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From the little I know about detective novels, I have learned that when the suspect tells his interrogators his version of why he is innocent, he unintentionally reveals that he is guilty, at the very moment when he was tempted to believe that he was no longer under suspicion.

That is what happened to the Israel Defense Forces, which last week gave citations to the commander of a team and three fighters from the Duvdevan undercover unit. They were praised, among other things, for their success in not harming civilians while capturing wanted men in complicated operations. This is merely a reminder that there are rules even in battle and that they do not become less important when the warfare is on a small scale. These men who received the citations are certainly worthy of praise, and it would be good if there were many like them.

But despite the praise due the soldiers, the IDF itself is due condemnation. To what can this be compared? To a prize being given to teachers who teach their students well but do not beat them, or judges who do not accept bribes, or firefighters who pour water rather than oil on a blaze, or doctors who do not authorize torture during interrogations, or engineers and builders who follow approved construction plans rather than abandoning residents to the rumbles of every earthquake. After all, all of them are merely carrying out their duty, and for doing what must be done one does not expect to receive an award.

When we hear about commanders and soldiers who act without restraint, we generally say they are the exceptions who do not taint the rest. They are always "deviant," always "a few," "rotten apples" that can fall anywhere; and the IDF always was, and still is, "the most moral army on earth," even when it casts lead and scatters phosphorus. But all of a sudden, everything is topsy-turvy. It is no longer the cruel ones who are just a few, and it is not they who are unusual; it is the merciful ones who are out of the ordinary and get an award for behaving appropriately. They are the few who are supposed to serve as an example for the many. And is it no coincidence that the good example is now being shown to all, while the army is trying its utmost to rid itself of the villains of Gaza.

While the troops are busy with the process of purification, the media buried a report this week that soldiers, as is their custom, escorted settlers who went to pray on a hill near a Palestinian village.

The settlers were not satisfied merely with praying, however, and wished to see the fulfillment of their prayers immediately. They went down to the village wrapped in their prayer shawls, and in the spirit of Passover, poured their wrath on the Gentiles. The result was that there were 16 Palestinians who were wounded by live fire and rubber bullets.

Our soldiers protected the settlers of Bat Ayin with the utmost care. Against the backdrop of clashes like these, which have been a daily occurrence for the past 42 years, it is even more clear why they now have to hold up their best and brightest for all to see. It is clear why they are now showing off the likes of the biblical Pinhas even as the deeds of Pinhas' nemesis Zimri are becoming rampant.

Medals and prizes should be given to those whose achievements, contributions and behavior are singular; to those who answer an inner voice that goes beyond their duty; to those who have the qualities that separate man from beast.

The citation that was awarded recently to the four Duvdevan fighters is therefore a badge of honor for those who receive it, but it is a badge of dishonor for those who bestow it.