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The IDF's Slippery Moral Slope
by Neve Gordon 9:31pm Sun Feb 9 '03

Following the lecture, the soldiers contested my analysis concerning
IDF leadership.
they argued that the IDF’s primary objective is to protect
Israeli citizens, and in order to accomplish this goal it must, at times,
violate human rights and international law.
print article

Published in In These Times, January 31, www.inthesetimes.com

Jerusalem: Following my last military reserve duty, I was kicked out of
my unit, the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) educational corps.

There was a surrealistic dimension to the whole experience. I had
driven a few hours to a base located near the Egyptian border after having
been asked to lecture about “Leadership” to 60 soldiers of the Givati
infantry brigade who were about to begin officers’ training course.
These young men are the military’s future commanders, its elite.

I decided to concentrate, in the lecture’s first part, on the
relationship between leadership and moral virtue, examining the characteristics
distinguishing leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot from others
like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. In the
discussion that followed, the soldiers concluded that all of the leaders
mentioned possessed charisma, intelligence, and rhetorical skills, but
only the latter three were guided by universal moral values -- the
equality of all people.

The second part of the presentation focused on leadership within the
IDF. My main contention was that so long as the occupation of
Palestinian territories continues, the Israeli military will not produce worthy
leaders. The argument was mainly structural, namely that within the
context of the occupation even the most humane officers would find
themselves trampling human dignity. To substantiate my claim I offered several
examples in which IDF soldiers committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip,
an area well known to my audience.

Following the lecture, the soldiers contested my analysis concerning
IDF leadership, raising two major objections.

First they argued that the IDF’s primary objective is to protect
Israeli citizens, and in order to accomplish this goal it must, at times,
violate human rights and international law.

“In order to save lives in Tel-Aviv, I have to detain Palestinians at a
checkpoint,” one soldier exclaimed, and then added: “If, for example,
in the process an infant dies because of delayed access to a hospital,
then so be it.” When I asked if the same rationale applied to two,
three, or more babies, he replied in the affirmative, without batting an
eye.

The soldiers then went on to claim that the “IDF is the most moral army
in the world.” While several thought this to be axiomatic, others felt
it necessary to offer evidence.

“Several months ago we entered a refugee camp to apprehend a ‘wanted’
Palestinian,” one said. “We could have ordered a helicopter to bomb the
house where the suspect was hiding, but we decided that the platoon
would enter the camp despite possible risk to our soldiers; we did not
want to harm innocent people,” he explained.

Other soldiers also presented examples to show how on numerous
occasions the IDF could have employed more brutal means, but refrained from
doing so in order to minimize the number of innocent Palestinians
casualties. Theirs was the voice of the military establishment, and while these
two arguments are powerful, both suffer from a common fallacy of moral
relativism.

Regarding the logic underlying the first claim -- the hypothetical
death of the child at the checkpoint -- Jewish political philosopher Hannah
Arendt once said that when the end justifies the means, then everything
is permitted. And indeed, during the past two years we have seen the
dangerous and devastating implications of a moral position that lacks an
anchor.

It began with the unremitting curfews, followed by reports of babies
dying at checkpoints and snipers shooting children. This was just the
beginning; the military continued its moral slide as soldiers demolished
homes with their residents still inside, and Israeli pilots bombed
populated buildings located in town centers.

The soldiers’ second claim suffers from a similar error of moral
relativism, simply because there is no limit to human cruelty, and it will
always be possible to argue that the IDF could have behaved more brutally
in a given situation.

The soldier who detained a sick woman for seven hours at the checkpoint
could have beaten her and prevented her from passing through at all;
yet this in no way justifies a seven-hour delay. The pilot who dropped
the one-ton bomb on the populated houses, killing nine children, could
have destroyed an entire neighborhood, but the “mercy” he showed does
not in any way make his act moral.

The chain of events since the outbreak of the second Intifada suggests
that the IDF has employed more and more force against a primarily
civilian population, and that every action is justified by comparing it to
more brutal actions the IDF could, theoretically, have carried out.

In the absence of a universal moral approach -- whereby there are
things that one simply does not do, regardless -- one is left with a tribal
or relativistic worldview. Here the right to human dignity is
contingent on national, ethnic, or religious affiliation, rather than on
membership of the human species.

Because the IDF has rejected the notion that human beings are created
equal, every young commander who follows its codes will inevitably slide
down the slippery moral slope. And as the soldiers themselves seemed to
understand at the outset of the lecture, universal moral values are
what distinguish corrupt from worthy leaders -- an axiom that must be
applied to the IDF too.


Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University and is a
contributor to The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent (New Press
2002). He can be reached at ngordon@bgumail.bgu.ac.il

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Clogging with lies or just a lot of text
by John Veldhuis 7:54am Tue Feb 11 '03

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Could you people (Tim, AMR, etc) stop posting the same ramblings in more than one story? It just fills up space, its purpose seems only to make Indymedia Israel less readable?

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long pasted comments from other websites
by Indymedia Editing Group 12:52pm Tue Feb 11 '03
indymedia@indymedia.org.il

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These long and unrelated comments you speak of were removed...

If someone posts long and merely tangentially related comments (especially simply cut and pasting text from another source) it will be removed.

For those who want to post an article from FrontPageMagazine.com or other sources, post links to the article only, no full posting...

Indymedia Israel Editing Group

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Narrow minded
by Eric 9:44am Thu Feb 20 '03

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I.m very happy that the American people stared to rise and demonstrate. If you ask your heart instead of your mind, no so called dictator is paying these demostrators in U.S or any where else in this world(it comes from the heart when we see unjust.

WAKE UP, stop dreaming, the dream is over. Just because your not following your ideals or religion, we are not followers of communism. Ask your self what do you realy want this life to be( for every body on the whole globe, not just the U.S.A) we all want to be happy and my happiness is equal justified as yours. Life is love(acceptance, understanding, equamity), share it. Let all be happy not just a few controling the rest. That's what this war is about.

Love all Serve all

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Too many absolutes
by Avi Harari 8:57pm Mon Feb 24 '03

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Your arguments suffer from the over-use of absolutes, to the point where they are doctrinaire. The soldiers arguments were, to my mind, superior to yours, as it seems to me that where two or more ethical imperatives collide, moral behaviour is best determined by a subjective, yet totally honest assessment of the situation. In other words, you just do your best in the circumstances: it's as simple as that. For this reason, it is not always possible to say what will be the correct behaviour in hypothetical circumstances. I think you basically got fired for trying to ram your political views down the throats of those soldiers.

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I think not
by John Veldhuis 7:04am Tue Feb 25 '03

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I think because the IDF rejects the notion that
human beings are created equal

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Moral Relativism
by David 7:54pm Wed Feb 26 '03

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Mr. Gordon suggests that occupation is absolutely wrong, and the IDF could not therefore produce worthy leaders. If life was only so simple.
Unfortunately for his thesis, clearly some occupations have been beneficial, both for the occupied and for the surrounding states. Would the world have been a better place had the Allies not occupied Germany and Japan after WWII? And don't we all wish Cambodia and Rwanda had been occupied by outside forces before hundreds of thousands were slaughtered by the regime in power (once based on ideology, the latter based on tribalism?). Similarly, the US (and some Europeans) bombed and occupied Kosovo without any UN (or Security Council) support, - much to the benefit of the Muslim population suffering at the hands of the Serbs.
However, let's accept that Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is bad for Palestinians (and - demographically and democratically - Jewish national self determination). Is a checkpoint that slows Arab commerce and access to hospitals more or less evil than mortars lobbed from Gaza into Sderot, or mass killers sent from Jenin and Nablus to Jerusalem and Netanya? So long as a large majority of Palestinians deny Jews have the same rights to national self determination which the Palestinians claim for themselves, and indicate they will use the West Bank and Gaza to eliminate "pre-1967 Israel", the occupation may be the lesser of two evils. As an individual, ultimately I need to occupy (restrain) an attacker to protect my life. Similarly, Israel, as a nation, may need, for a time, to occupy another nation, in order to protect Israel.
One can hate the occupation as hurtful to both the Palestinians, and to the Jewish right to self determination, but still recognize that unilateral withdrawal will be a "worse evil" in the current circumstances, if it unleases (as seems likely) a new government dedicated to Israel's destruction. It may be that a Palestinian leadership evolves which really and truly accepts Israel pre-67, and works hard to educate the Palestininan masses to that effect. It may also be true that Arab states may eventually urge Palestinians to do so. However, that day is not yet here.

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National Self Determination, theirs and ours
by Rowan Berkeley 5:56pm Thu Feb 27 '03

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Thought experiments that work by imagining each of the sides of a conflict in the shoes of the other, and ask how their likely conduct would vary, are excellent moral tools.
BUT, for them to work, the circumstances have to be genuinely symmetrical. Do the two sides have equal possibilities of self-definition? would be my version of the Habermas Test, and looked at like that there is an interesting problem for "the Jews".
What is a Jew? Well, whatever any of you may think it is, entry and exit to and from "the Jewish people" is still controlled by RABBIS--of many and rival denominations, sure, I even know a Marxist denomination of Rabbis, but still, since for almost two millenia the only form of collectivity the Jewish people were ALLOWED was religious (i.e. ostensibly non-political) Borochov has been disproved and even in their own land their elementary rights of self-definition are still controlled by religious functionaries. Look at the marriage laws, for pete's sake.
Now are ANY of the neighboring Arab peoples laboring under theocratic personal law? Well, are they? I don't think so...

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