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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gaza's true disproportion

This article appeared on Monday in - of all places - the Washington Post. It was written by Carlos Alberto Montaner, a Cuban-born writer, journalist, and former professor who now lives in Spain and is widely read in the Spanish-language media.

I apologize but I no longer recall who sent me this. Hat Tip: Shy Guy.
This demand for "proportionality" can only be called surprising. Until this conflict began, history books everywhere always expressed great satisfaction and a certain chauvinistic pride when a nation's army inflicted on the enemy a large number of casualties, vis-à-vis a trifling price paid by "our boys." Israel is the only country expected to behave differently and, in fact, it does; I know of no other nation that announces where and when it will drop its bombs, thus enabling civilians to evacuate the territory. Of course, in this it behaves asymmetrically, because the Hamas terrorists, forever eager to cause the greatest damage possible, never announce when or where they will launch their rockets against Israel's civilian population.

In turn, Israel has not the slightest interest in causing casualties. All it wants is to stop Hamas' attacks the only way it can: by eliminating the terrorists and destroying their arsenals. There's no other way to deal with them. Hamas is not a political organization with which agreements can be reached, but a fanatical gang intent on wiping Israel off the map. To achieve this objective, its members are even willing to turn their own children into human bombs, just to kill the hated Jews.

Here's another very important asymmetry. The Jews build underground shelters in all houses near the border; they close the schools and hide the children at the least sign of danger; they treat the death of a single soldier as a national tragedy; they do everything possible to rescue their prisoners, and protect the civilian population from the consequences of war. In contrast, the authorities in Gaza, drunk with violence, fire their machine guns irresponsibly into the air to express joy or grief (causing numerous injuries), do not hesitate to install their headquarters or hide their guns in schools, mosques or hospitals, use human shields to protect themselves, turn to suicidal terrorists and reward the families of such "martyrs" with money.
I have mixed emotions about this asymmetry. On the one hand, it feels good to know that we are taking a moral 'high road' by doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. On the other hand, it means we have more casualties among our soldiers than would otherwise be the case (see, for example, Jenin), which is difficult for the families of those soldiers who are injured or killed, God forbid, and which indirectly results in many of our military actions ending too soon because the higher rate of casualties on our side can quickly make wars unpopular.

Consider the case of Lieutenant Aharon Karov (pictured at top left), which was on all the news reports last night. Karov was critically wounded entering a booby-trapped house in Gaza yesterday morning.
Karov was married two weeks ago, and summoned for reserve service the next morning.


The three men were wounded during a joint Artillery Corps-Paratroopers operation as they were trying to clear the house.

Karov, a platoon commander in the Paratroopers' Battalion 890, was taken to the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva.

"We planned to have a relaxed breakfast together and to open the wedding gifts, when Aharon's commander called," his wife, Tzvia, told Army Radio, a few days after her husband reported for duty.

"I was naive enough to think that he called to congratulate him. In my worse dreams I couldn't imagine he would be called up for reserve service a day after our wedding, but I am trying to be strong," she said.

Karov was not happy about the emergency call-up, but he understood that he had no choice, Tzvia said.

"Ultimately, we are at war, and the people of Israel need us now, so we must sacrifice our private life for now," she said.

Karov is the son of Chaya and Karnei Shomron Rabbi Ze'ev Karov. He is also the brother-in-law of Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who replaced the commander of the Golani's Battalion 13 after the latter was wounded in the January 5 friendly-fire incident in which three soldiers died.

Aharon's relatives spent Tuesday outside the operating room at Beilinson, hoping for good news.

"They came in the morning to the place where I teach and told me he was wounded," Ze'ev Karov told the Ynet Web site on Tuesday afternoon.

"Aharon very much loves serving in the military and sees it as a mission. This is also why he went back to his unit a day after his wedding," he said.

"We are praying for him. We've been through tough situations and we hope for the best. Aharon underwent a head operation and he is undergoing additional operations. The surgeon has already spoken to Tzvia and told her that he hopes to get to circumcise their son," Karov said.

A week ago, Tzvia sent warm greetings to her husband via the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, where she wrote: "Aharon, my beloved and courageous husband. I am with you from a distance, [I] strengthen, support and pray [for you]. I believe in your decision to go to the battle for the sake of the people of Israel, a day after our wedding. Take care of yourself and your soldiers. Miss you and love you, your wife, Tzvia."
You can all tell me that this isn't an appropriate conversation during the heat of battle, and I will drop it for a couple of weeks. But I have my doubts whether it is truly 'morally superior' to send newly married soldiers (and there was another one less seriously wounded in the same incident who has been married for two months) into a house that is booby-trapped with explosives rather than giving the residents ten minutes to vacate the house and then leveling it. In fact, under Jewish law, I doubt that sending the soldiers in is always the correct thing to do. Jewish law says that if someone is coming to kill you, you kill him first. Would that lead to higher civilian casualties in Gaza? You bet it would. But it would lower casualties among IDF soldiers. No one in this country is looking at the ratio of civilian casualties in Gaza to IDF soldier casualties because the vast, sane majority of this country is convinced that the current action is proper and necessary. But God forbid, a lot of IDF casualties in and of themselves could lead people to change their minds.

On the other hand, consider remarks made by Daniel Polissar of the Shalem Center a 'right wing think tank' (for lack of a better description) here in Jerusalem in an email sent to a mailing list yesterday.
At one point, Dalia [the mother of Dvir Emmanueloff HY"D - may God avenge his blood - the first IDF soldier killed in the ground operation in Gaza. CiJ] turned to General Mizrahi and asked why Israel could not fight in Gaza the way coalition forces have in Iraq and Afghanistan--bombing aggressively against enemy fighters in populated areas. There was no bitterness in her voice at the IDF for having endangered her son's life by its regard for Palestinian civilians, nor any desire for revenge--only the concerned tones of an Israeli mother anxious to protect the sons of other Israeli mothers. The general answered thoughtfully, but without hesitation, that the IDF had gone to greater lengths to protect its soldiers in Gaza than in previous conflicts, citing the week-long air campaign that preceded the ground invasion. He added, however, that the IDF's strength is integrally tied to maintaining its humanity and morality. Soldiers are united in part because they know that regardless of religious or political differences, they share a common moral code. Alluding to the widely-held view that Hamas's military leadership is hiding under Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, he said that he wouldn't give an order to bomb the hospital from the air, because there are certain things one simply doesn't do. This is an obligation, he stressed, that the IDF has as a Jewish army. From the reactions in the room, it was clear that while everyone identified with Dalia's question, they accepted the answer--and were impressed that the officer used this opportunity to reinforce the Jewish values binding all of us together.
Sorry, but I don't buy this. Jewish values don't require that we go to the lengths to which the IDF goes to protect civilians in Gaza. Protecting IDF soldiers - our children, grandchildren, siblings and (in the women's case) husbands - ought to come ahead of protecting people who might otherwise be innocent but who put themselves in harm's way. I'm not arguing that we should target civilians - that would be wrong. I'm not even arguing that we should bomb Shifa Hospital, although the thought has crossed my mind. But the Geneva Convention is quite clear that terrorists cannot gain immunity by hiding behind civilian populations. Judaism doesn't require us to give them immunity either. And I question whether an IDF General - or several IDF Generals - who may or may not be Torah scholars, ought to be deciding what Judaism requires.

And the world still regards us as child killers anyway, so we're not gaining anything by sending young men like Aharon Karov into booby-trapped houses anyway.

P.S. For those who would like to pray for him, Aharon Karov's name is Aharon Yehoshua ben Chaya Shoshana. May God grant him a full and speedy recovery.


At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I apologize but I no longer recall who sent me this."

Look here. :)

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Eliyahu in Shilo said...

"And the world still regards us as child killers anyway, so we're not gaining anything by sending young men like Aharon Karov into booby-trapped houses anyway."


I couldn't agree more. You point on IDF general's deciding matters of Jewish values was also very well made.

I truly can't imagine, G-d Forbid, what it would take to make Israel act in the way that it should be, that is, putting Jewish lives above human shields.

Congrats once again on your weblog award win!

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Shy Guy,

You have a much better chance of getting hat tips if you send them in emails. When I see something, I click it open in a new tab, but often don't get back to it until much later.

Okay, you'll get one this time....

At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had no time for email over the last week.

I was too busy clicking away voting for various bloggers to win the Weblog awards.

Now the contest is over and I hear there's a war going on.


At 2:59 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Shy Guy,

My feeling exactly. I cannot tell you how much time I wasted over the last three days waiting for the Weblog Awards page to reboot.

At 6:38 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

I've seen mangled bodies on an Islamist website. It occurred to me then that if the Arabs cared about human life, they wouldn't be parading around casualties as the wartime equivalent of pornography. And no - Jews are not required to expend their lives to save the enemy. Of course no one is advocating civilians be targeted but other countries have no problem with it and the standard answer give is the enemy created their suffering. Israel must not put it soldiers in harm's way to get a better press overseas. Hamas does not deserve it. It needs to be wiped out. And if Israel's generals feel squeamish about getting the job done, they're a disgrace to the the army and to the country. If this war is to mean anything there must be one outcome. Any else is squandering Israel's high ground. Press ahead to victory!


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