The IDF’s Moral Eclipse

Assuming the Goldstone report is distorted and dripping with hatred for Israel, does that justify the lack of an investigation into what happened during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip?

By Avi Sagi

Let’s assume that the Goldstone report is distorted, one-sided and dripping with hatred for Israel. Does that assumption justify the lack of an investigation into what happened during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip? Does the fact that the report is problematic mean that the Israel Defense Forces acted properly? It seems as if the urgent need to close ranks against the outside enemy – this time, in the form of the Goldstone report – has resulted in total blindness and pathetic repetition of the old slogan: The IDF is the most moral army in the world, and acted accordingly.

But morality is not the same as talk about morality. Morality requires alertness and constant monitoring, a perpetual willingness to admit to failure or error. A lack of such willingness is equivalent to an inability to distinguish between good and evil. Hence criticism and scrutiny are needed now. And not just legal scrutiny, because that would examine only whether there were violations of the law that warrant criminal charges – and that is not enough.

Legal scrutiny is the floor below which lies criminality. But the scrutiny that is needed must also address the question of whether the IDF acted in accordance with the ceiling of our highest values.

It is precisely those who exercise legitimate force who must be doubly careful. The use of force is a huge temptation, especially given the value we place on preserving our soldiers’ lives. But we expect the IDF to surmount the high threshold it set in its own code of ethics, "The Spirit of the IDF," which states, "A soldier shall not use his weapons and his power to harm noncombatants or captives." Is it not appropriate to examine the IDF’s conduct in light of its own values? Can any individual or organization declare that it acted appropriately without scrutinizing behavior that seemingly rode roughshod over fundamental moral values, first and foremost the value of human life?

These weighty questions are not directed solely at the IDF. The IDF is an arm of the sovereign State of Israel and its government. Thus, just as we have a clear obligation to frequently examine the conduct of the state and its prevailing norms, we have an obligation to examine the army’s activities. The IDF is not an autonomous entity separate from the state, it is an extension of the state; IDF soldiers are us, our children and friends.

Therefore, the question of whether the IDF passed its moral test is one that ought to concern every citizen of Israel. Neither the chief of staff nor any other officer can be a substitute for our own conscience. The citizens of this state are those who bear overall responsibility for what it does, and what the IDF does. The IDF’s test is thus our test as a society, and as moral agents. No person of conscience can remain silent when such a heavy cloud hangs over the IDF’s actions.

The moral eclipse that has struck both the IDF and the civil government threatens our ability to be a just and moral society. Anyone who fears moral scrutiny has something to hide. The IDF has recently conducted a growing number of legal inquiries revolving around the question of an officer’s truthfulness. The gap between the vigor of these inquiries and the ease with which the IDF rejects demands for an investigation into Cast Lead cries out to the heavens.

Terrorism is aimed in part at distorting our moral values. The lack of moral scrutiny of the IDF’s conduct is a form of such distortion, and thus a victory for terror.

If the IDF and the relevant government authorities refrain from investigating, we the citizens must demand that they do so. If they persist in their refusal, then we must find a way to bring unbiased individuals together on their own to examine what needs examining. The lack of an investigation turns all of us, and not just the IDF, into defendants. We stand accused of responsibility for slipping the leash and enabling acts that are fundamentally immoral – and not only because of the refusal to scrutinize what happened. There is no way to deal with this responsibility except by setting up an external inquiry committee with no interest but to find the truth.

– Avi Sagi is one of the authors of the "The Spirit of the IDF" documented referenced in this article. Originally published in Haaretz. 

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