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Military Morality

26 August 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

The strength of a nation and its armed forces are measured only in part by its advanced military equipment and training.  Many will point out the importance of the civilian economy standing behind the military and the morale of the population.  No doubt these are important factors.  Israel and the Jewish people were never an economic, military, agricultural nor seafaring empire, not in ancient times and not today. 

Rather after the Sinai trek of over 3000 years ago we were expected to be a moral empire.  This became even more so once the Jews were dispersed after the Second Temple destruction.  Contained within the Jewish people was the development of a universal humane law code.  Once a state was reestablished some 2000 years later the development of the army was a necessity and issues such as purity of arms was a major component in the blend between defense and morality.

Hence the latest revelations of looting of Palestinian homes by soldiers during the Defensive Shield operation are most disturbing.  First and foremost it is immoral and unethical.  The phenomena are apparently more widespread than originally thought as up to now there have been 35 cases brought for court marshals.  The Israeli daily Maariv reports close to 250 investigations.  On the operational level looting is a breakdown in discipline and in the end boomerangs against the military social cohesiveness necessary for victory. 

Israelis are understandably furious over the massive Palestinian violence but looting and the indiscriminate destruction of property as a form of vengeance or a rationalization of they deserve it solve nothing and only make the problem worse in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians. 

There are only two bright spots in the story.  Many soldiers reported the illegal behavior by their comrades (and apparently Palestinians trusted Israeli officials enough to also complain) while the press and the military brass took the initiative in condemnations and investigation.   Unfortunately even though most politicians are on vacation one would have expected to hear more from their quarter.

Without a moral and ethical military, representing the nation that sent if off to battle one can begin to question the very raison d etre for the establishment of the Jewish State.  After all if we are going to behave like the other armies and societies of the world, the State of Israel loses its unique significance and it might be much easier to assimilate.

Or the Jewish people should continue taking the more difficult path and eliminate the scourge of looting and any other immoralities on the battlefield and elsewhere.