March 29, 2009
Here, in a nutshell, is the difference between Israel and the terror-worshiping cultures that besiege it. When terrorists kill Israeli women and children with bombs or missiles, they regard it as a triumph worthy of celebration — sweets are passed out and the terrorists themselves are venerated as martyrs. When Israeli soldiers deliberately kill Arab women and children, on the other hand, most Israelis regard it as a disgusting aberration, and a legal investigation is launched.
Last week, the director of an Israeli military institute leaked unproven testimonials from soldiers who claimed they’d engaged in — or been urged to engage in — reckless and inhumane tactics during the recent Gaza campaign. In one instance, it was claimed a sniper had shot an elderly woman. In another, an Israeli gunman was alleged to have killed a woman and two children. All four of the victims, the testimonials allege, were killed because they
approached Israeli positions or violated Israeli battlefield orders, despite the fact they posed no military threat.
Other accounts leaked from the same military institute, all taken from a taped discussion among Gaza war veterans, feature claims that Israel had recklessly destroyed Gazan property and that militant Israeli rabbis had distributed unsettling propaganda to the soldiers prior to Israel’s incursion.
None of the accounts have been verified. But no one should be surprised if some turn out to be true. No army — even one serving a humane, democratic nation such as Israel, tragically well-practiced in the art of counter-terrorism — is staffed by unbroken legions of angels. There are always bad apples.
Thousands of Israeli soldiers fought in Gaza in late-2008 and early-2009. No doubt, a few of them fell under some of the lunatic and sadistic impulses that have been known to grip soldiers in times of war. (We should be far more skeptical of the related claim that Israeli units actually were commanded to maraud Gazan civilians and their homes. If that were true, the civilian death toll in Gaza would have been orders of magnitude higher than it actually was.)
What is more remarkable is how this all has been handled in Israel itself. As soon as the allegations surfaced, Israel’s military advocate general launched an investigation. As with the United States following Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and Canada following the Airborne Regiment scandal in Somalia, the sadists will be identified and, where justified, punished. Israel is an open society in which ordinary soldiers often discuss their combat experiences in op-ed articles, blogs and radio programs. Indeed, this whole story was originally broken by Israeli newspapers. The prospect of a cover-up is remote.
Nevertheless, we all know how Israel’s enemies and critics will play this news. From the opening days of the Gazan campaign, the blood libels of “massacre” and “genocide” have flown thick and fast. From the moment this story appeared on the front page of Thursday’s New York Times, it was obvious that the Israel Apartheid crowd had found its latest talking point. (It doesn’t help matters that some Israeli soldiers are playing up the sadistic motif for gallows humor, with T-shirts bearing the image of dead Arabs and the like. Sometimes, Israel is its worst PR enemy)
Well, here’s another talking point worth considering. In April, 1979, a Lebanese terrorist by the name of Samir Kuntar murdered a 31-year-old Israeli father and his four-year-old daughter — dispatching the latter by smashing her head against a rock. (A two-year-old sister also died — from suffocation, as her mother tried to quiet the toddler’s screams so as not to alert Kuntar to their presence.) Kuntar’s crimes are now 30 years old, but recent events suggest they remain instructive to this day.
Last year, after spending three decades in an Israeli jail for the killings, the murderer was sent back to Lebanon in exchange for the remains of two Israeli soldiers. Upon his return, Arabs greeted Kuntar with confetti and applause. The head of al Jazeera’s Beirut office called the man a “pan-Arab hero,” and feted him at a special party. A few months later, in Nov., 2008, the Syrian President gave Kuntar his country’s highest medal.
Such a sick spectacle could never unfold in Israel, of course: In the case of the soldiers alleged last week to have killed Gazan civilians, the reaction from Israelis has been what one would expect in a civilized culture that values human life: outrage, disgust and a legal investigation. It is this contrast — not the isolated outrages alleged to have been performed by Israeli soldiers — that tell us all we need to know about the moral gulf between the Jewish state and its terrorist enemies.