Too Soon to Hand Out Medals

Long before all of the aspects of Operation Defensive Shield have been adequately reviewed, the IDF is lavishing glory upon its own action and has decided to confer a dozen commendations from the Central Command to soldiers deployed in the operation.

The terror attack at the Megiddo junction on Wednesday deferred a scheduled ceremony in which the Israel Defense Forces' Central Command was supposed to hand out commendations to soldiers who took part in Operation Defensive Shield. This was a particularly telling sequence: the conferral of medals for warfare aimed at destroying the terror infrastructure was delayed on account of a terror attack whose perpetrator set out from a locale in which several commended soldiers fought just two months ago. Unfortunately, the ceremony was deferred, and not canceled; even had there not been the bloody reminder from Jenin on Wednesday, the ceremony would not have been appropriate.

The IDF has been stingy with decorations in recent years. Now it has decided to confer a dozen commendations from the Central Command to soldiers deployed in Defensive Shield (two of them were killed in battle), and another four decorations to specific units, including one to an engineering unit whose soldiers destroyed part of the Jenin refugee camp. In addition, it has been reported that the Chief of Staff himself is to confer a commendation. Hence, long before all of the aspects of Operation Defensive Shield have been adequately reviewed, the IDF is lavishing glory upon its own action. The media coverage devoted to the army's decision, including a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, added drama.

The soldiers who have been deemed worthy of commendations, including two who paid with their lives, displayed genuine heroism. But the decision to hand out commendations for participation in Defensive Shield - a decision reached with lightning speed - is extremely problematic. It can be doubted that Defensive Shield will go down in the annals of military exploits as an exemplary war. The IDF invaded West Bank cities to carry out police work: The objective was to arrest terrorists, and confiscate their weapons. Most of the West Bank fell to the IDF without a battle. Some pockets of resistance, particularly the Jenin camp, led to painful casualties; but even in these locales, the fighting was between an army and some individuals. It was not a war.

The goal of the operation was to eradicate the terror infrastructure. This objective was not attained, as subsequent terror attacks have shown. This fact also has to be taken into account before commendations are handed out. Also, the unseemly aspects of the operation cannot be overlooked. Some IDF soldiers took part in acts of seemingly unprecedented vandalism. Thousands of Palestinian detainees were held in inhumane circumstances. Innocent people were among those who were killed. The IDF is said to have prevented the supply of medical treatment to the wounded; the State Comptroller is considering launching a review of these accusations.

Apart from the looting, the IDF has not investigated these grave phenomena. Whereas the IDF shirked the need to accept responsibility for unworthy acts perpetrated by its soldiers, and has neither investigated nor tried those about whom there are suspicions, it is making haste to decorate other soldiers.

If an appropriate time comes to lavish soldiers with commendations, it will only be after the operation's dark sides are investigated. True, IDF Major General Giora Eiland, Head of Plans and Policy Directorate, has announced that four inquiry teams have been formed to look into Defensive Shield. But one must ask: How is it that any inquiry of the operation's problematic sides has been delayed for so long - for instance, how much time is needed to examine the subject of the withholding of medical aid to wounded persons in Jenin? Apparently, almost no time at all is needed to hand out commendations.

These reservations have added meaning in view of the decision to decorate soldiers from the engineering unit that sowed much destruction in the Jenin camp. According to Palestinian sources, several houses were destroyed while their residents were still inside. The IDF did not wait to investigate thoroughly these claims before it commended soldiers from this unit.

That is an outrage, particularly after the disclosure of remarks made by one of the soldiers, Moshe Nissim, in Yedioth Ahronoth; in sickening fashion, the soldier described activities in the camp. The IDF did not disavow his statements; it neither denounced nor denied them. And it delivered a commendation to this unit. Thus, the destruction of the wretched houses of hundreds of Palestinians who were left without a roof over their heads is described not just as a necessity, but as a cause for commendation. An action decried as immoral by many in the world wins respect and prestige in our own eyes. This fact delivers a troubling message to the world, the Palestinians, and, especially, to IDF soldiers.