Rabbi Ascherman of RHR – Seventh day of Pesach thoughts
With no glee or joy whatsoever, I am passing on to you below what our spokesperson, Noga Eitan, has written about the conversation she heard between soldiers on the train erev Pesach. It is not quite as awful as the “disproved” incidents alleged by the soldiers from the Rabin Academy, but awful enough. Remember that , while their report is months away, Breaking the Silence has stated that the Rabin Academy testimony was in line with what they have been collecting. There is reason to believe that there were clear open fire orders in many units which did not explicitly say, “Shoot civilians,” but did say “Shoot anything that moves and ask questions later.”
I suppose that we can debate whether we agree with those rabbis who argue that the IDF`s traditional “Purity of Arms” is antithetical to Judaism, and whether international law needs to be revised to take into account fighting terrorist organizations. Sticking to the traditional values of the IDF does lead to losing the lives of more of our children. It also means fewer civilian deaths.
I believe that the evisceration of “Purity of Arms” is a moral disaster for our people. Even if the stories Noga heard were simply hearsay (one clearly was, although that neither proves nor disproves it) or fabricated out of bravado, the fact that our soldiers would boast about such things is a moral disaster in and of itself. Whatever we Israelis will eventually decide as a society and whatever the judgment of the Jewish people will be, this is serious enough to explain why there must be a State investigation not controlled by the army. In order to have the discussion we must have as a country and as a people, we must know the truth. “Reason to believe” is not absolute proof, but it is one of the main criteria for opening a State investigation. These stories, the testimonies collected so far by Physicians for Human Rights (), and B`Tselem
(), as well as by Palestinian and international organizations have clearly passed the threshold that demands a State investigation.
We are taught that on the seventh day of Pesakh the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptians drowned. According to the well known Midrash, God silences the angels from joining the Israelites in song, “My children are drowning in the sea, and you sing to me?” (Shir HaShirim Rabah 5, Sanhedrin 39b). From this we can learn that God differentiates between the understandable joy of those who have been saved and all others. We might learn from this that, we who are commanded to see ourselves as if we had personally been redeemed from Egypt, can also sing and rejoice. This is partially true. However, just as we reduce ten drops of wine from our cups when we recall the 10 plagues on Seder night, we do not recite the full Hallel during Pesakh, except on the first day. This is particularly strange on the 7th day of Pesakh – a full khag and the very day of our salvation. However, our tradition teaches us that our joy is muted because of the deaths of the Egyptians. These are not exactly civilians, mind you. Although it is possible that Pharaoh`s army contained reluctant conscripts, they were chasing our ancestors with the intent to do harm. Even so, our joy is muted.
My prayer on this 7th day of Pesach is that God will give all of us, on all sides of these questions, the strength and the courage to put aside our preconceptions and to liberate ourselves from our unwillingness to investigate what the unknown truth is. Even if my prayers would be answered and it would turn out that, contrary to my deep suspicions at this point, a genuinely unbiased investigation would prove that our actions in Gaza had been blameless, I aspire to a society in which our soldiers, along with all the passengers on the train, would defend their country when necessary, but tearfully say, “God’s children have died, and we can not sing songs of joy.”
Noga writes :
When the group of soldiers entered the train car I was travelling in on Passover eve, I had a thought, ‘I wonder what they did during “Cast Lead”‘. Immediately I castigated myself for demonizing the young soldiers. Just as the Military Advocate General closed files, I was opening files having already judged them.
However, my reflections were quickly cut off as two soldiers sat opposite me and began a loud conversation – apparently the continuation of a conversation which I had not heard the beginning of. They spoke very loudly with exclamations and phrases such as “brother” and “you wouldn`t believe.” My presence and the presence of others on the full train on holiday eve didn’t daunt them a bit.
Here is a small part of the conversation that I remember:
Soldier 1: “You wouldn`t believe what they did there in Gaza, brother,” said one of the soldiers. “They took down half the houses in Gaza, believe me, with that D9….The engineering corps removed there…by the time we arrived the Hamasniks fled and there were areas where all the homes had been flattened, you wouldn`t believe it.” There was a thirty something year old civilian sitting next to me interrupted the conversation and said, “We began that in Jenin in “Defensive Shield.” Wow, the things we did there. How we mowed things down with the D9.”
Soldier 2: “Believe me, brother, as much as we flattened in Gaza, we didn`t demolish enough. We needed to wipe all of Gaza off the map. We almost did it. There was a plan to continue to stage 3 of the operation to wipe out all of Gaza. In the end they cancelled that stage, because of the civilians.
Soldier 1: “Our commander told us that any suspicious movement in the homes, even a little suspicious, half suspicious, a quarter suspicious – you shoot. It doesn`t matter to me who is there. They are all Arabs. Shoot full clips, shoot LAW missiles, shoot whatever you want.
Soldier 2: “Yeah, that`s nothing. My friend from -, told me that they sat in the courtyard of some house. They were bored out of their skulls. Out of boredom, I tell you…..My friend saw somebody in the window of some house. He went to his commander and said to him, `Commander, I see suspicious movement. Can I shoot? Boom -Shot a LAW missile at some home. Half the home went. Because of boredom I tell you…That`s the way it was there, I swear. Freely we shot there. Brother, what explosions!”
I lowered my eyes to the book I was reading, but was entirely focused on the words of the soldiers spraying around me. “LAW missles,” “Flattening” “Brother, how many Arabs we killed there.”
Only as we were getting off the train did I dare to approach one of the soldiers. “Tell me,” I said quietly, “Don`t you feel at all disturbed by the things you told so loudly, that your finger was so light on the trigger, even when you were shooting at innocent civilians?”
The soldier looked surprised for a moment, then spat out disdainfully, “No, I feel great…and you couldn’t care less about the Israelis in Sderot, right?”
The second soldier joined in: “Looks like we`ve got here a military police officer. You can tell her what we did in Gaza.” The two soldiers burst out laughing, and I quickly got out of there, as their laughter, and the curses of the civilian that had sat next to me on the train accompanied me, “Traitor…all the leftists are war criminals.”