Jewish Fingerprint: The Most Moral Army

Uri Avnery – The Most Moral Army

The modern laws of war are not only moral and humane, they are also sensible

by Uri Avnery,   …with Gush Shalom, Tel Aviv

[ Editor’s note: We have an interesting piece from Uri today on the morality of war with his usual historical background, a scholarship staple in much of his retrospective writing. It is a technique I also use, saving the reader from the time needed to dig out the acceptable traditional story, but also adding commentary on the more subjective aspects, to stimulate the readers to join in.

I was surprised to see Uri grade the Israeli army as more moral than the Russian army. He did not say what time period he was looking at, but in modern times I would say its behavior on the West Bank and Gaza shoot that claim down in flames.

I was never shy about using the term Zio-Nazis, a play on WWII Jews lamenting their treatment during insurrections in the ghettos that turned into bloodbaths. For the Israelis to inflict on a similar scale what they do against the Palestinians, when for all we know, an extremist Muslim faction in Gaza can fire off a rocket or two that does virtually no damage to Israel, and yet the IDF unleashes hell on the Gazans.

No, Uri… not more moral than Russia by any measure when we look at Ukraine, Crimea and now Syria. Sorry, but you shot yourself in the foot on that one. That said, I salute the IDF command for standing up to the political lynching of the wounded Palestinian knife attacker, a foolish man who threw his life away for nothing when he had other ways to serve his people.

The most immoral people in Israel, among Jews in total really, are now the Likud party, and more specifically the blood-thirsty advocates of mass murder in their ranks. This young IDF executioner came from a settler family, and is part of a move begun years ago to get kids with extremist views into the army, so they could do just like this kid did — make a name for himself, knowing the political support behind him is ready to attack the army itself.

But Uri and I will not kill each other over our disagreement. He is old enough to be my father, but that would not be my main deterrent. We both are capable of fighting with our keyboards about policies; and he is a worthy opponent, more moral than most in Israel, and definitely more moral than all of the Likud cutthroats put togetherJim W. Dean ]

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– First published  …  March 18, 2017 –

A few days ago I happened upon an excellent British movie, “Testament of Youth”, based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain. Vera tells her story, the story of a British girl who grew up in a bourgeois family without worries or sorrows, when World War I put an end to that paradise.

Her brother, her friends and her fiancée were killed one by one in the terrible mudscapes of France. She enlisted as a nurse near the front and dealt with hundreds of wounded and dead. The tender country girl turned into a hardened woman.

The scene that impressed me most occurs when she is posted to a hut full of wounded Germans. A German officer, not so young, is dying. In his delirium he sees his beloved, catches the hands of Vera and whispers “Is that you, Clara?” and Vera answers in German “Ich bin hier”, I am here. With a happy smile on his lips, the German dies.

On the morrow of the war, an English crowd demands a vengeful peace. Vera takes the stage and tells of this experience. The crowd falls silent.

The movie brought me back to the affair of Elor Azaria, the soldier who killed a seriously wounded Arab attacker lying helpless on the ground.

He has been sharply condemned by the military court but punished with the ridiculously light prison term of a year and a half. His publicity-grabbing attorney has appealed.

Killing a wounded or captured enemy is a war crime. Why?

For many people, this is a mystery. War is the realm of killing and destroying. Soldiers are decorated for killing. So why is it suddenly a crime to kill a wounded enemy? How is it possible to talk about a law of war when war itself breaks all laws? An army that trains its soldiers to kill, how can it demand from them to show mercy?

From the beginnings of humankind, war has been a human condition. It started from the primitive tribe, which defended its limited resources of food from preying neighbors. Neighbors killed were resources gained.


The 30 Years War

The limits to the ravages of war were fixed after one of the most awful conflicts in history – the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).

Its main battlefield was Germany – a flat country in the center of Europe, without defensible borders. Foreign armies entered it from all sides to fight it out between themselves. Armies devastated entire cities, killing, raping and looting.

It started as a war of religion, but became a war for supremacy and gain.

Millions died. In the end, two-thirds of Germany was devastated, one-third of the German population exterminated. One of the results was that the Germans, lacking any natural, defensible borders like seas and mountains, created an artificial border: a powerful army. It was the beginning of German militarism, which reached its climax in the Nazi frenzy.

Witnessing the atrocities of the Thirty Years’ War, humanists pondered ways to limit warfare and create a core of international law. The outstanding proponent was a Dutchman Hugo de Groot (“Grotius”), who laid the foundations for the rules of war.

How can a war be limited? How can arms be “pure”, when their very purpose is to kill and destroy? Grotius laid down a simple principle: nothing can be done to limit the means and practices necessary for winning a war. No army will respect such limitations.

But in war, terrible things happen which have nothing to do with victory. Killing civilians, prisoners and the wounded does not contribute to victory. Sparing their lives is good for all sides. If I spare the lives of captured enemy soldiers and the enemy spares the lives of my own soldiers who are captured, everybody wins.


Modern Laws of War

Thus the modern laws of war are not only moral and humane, they are also sensible. All civilized nations recognize them. Breaking them is a crime. At the beginning, the law forbidding the killing of the captured and the wounded applied only to uniformed soldiers.

But in recent generations, the dividing line between uniformed soldiers and fighting civilians has become more and more blurred. Guerrillas, partisans, underground fighters, terrorists have become a part of recognized warfare. International law was widened to include them, too.

What is the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? I am proud of having discovered long ago the only scientific formula: “Freedom fighters are on my side, terrorists are on the other side.”


The Damage has been done by the Azaria Affair

Thus we come back to Elor Azaria. Killing a wounded, neutralized enemy “terrorist” is a war crime, pure and simple. Wounded “terrorists” have to be treated. They are not enemies anymore, they are just injured human beings. Like the dying German in the movie.

Sarah Netanyahu, the widely unpopular wife of our Prime Minister, recently said in an interview: “I believe that the Israeli Army is the most moral army in the world!” She was only quoting an Israeli article of faith, repeated endlessly in all Israeli media, schools and political speeches.

Some might think that a “moral army” is an oxymoron. Armies are immoral by their very nature. Armies are there to make war, and war is basically immoral.

One might wonder how war has survived all these millennia. Humanity has made enormous progress in all fields of endeavor, yet war has endured. It seems that it is too deeply entrenched in human nature and human society.

When two citizens quarrel, they are no longer allowed to kill each other. They have to go to court and accept the verdict, based on a law accepted by all. Common sense would say that the same should apply to nations.

When two states have a quarrel, they should go to an international court and accept its judgment peacefully.

How far are we from such a reality? Centuries? Millennia? An eternity? In the 17th century, war was conducted by mercenaries, who fought for gain. Regiments sometimes changed sides on the battlefield. Soldiers were out for loot. The “Sack of Magdeburg” during the Thirty Years’ War lives in German history to this very day. It was an orgy of looting, killing and rape in that town, west of Berlin.

A century later, war was conducted by professional national armies, and became a bit more civilized. The wars of Louis the 16th and Friedrich the Great left the civilian population largely unmolested. With the French revolution, the modern mass armies came into being. General conscription became the rule, and is still in force in Israel and some other countries.

Conscription means that almost everybody serves side by side – the good and the bad, the normal and the depraved. I have seen well-educated sons of “good families” commit terrible war crimes. When I met them again a few years later, they were law-abiding citizens, proud fathers of families.

My own observation was that if, in an ordinary squad, a couple of stable, moral soldiers face a few bad apples, with the majority of the soldiers in between, there is a chance that the better ones would set the tone.,But there is also the possibility that the better ones assimilate to the others, and in the end the whole lot become dehumanized. That is one good argument for conscientious objection.

I must admit that I am torn on this issue. On the one hand, I would like morally sound men and women to serve and influence their units, on the other side I deeply sympathize with those who follow the call of their conscience – and pay the price. When I see a soldier who shoots a wounded enemy in cold blood, I ask myself: Who are his parents? In what home did he grow up? Who are his commanders?

The major blame must go to the officers, from company leader up to front commander. In an army, the commanders must always bear the main responsibility. Everything depends on the moral standards they impress upon their subordinates. I always blame them first and foremost.

Right at the beginning of this affair I proposed sentencing Azaria to a harsh prison term, for all to see. Then I would pardon him, but only on condition that he publicly admits his crime and asks for forgiveness. Until now, he has refused to do so, and suns himself in the glow of his status as a hero to some parts of the population. So do his parents, who visibly enjoy their public exposure.


So how moral is the Israeli army?

Even before the State of Israel was founded, the underground paramilitary organization (the Haganah) which formed its base prided itself on its morality. “The Purity of Hebrew Arms” was the slogan then, and still is. It was true then as it is now, but It created the belief in the “Most Moral Army in the World”.

There is no such thing as a really moral army. Unfortunately armies are necessary in this world, but their morality is always questionable.

If I were to grade our army, I would guess that it is more moral than the Russian army and less moral than, say, the Swiss army. The only completely moral army is the army that does not fight.

Israel loves wars. Needs them. Does nothing to prevent them, and sometimes instigates them


There’s no other way to read the state comptroller’s report on the 2014 Gaza war and there’s no more important conclusion that arises from it.

ed note–all true, but with only one disagreement in Levy’s statement, to wit–

‘It is doubtful that a rational explanation can be found for the phenomenon, but the fact is, every time Israel goes to war it receives sweeping, automatic and blind support in public opinion and the media.’

Israel is THE JEWISH STATE, and as such is founded upon the teachings, traditions, and precepts of JUDAISM, the very foundation of which is WAR WITH GENTILEDOM. Virtually every religious feast of importance–from Passover to Purim to Hanukkah–celebrates the destruction of Gentiledom. The 5 ‘books of Moses’ comprising the Torah and which itself is the beating heart of Judaism, is replete with passage after passage where the ‘Lord thy God’ is commanding his ‘chosen people’ to go into various villages, cities and homes and to slaughter everything that lives and to ‘save nothing alive that breathes’.

No ‘rational explanation can be found for the sweeping, automatic and blind support in public opinion and the media that the JEWISH STATE receives whenever it goes on one of her blood binges in Gaza or wherever?

Beam me up

Gideon Levy, Haaretz

Israel loves wars. Needs them. Does nothing to prevent them, and sometimes instigates them. There is no other way to read the state comptroller’s report on the 2014 Gaza war, and there is no more important conclusion that arises from it.


All the rest – the tunnels, the National Security Council, the cabinet and the intelligence – are trifles, nothing more than efforts to distract us from the main thing. The main thing is that Israel wants war. It rejected all the alternatives, without discussing them, without interest in them, in order to fulfill its desire.

epa04337978 A religious Israeli reserve soldier recites evening prayers near APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers) inside southern Israel very close to the Gaza Strip border, near the area of Rafiah where, earlier in the day, 01 August 2014 a Hamas military operation killed two Israeli soldiers and another was captured, the army announced. A 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip broke down 01 August less than three-hours after taking effect, with at least 35 Palestinian killed in the south of the enclave.  EPA/JIM HOLLANDER

Israel wanted wars in the past as well. Since the 1948 war, all its wars could have been avoided. They were clearly wars of choice, although most of them were of no use and a few of them caused irreparable damage. Israel usually initiated them, sometimes wars were forced on it, but even then, they could have been avoided, like in 1973. Some of the wars ended the careers of those who started them, and yet, time after time Israel chooses war as the first and preferred option. It is doubtful that a rational explanation can be found for the phenomenon, but the fact is, every time Israel goes to war it receives sweeping, automatic and blind support in public opinion and the media. Thus not only the government and the army love war, all of Israel loves war.


This is proven by the fact that committees of investigation publish almost identical reports after every war – the report on the Gaza war is almost plagiarized from the Winograd Commission report after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. ‘The war was embarked on hastily and irresponsibly.’) When nothing is learned and everything is forgotten, it’s clear that something strong is pulling Israel to war.


That’s also the way it was in the summer of Operation Protective Edge, when there was no reason at all for war. And that’s the way it will be in the next war, which looms ahead. What a pity that the “red alert” in the south on Tuesday was a false alarm. It was almost the opportunity to strike a disproportionate blow on Gaza, the way Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Israel love, the kind that drags Israel down to the next war.


Its writing is already on the wall, its enthusiasts miss no opportunity to instigate it and its history is like the history of the wars covered by the state comptroller’s reports. The next war will also have a report. You and me and the next war, and the next report.


It’s reasonable to assume that the next war will break out in Gaza. The alibi is already prepared. The horror over the tunnels, which has been blown into the grotesque proportions of a nuclear world war, was created for this purpose. Primitive combat tools are enough to create the perfect alibi for war. And like before Operation Protective Edge, no one stops to ask: What about Gaza, which in another three years won’t be fit for human habitation? How do we expect it to respond in light of the existential danger to its inhabitants? What’s the hurry? There’s time. Meanwhile it can be destroyed another time or two.


Gaza pampers Israel with deluxe wars. There’s nothing Israelis love more than a war against a non-army, against those who have no aerial cover, no armor and no artillery, just an army of the barefoot and tunnels, which allows Israel stories of great heroism and bereavement. Israeli bombardments of the helpless, for some reason called war, with minimal Israeli casualties and maximal Palestinian casualties – that’s the way we like our wars.

Mideast Israel Palestinians

The state comptroller has determined that the cabinet did not discuss alternatives to war. That should have been a cry that reverberated from one end of the country to the other, yet it was swallowed up in the nonsense of the tunnels. Any child in Gaza knows that there is such an alternative, that if Gaza opens to the world, it will be different. But for that, courageous Israeli leaders are needed, and of those there are none. Masses of Israelis are needed to say an unequivocal “no” to wars – and there are none of those, either. Why?

Because Israel loves wars.

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