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Disturbed

21 Jan 2011

Reading the following two articles really disturbed me.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/08/world/middleeast/08mideast.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/world/middleeast/20israel.html

First, let me assure / remind you of four things:

  1. I deplore all violence, especially violence against innocent civilians.
  2. I realize (and constantly seek to help others understand) that the Israel/Palestine conflict is a very complex problem with a long and violent history.
  3. Criticizing one side does NOT mean exonerating the other side for the wrongs they have perpetrated.  NOR does this criticism assert or imply any kind of moral equivalence.  (Moral calculus is very difficult to do – it involves tricky equations like “to whom much is given, much is required”.  Thus, most of us don’t do it – opting rather for the simpler “my side is good, the other side is bad”.)
  4. I do tend to speak or write in a way that is critical of the Israeli-settler perspective on this conflict*.   Surely, this is partially because of my life, experience, acquaintances, friendships, etc. in the Arab world.  However, it is also the case that many (but not all) of my friends and acquaintances generally have more opportunity to hear the perspectives of and the arguments for the Israeli-settler side.  In the spirit of Proverbs 18.17, (“The first to speak in court sounds right – until the cross-examination begins.”) I want to offer them another perspective.

Anyway, these news stories bothered me.  First, the sheer terror, tragedy, and loss experienced by Omar’s wife and family is incalculable.

But more disturbing to me is the actions of this elite, highly trained group of Israeli soldiers, the initial and later response by the military establishment, and the military culture that allowed this to happen (including both explicit aspects like “rules of engagement”, and tacit attitudes and values of which we see troubling hints).  I say this is more disturbing to me, not to denigrate in any way the tragic loss experienced by Omar’s family, but because if this “culture” is not truly acknowledged as a systemic problem by Israel, and something is done about it, this tragedy will be repeated – further fueling the conflict.

I don’t have time to explain in detail the three things I mention above, hopefully if you read the news stories, you will recognize the things I am referring to.  I want to highlight just one thing.  Highly trained, specialized troops stormed an apartment and woke a sleeping man.  We will probably never know exactly what happened.  Early, initial reports that Omar rushed at the soldiers seems to be contradicted by the physical evidence at the scene.  However, the first soldier to shoot Omar merely needed to testify that Omar made  “suspicious movement that caused [him] to feel that his life was threatened”  in order to be considered to be acting legally under the rules of engagement.

How would you react to being woken by heavily armed soldiers violently breaking into your home/bedroom?  What “suspicious movement” might you make in your shock and fear?  What movement could you make that could NOT in some way be interpreted by an aggressive, antagonistic soldier as “suspicious”?  It seems to me that the bar set by the IDF for legally killing someone is pretty low – scarily low.  Especially for a military that loves to proclaim that it is the “most moral army in the world”.

*I say Israeli-settler perspective, because there are many Israeli / Jewish perspectives on this conflict.

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