Fatuous claims about Israel having the most 'moral army' in the world ignore the fact that it kills civilians at a similar rate to Boko Haram
"I have no doubt in my heart that the IDF is the most moral army in the world,”said then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the middle of Israel’s 2008-09 siege of Gaza – an air and ground invasion that left nearly 1,500 Palestinians, most of them civilians, dead.
Everyone from casino and media magnate Sheldon Adelson to Jewish American trial lawyer Alan Dershowitz has repeated the assertion in the hope that if it’s said often enough the world will believe it true.
The trope has now been co-opted by even those who don’t have ancestral or even spiritual ties to Israel. Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of all British forces in Afghanistan, made the claim during the height of last summer’s siege on Gaza that “Israel is the most moral army the world has ever known.” Like, ever? I can’t be sure but it’s likely Gandhi, who freed a country without firing a single bullet, might have choked on whatever it is they serve in heaven.
That “Israeli military is the most moral army in the world” is a trope repeated so often by so many pro-Israel propagandists, it now stands as the IDF’s unofficial slogan.
It's a dubious slogan indeed given Israel waged a devastating ground invasion and air assault on Gaza last year under phony pretences. Having mischievously tied Hamas and Gaza to the kidnapping and murder of three teenage boys in the West Bank, the IDF dropped $370 million worth of ordinance on one of the most densely populated areas on earth.
Israel’s effort to “mow the lawn,” or as others have termed it, “occupation management,” resulted in the death of more than 2,000 Palestinians (alongside another 10,000 injured), most of them civilians, more than 500 of whom were children. And don’t get me started on widespread and corroborated claims the IDF used Palestinian civilians as “human shields”.
Ok, do get me started. The Israeli High Court found the IDF used Palestinians as human shields 1,200 times in the years 2000 to 2005 alone.
So back to last year’s siege of Gaza. The damage to Gaza’s infrastructure and economy was just as devastating. More than 400 businesses were wiped out; Israeli shelling destroyed 10,000 homes, damaged another 100,000; 24 medical facilities were struck, as was Gaza’s sole power station.
If you need a sense of the World War Two era level of carpet bombing dropped on Gaza, consider Israel military’s own estimates: “390,000 tank shells, 34,000 artillery shells, and 4.8 million bullets were supplied during the fighting.”
Given the population of Gaza is 1.8 million; the IDF had fired almost two bullets for every resident of Gaza.
“The shocking level of firepower Israeli forces exerted against Gaza’s civilian infrastructure told the story of a frustrated Goliath unable to punish its vastly underarmed foe into submission,” writes Max Blumenthal, who was in Gaza during the shelling, in his new book The 51 Day War.
If one is to apply a slogan to the Israeli Defense Force that is truly indicative of where large segments of Israeli society and the military is today, one could do worse than apply the moniker “Death to Arabs.”
During the height of the 2014 siege, an Israel Democracy Institute poll found that 95 percent of Israelis supported the invasion, with nearly half complaining the IDF hadn’t used enough force. In other words, “Death to Arabs.”
Strolling through the bombed-out rubble of Gaza, Blumenthal recorded a number of Palestinian buildings, which had been used as military outposts by the IDF during the invasion, that had been graffitied with the words: “Death to Arabs.”
Vandalized Palestinian homes are not merely a frustrated expression of war, for “Death to Arabs” has become a movement within Israel itself.
In response to the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens, which was mischievously blamed by Israel on Hamas to give political cover for the Gaza invasion, Zionist groups held “Death to Arabs” rallies in Jerusalem.
This is the language of neo-fascism and the behaviour of an increasingly fascistic state. Both comically and tragically, however, it is Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem that is self-radicalising those civilians who chant “Death to Arabs” in the streets, and those soldiers who spray paint it on the walls of Palestinian homes.
Last month I interviewed two soldiers from the IDF’s Lishkat HaGiyus (recruitment office) in Jerusalem - soldiers whose job it is to analyse and test new recruits for the purpose of determining which branch of the military the applicant would be best served. I asked whether it was common for new recruits to just come out and say, “I want to kill Arabs”? They said it was more common in Jerusalem because applicants from the Occupied Territories – the West Bank and East Jerusalem – filter through the Jerusalem recruitment office.
Each recruitment soldier guessed it was likely five new recruits out of 100 who blurt out “I want to kill Arabs” at the first interview, with a greater number who think it but aren’t stupid enough to say it. “It’s different though and depends on where the applicant comes from. If they come from behind the Green Line or live in the settlements, they are more likely to be excited about idea of killing Arabs,” said IDF recruiter Aki, a resident of southern Galilee, who refrained from using his full name for obvious reasons. “If you ask someone from Tel Aviv, it will be lower,” said recruiter Sheera, a resident of East Jerusalem.
Both soldiers made it clear that Arabs who don’t live under occupation don’t hate the military and maintain “friendly relations,” but for those Israelis who live in the Occupied Territories, “you have an everyday contact with Arabs and you see what they think of you.”
It’s the Occupation, stupid.
Illegal Jewish settlers are subjected to hostile resistance from those they occupy. In turn, settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are subject to taunts and reprisals. When the children of settlers are old enough to join the military, they enter with pent up anti-Arab resentment. “Death to Arabs” becomes the mantra. “Death to Arabs” is chalked on military shells meant for Gaza.
With three-quarters of a million illegal Jewish settlers now living in the Occupied Territories, the civilian, political and military spectrum gets pulled further and further to the right. A civilian military that moves ever further to the fascistic bookend of the ideological spectrum means bad things for those that dare resist its force, especially when high-profile religious leaders begin calling for “the extermination of the enemy population with whatever measures it deems proper.”
A newly published report by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) found Israel killed and injured more civilians with explosive weapons in 2014 than any other country in the world. The report defines explosive weapons as “munitions such as air-dropped bombs, mortars, improvised explosive devices and artillery shells” which cause “deaths, injuries and damage by projecting explosive blast, heat and often fragmentation around a point of detonation.”
Of the 4,022 injuries and deaths from explosive violence AOAV recorded in Gaza, 3,813 were civilians. “This means that civilians comprised an alarming 95 percent of those killed or maimed by explosives in Gaza, placing Israel in the same league as the militant group Boko Haram, whose deadly suicide and IED (improvised explosive device) attacks resulted in a 97 percent civilian casualty rate in Nigeria. By comparison, the rate of civilian casualties in Syria, to which Israel often refers to deflect from its own atrocities, was 81 percent,” notes Rania Khalek.
One should staple both the AOAV and UN Investigation into Gaza to the forehead of Sheldon Adelson, Alan Dershowitz, Ehud Barak, Col. Richard Kemp, and anyone else who claims “the IDF is the most moral army in the world.”
If taglines are to be thrown around, “Death to Arabs” is one that articulates the ideological headspace of the Israeli military. A pseudo-tagline that will be heard more often and more shrill as Israel continues to manage its illegal occupation.
- CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, God Hates You. Hate Him Back, Koran Curious, and is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.