Last week, the army convicted five new recruits on charges that they refused to serve in the military for political reasons. The five, who are to be sentenced Tuesday, could each receive as much as three years in jail.
The story in which this quote appears mentions a growing resistance within the Israeli Army, including among some elite units, to being used in ways that appear to be inhumane. Months ago, as just one example, 27 pilots refused to carry out missions involving “targeted killings.” Members of elite units are refusing to engage in the continued oppression of Palestinians within the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Sharon and other hawks need to take a more thoughtful notice of this trend than they have thus far. When large numbers of one’s own military begin to question the humanity of their orders, it should give pause. If it were just a man or two who was refusing to obey, that would be one story. A trend is a different thing. Military men — especially Israeli military — do not take these steps lightly.
Did not our Jewish predecessors — indeed, the entire world — feel a revulsion for the attitude of German soldiers during World War II? At the Nuremburg trials, this attitude was repeatedly expressed in the phrase, “I was only following orders.” How then, can Israel not recognize that their moral compass has ceased functioning when they insist on jailing those growing numbers of soldiers who are refusing to follow orders which can only “lead to desperation and a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza“?
What I am arguing is not that Israel should lie down and accept the oft-stated goals of Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Al Aksa. These groups have repeatedly stated that they will not stop until Israel is destroyed; peaceful co-existence is not on the board. As one Hamas representative stated, “We don’t believe in ’67 or ’48 — it’s all our land.” It is, of course, no more acceptable to argue for the end of Israel than it is to argue for the end of the Palestinian people.
Groups like Hamas and Al Aksa and all who would work as they do toward the destruction of Israel must be dealt with harshly. It is they — and neither Israel nor the Palestinian people — who must be destroyed.
Yet to consider (and act as though) it is not possible to take steps toward the establishment of peace with Palestinians because of the work of groups such as Hamas and Al Aksa is to embrace a false dichotomy. Too often, those asking Israel to make peace have put forth proposals that can only spring from the patently absurd world of “black and white”; Israel’s response must not be of the same sort.
The Palestinian people themselves will no more go away than will we Jews. That is reality. A realistic approach to the situation in the Middle East has to take this into account. It should be possible to engage in a dialogue with the Palestinian leaders of the Palestinian terroritories aimed at establishing a peaceful co-existence. If those leaders will not negotiate, then we have not a game of hide-and-seek with Palestinian members of the Intifada, but the need for an actual defined war. If the United States was justified in removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein from power when they could not gain the cooperation of these governments, so, too, should Israel be justified in removing the PLO leaders if negotiations are impossible. A new government could then be set up with which Israel begins to negotiate for substantive rights for the Palestinian people, including statehood — yet not forgetting to provide for stable and humane daily living conditions even before statehood is achieved.
Israel can continue to seek out and destroy leaders of the Intifada movement, but in doing so must continue to work towards the goal of peaceful co-existence with the general Palestinian populace of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These are not necessarily mutually-exclusive goals. The United States daily targets “terrorists” within its borders with an abrogation of its own Constitution and Bill of Rights at a level which is acceptable to the general population; there are no uprisings in the streets and no constant barrages of suicide bombers attacking governmental institutions. Israel can take a leaf from this book in dealing with the Palestinians.
There is no need to insist upon adopting the stance of World War II Germany and insisting that we should ignore the human tragedy being played out daily by “only following orders.”