Text size

A document dealing with the ethics of fighting terror recently reached the chief of staff's desk. The document was written by Professor Asa Kasher and a team of officers, lawyers and advisors.

The authors produced a remarkable document, which says that force should not be used against terror unless it is necessary to protect the citizens of the state. The document makes it the soldiers' responsibility to protect the security of Palestinians who are not involved in terror and to warn the Palestinians in advance when necessary so that they are not harmed.

The document states that the army may not exact vengeance or punishment; it may only defend the citizens of the state. Therefore, no closures or curfews should be imposed on civilian populations as punishment and no trees should be uprooted or houses demolished for the purpose of revenge. Furthermore, when deciding on a military action in the territories, the army must take into account the negative impact that killing and destruction will have on local and international public opinion.

Read it and weep. What army are they talking about? To which reality are they referring? How impervious can they be? A week does not go by without innocent Palestinians, whether men, women or children, being killed. Not a week goes by without houses being demolished, trees being uprooted, humiliation and abuse at the checkpoints. But the chief of staff is silent, and so is the prime minister. Do they need a document to tell them what is kosher and what is not?

The brutality of the occupation did not begin yesterday, but it sometimes escalates a level. The troubling images that emerged in mid-May from the miserable refugee camp of Rafah shocked anyone in the world with a conscience. That Israel Defense Forces operation killed 52 Palestinians - some of them innocent civilians, including two teens whose only crime was feeding their pigeons on the roof. If the public has grown used to the killing, it will evidently also grow used to the house demolitions: the little children leaving their homes with bags on their back, the shell-shocked old women searching in the rubble of their homes in an effort to save something - an old jacket, a notebook, a photo.

On July 12, Ibrahim Halfalla, a wheelchair-bound father of seven, was crushed to death under the rubble of his house. It happened when the IDF demolished his house in Khan Yunis in the middle of the night. The soldiers did not check to find out whether someone was at home - and the bulldozer buried the man alive. That same week, published photos taken at the Hawara checkpoint showed a soldier handcuffing a Palestinian and then beating him in front of his wife and two children. Their only crime was wanting to get home.

A week earlier, on July 6, Dr. Khaled Salah, a lecturer in electrical engineering at A-Najah University, was killed in his home by snipers. His 16-year-old son, Mohammed, was also shot and lay on the floor of the family apartment for hours before dying. When the mother shouted to the soldiers that her son was still alive and they should let an ambulance through, they laughed in her face while her son bled to death in front of her. Not only was the family not involved in terror, Khaled Salah was a member of the university's Palestine-Israel peace committee. And as if that were not enough, after the murder, the soldiers entered the house and destroyed what remained. They shot at clothing, towels, books, the television, the computer, the refrigerator and thoroughly vandalized the apartment. And these were not "problematic" soldiers, but the elite of the elite, the naval commandos, exacting vengeance on innocent civilians because one of their officers was killed in the operation. They apparently did not have time to read the document on ethics.

The IDF has rampaged through Beit Hanun over the past month. Soldiers march into residential apartments, turn them into forts and expel the tenants. Last Thursday, a bulldozer demolished a packing house that was used by 1,000 farmers, for no reason. Just like that, out of an evil desire for vengeance. Everything was demolished. The sorting machinery, the washing and packing machinery, the refrigerators, the packing material. A thousand farmers were left unemployed.

These acts of destruction (which are prohibited by the document) only raise the walls of hatred higher and make the conflict insoluble, because every teenager whose home has been demolished and whose parents have been humiliated will want to take his own vengeance - and then we will say there is nobody to talk to. An army and state that behave in such an immoral way - harming civilians, demolishing, taking vengeance on the innocent - do not deter the other side, but strengthen it, and particularly its extremists. Harming the innocent proves that it is not worthwhile to be moderate: Either way, the bullet or the bulldozer will get them.

Such actions weaken Israel's position in the world and endanger the existence of the state. Israel depends on international public opinion, and certainly on American public opinion. Such actions erode the public's own resilience, increase emigration from Israel and weaken the army - because without a moral justification, even the most well-equipped army in the world cannot win.