily challenges and young soldiers who need that same uniformed guiding hand. Should we accept the recklessness characterizing Cast Lead as legitimate warfare, it will be an admission that we chose to belittle the notion of education for values and that we chose to renounce our way.
We are the IDF; its commanders and soldiers constitute our face vis-à-vis the world and our truth vis-à-vis ourselves. The time has come to wake up from the captivity of myths and be brave enough to look in the mirror and see what we really look like.
The easiest thing is to say “this never happened,” yes such response does not change reality. It merely helps us escape it.
First Lieutenant (Res.) Dana Golan is a member of Breaking the Silence