Editorial |

Israel's Army Chief Failed the Test

Israeli army chief Aviv Kochavi, in June.
Israeli army chief Aviv Kochavi, in June.Credit: Moti Milrod

The limp response by Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi to the results of the inquiry into the death of Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad, 80, sends soldiers and officers the warped message that what happened was unpleasant, but that’s no big deal. The bottom line is mild punishment wrapped in empty rhetoric.

Kochavi used lofty words (“the incident was a grave and unfortunate event”) in his harsh description (“Leaving Mr. As’ad alone and without checking his condition was a careless act”). He also pointed out the disparity between their actions and “the values of the Israel Defense Forces, at the center of which is the requirement to protect the sanctity of any human life.”

The punishment, however, tells a completely different story. According to a statement by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, the commanders of the platoon and the company whose soldiers detained As’ad will be dismissed and barred from holding any command position for two years. In addition, the commander of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, in which the soldiers served, will be reprimanded. When you weigh Kochavi’s harsh words against the actual price he is making those involved in the affair pay, it’s clear there is no significant gap between the value of a Palestinian life in the chief of staff’s eyes and its value in the eyes of Netzah Yehuda’s soldiers.

An 80-year-old Palestinian man was stopped and arrested in the middle of the night even though there were no intelligence warnings relating to him. The soldiers handcuffed him and covered his mouth, and when he resisted, they beat him. Then they left him lying motionless on the ground in the cold, in temperatures of zero degrees Celsius, abandoning him to his death. Yet the punishment the chief of staff imposed on the officers began and ended with ousting them from command positions for two years. This is a ludicrous penalty that will do nothing to stop the process of moral degeneration that led to such behavior.

Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad.

Moreover, Kochavi left the Netzah Yehuda Battalion in place rather than taking the necessary step of dismantling it. This battalion has been involved in repeated incidents, with the result that even people within the IDF have recommended dismantling it. Admittedly, dismantling Netzah Yehuda wouldn’t cure the IDF of its systematic moral corruption, which is the inevitable result of military control over a civilian population. But this battalion is especially dangerous. Its sociological makeup and the zealous beliefs shared by all its members have turned the battalion into a laboratory where volatile elements like religion, politics and the army are combined into a dangerous, flammable compound, and in a region saturated with gasoline fumes like the Middle East.

Kochavi chose not to dismantle the battalion because he feared the response of right-wing organizations. He thereby failed an important test of leadership and enabled the next act of abuse.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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