Sunday, December 21, 2008

Israeli Army: OK for Soldiers to Take Food in War

Close friends of mine who served in the Second Lebanon War two years ago told me about what they saw and experienced. From leaving their boots on for days at a time to marching for miles at night, they gave me a detailed picture of what it was like. It was long stretches of tedium punctuated by terror at intervals.

One prominent feature of the Second Lebanon War was a shortage of food and drinking water for the soldiers. Israeli soldiers were under strict orders to take no food or drink from any Arab houses that they searched. many villages were temporarily evacuated in anticipation of an Israeli invasion. These were villages full of Hizbullah sympathisers. As would be expected in a religious Muslim home, they were under strict orders not to vandalise or destroy Islamic religious articles.

“We are not like them.” was a recurring theme.

There was a strong decision made at the highest levels that the Israeli army should not plunder. Because of this decision, Israeli soldiers went with little to eat. Upon his return from Lebanon, my friend who was there told me that he could not eat more than a few spoonfuls of food at a time. His stomach had shrunk during the invasion and took days to return to normal.

It is in light of this anomalous concern for the rights of a ruthless enemy that I was pleased to note that the Israeli army has modified its strict policy, showing a measure of compassion finally to its own soldiers.

According to Israel National News “IDF legal advisers announced Thursday that in times of war, soldiers may take food and water from civilian homes and stores. The ruling was part of IDF efforts to deal with problems encountered during the Second Lebanon War.

One of the serious issues hindering IDF soldiers during the war was the lack of supplies, including food. Many soldiers went without food for days. When soldiers who were left without rations attempted to take food from Lebanese homes, they were reprimanded by their commanders and told to leave the food in its place.”

The decision was not taken lightly but after months of soldier testimony and high level deliberation. The Israel National News article continues as follows.

After months of deliberations, IDF legal experts determined that soldiers located in enemy territory in wartime who lack rations may break into civilian homes and stores to take food and drink. Taking food in times of need is acceptable under international law, they decided, and foreign armies do so as well.

When I read the vehemence with which Israel is condemned in the media, I expect to hear heart rending testimony of Israeli atrocities such as those that occur in Sudan and the Congo. Instead I read of civility that is unheard of in the rest of the world’s war zones. A part of me is proud to be a part of such a nation that so insistently clings to its decency and compassion.

The other side of me is angry that Israel seems to have turned mercy into a vice. When I see pictures of a man (I use the term in the chromosomal sense) who bashed in the head of a four year old with a rifle butt walking proudly back to Lebanon, where he was welcomed him as a hero, I am angry. His corpse should have been marinated in pig fat and thrown at the feet of his family. Instead, he was fed for years and treated with a civility unknown in the prisons of his homeland. Compassion shown to such individuals is a form of mental illness.

I sincerely believe that every word of criticism of Israel is being weighed on heavenly scales and that the compassion that they show their enemies is being weighed on the other side. There is something unnatural about the harshness with which Israel is being judged. This story of the extraordinary lengths to which Israel goes to maintain high humanitarian standards brings home to me the injustice with which Israel is judged in the court of world opinion.

If America applies unrealistic standards to Israel or any of its other allies in troubled parts of the world, it risks paying a high cost for doing so. Iran was lost in 1979 to Khomenei during the Carter Presidency in good part because of an insistence on the rights of dissidents who had no respect for the rights of others. Although President elect Obama has showed a considerable measure of realism in his appointments and pronouncements, the issue of foolish compassion to America’s enemies must be raised and reiterated.

Meanwhile, Israel will always be found wanting by its implacable critics no matter what it does. The same realism that informed its decision to allow taking food from homes should apply to all of its national security decisions. There is a saying that sums up Israel’s dilemna..” Anyone who has ever gotten a kick in the family jewels while fighting according to gentleman’s rules would understand this concept very well. America should take stock of its enemies and behave accordingly.

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