Don't Believe the Polls: Israelis Don't Really Think Killing Neutralized Terrorists Is Right

The minute Ya’alon and Eisenkot came out at the head of those convicting the soldier in the Hebron incident, they elevated the seriousness of the affair completely out of proportion.

Israel Harel
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Israeli soldiers surround the body of one of the two Palestinians who were killed after attacking a soldier in Hebron, March 24, 2016.
Israeli soldiers surround the body of one of the two Palestinians who were killed after attacking a soldier in Hebron, March 24, 2016.Credit: AFP
Israel Harel

If on the matter of the soldier (accused of killing a “neutralized” terrorist) the law of “then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be the truth,” then his sentence must be his removal from the Israel Defense Forces and an additional punishment to be determined by the military court. This is the proper measure, and none other.

It is forbidden, with a large exclamation point, to act differently. I am convinced that the majority of the Israeli public is a party to this basic norm, even in these crazy times in which unwise, unrestrained and ill-considered words are thrown into the air by those at all levels and from every direction.

Then what has made this affair into a blistering dispute, which has so divided the country? One of the answers is the public’s feeling that the political and military leadership has blown things completely out of proportion. Civilians and soldiers live under never-ending tension and stress. Nonetheless, during the half year of the “stabbing intifada” it is the one and only case that it is possible to describe as undoubtedly exceptional. If this exception were to be dealt with, without any concessions, at the appropriate command and legal levels – and with the appropriate tone – it would be reasonable to assume that the public would have responded in the same tone.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon at an army exercise earlier this year. Credit: Ariel Hermony / Defense Ministry

But the minute Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot came out first, and in full voice, at the head of those convicting the soldier, they elevated the seriousness of the affair completely out of proportion. They simply wanted to rescue the IDF from the accusations that it executes terrorists, but they actually made things worse.

The overkill effect achieved, as the responses from overseas also demonstrate, the opposite of what they wanted. Parents, commanders and soldiers all felt they were being slandered. Many who came to the soldier’s defense actually have the same moral standards as Eisenkot and Ya’alon. As to their behavior, we can apply the words of Ecclesiastes: “Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise; why shouldest thou destroy thyself?”

The rejoicing of the left: “This is the requisite price of the ‘occupation,’” caused many to behave not according to their basic moral beliefs. Whoever compares a crude, inclusive and disproportionate political value to the mistake of an individual causes those with an opposing political viewpoint to identify with their own camp.

Opinion polls prove that two-thirds of the public support the soldier in one way or another. For most of them, we can assume this support is not expressed necessarily from a moral position different than the one Eisenkot and Ya’alon are so worried about. They are expressing a reaction against B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence and the rest of the organizations whose criticism distorts proportions and who are seen as inciting against the state and the IDF.

On Thursday, at the height of the storm, Eisenkot published a special letter making clear the IDF’s values once again. I hope this time, as opposed to what he said last week, his words will act as cooling water and not as material to fan the dispute. The document “The Spirit of the IDF,” whose content was controversial at the time, contains all the components Eisenkot chose to emphasize, and which commanders need to inculcate among their soldiers.

Now, when the human mosaic of soldiers is different than what it was in the past, and ideological disputes split the IDF more than ever, such a missive, which the Education Corps (whose stance has great opposition within the IDF) formulated, could well add oil to the fire. If it is seen as being “softer” than what a group of professors (all left-wing) wrote in 2000, the response could rock, and possibly even override, the fundamental document, which despite the opposition of quite a number of its elements, is what guides the IDF.

At this sensitive moment, it is a shame Eisenkot did not adopt the advice of the wisest of all men: “Awaken ye not, nor stir up...”

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