A RECENT poll announced that 64 percent of the people in Israel oppose the 2002 Arab peace plan that promises Arab recognition of Israel if it returns to its 1967 borders and the Palestinian “right to return” issue is negotiated in good faith.
There are many who would be disheartened to hear that a large majority of Israelis still oppose the peace plan, but I take a glass half full view of the new poll. The poll tells me that 36 percent of the Israeli population supports the plan. That’s a far cry from just a couple of years ago when nobody was even talking about it.
The results tell me that the Israeli civilian population wants a solution that will bring peace. I hope the percentage of Israelis accepting the peace plan will rise dramatically in the coming years.That’s the good news (or better news, anyway). The bad news is that the actions of the Israel Defense Force are undermining efforts to bring peace to the region.
At the same time that the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace came out with its poll, the Jerusalem-based Haaretz newspaper published a lengthy report that IDF soldiers routinely killed women and children under permissive rules of engagement during the 22-day siege of Gaza.
It also reported that IDF rabbis describe the conflict to soldiers as a “religious war.”The report has only garnered passing attention and muted criticism in the Western media, but it provides evidence what Palestinians and NGOs have been saying all along.
The killings of civilians – women and children – are not simply unfortunate collateral damage as the Israeli government has us believe, but a systemic problem that goes to the core of IDF policy on handling civilians.According to testimony from IDF soldiers, snipers routinely target women and children on the theory that they have been ordered out of a neighborhood, and if they remain they must be “terrorists.”
This bit of rationalization fails to take into account that often during the fog of war not every civilian gets the message and many that do have no place to go and are unwilling to give up their homes.But IDF logic really falls apart when one considers a Haaretz report that soldiers, as an act of “bonding” with their brothers in arms, order and wear T-shirts that carry slogans announcing their pride in killing civilians.
One T-shirt worn by soldiers shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s-eye on her stomach with the English title “I shot, 2 kills.” A sniper academy graduation T-shirt depicts a Palestinian infant, who grows into “a combative boy and then an armed adult.” The slogan reads, “No matter how it begins, we’ll put an end to it.”
There are more disturbing slogans that give every indication that Israel believes that every Palestinian boy will grow up to be a terrorist. Apparently the Israeli government has no plans to seek peace since it already believes the next generation of Palestinians – or what’s left of them – is right around the corner and ripe to do harm.
It seems to me to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kill enough families and the next generation Palestinians will indeed conspire to do harm.It’s difficult for me to blame 19-year-old boys in the IDF for this culture of hate and permissive murder.
The blame for killing of innocents and then wearing T-shirts announcing their pride in such accomplishments sits squarely on the shoulders of the men who command these boys and religious advisers who attempt to mitigate the moral dilemmas by couching the Gaza invasion as a “religious mission” to rid the region of non-Jews, just as we have seen with Al-Qaeda.
The T-shirts are printed with military command’s full knowledge, and they turn a blind eye every time a woman or child is shot dead in the street.The IDF has its supporters who claim that that Israel has a “moral army.” Supporters also say the testimony that snipers willfully kill civilians comes not from the snipers but from people who know the snipers. I’m not sure of the distinction. Few killers will publicly announce their actions.
While this comes as no surprise to the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors, the IDF is now exposed. The important difference is that the allegations are coming from within Israel, from its own soldiers and its own media.
These are not the allegations of a European NGO or Palestinian witnesses, but the soldiers who committed these acts and those who wear the T-shirts to prove it. I sense change in Israeli public opinion about the Palestinian issue, but I don’t in its government and its military. And until the government recognizes and corrects these abuses the chances of peace are remote.