April 1996, Operation "Grapes of Wrath" is at its peak.
I am a commander of a Dvorah-type naval war ship. The ship is sent every day to the far north. Our usual boring and mundane missions change to operational sailing on the Lebanese shores of Tzur, Sideon and Beirut.
The sea is under our control. The naval blockade off the shores of Lebanon is at its peak, our assignments are exciting and we are in high spirits, like we are on a divine mission.
All of this was before the real appealing assignment that stood before us - shelling the shore.
The Lebanese coastal road is full of cars, most of them traveling north. Our mission is to deter cars traveling south, without trying to actually hit the cars (sounds humane? Wait and read on).
You don't have to be an international ballistics specialist to know that if you shoot near passing cars all day, every day, in the end you are bound to hit one of them. And indeed, one day a car was hit. Apparently all of its passengers were killed. We related to it indifferently (speaking in the plural is always an easy escape).
Do you understand why I am angry?
Because the army set me to shell a road that innocent civilians were traveling on; the only crime of most of them was that they were traveling south in order to rescue their families in Southern Lebanon, which Israel threatened to bomb. Because the IDF sent me to participate in a "war of choice."
What did I do those days?
Regrettably the missions and with a lot of enthusiasm.
The only thing that I can say in my favor is that during a debriefing session with the commanding officer of the Naval corps, I questioned the excessive power of the shells that we were firing. I was answered curtly, angrily and with much contempt, towards me and especially towards those that the shells were being fired at.
I left the briefing for another night of shelling, excited as usual....
Adrenaline is an addictive drug, you all know.
What don't I forgive myself for?
Not that I carried out the orders.
Today I understand that back then, as a 23-year-old, educated in the country's educational system, army officer, hostage of the ethos of the Israeli Defense (!) Forces, it was a situation that was very difficult for me to say "No!".
For these reasons, I have forgiven myself for carrying out the orders.
I did not forgive myself for not questioning them, for not hesitating, not even for an instant.
Maybe it isn't permitted to shell innocent civilians?
Maybe it isn't ethical?
Maybe there is a "black flag" hanging?
Maybe a dark gray one? A bright gray one?
Maybe I am just another one in a long line of soldiers (in the IDF and other armies) that agree to fight in "wars of choice" and do forbidden things?
If I would have had doubts and struggled, okay.
If I would have thought whether to carry out the orders, okay.
If I would have even thought that the mission is somewhat problematic ethically, okay.
Even if eventually I were to agree to the carry out the operation.
I am embarrassed that even the smallest of doubts didn't enter my head.
For that, I don't forgive myself
What did I learn from this?
A very important lesson.
I learned that in one of the most important things in life, I tended to mistake cause and effect.
I use to think that what I do is dictated by my system of values (or more simply, what I think). Those dark nights in the spring of 1996 showed me, in retrospect, that frequently the opposite is true. What I do dictates what I think. I noticed that if you are busy, from sunrise to sunset, shelling the shores where there are civilians, eventually you will consider this okay, just and ethical. For me, this was a frightening wake-up call. The lesson from this I have kept with me (for many more years of reserve duty …
What is the practical conclusion?
I am writing these things wearing my army uniform. Yes, I am in reserve duty. But I have learned that my ethics must dictate the range of my obedience. I also learned that it is forbidden to participate in a "war of choice." I learned that there are things that are forbidden to do, even if they are based on security considerations (real or fictional) - it seems that every atrocity that happens here is explained with some "security considerations".
I told my officers that I do not intend to participate in any naval operation against the Palestinian population in Gaza Strip. The occupation completely opposes every value of mine, and complying with it conflicts with my understanding of democracy. If I am sent, I will not go.
What is the connection to Zionism 2002?
The idea is this:
On the one hand, we believe in the right of the existence of the state and its security (and this is called in our country - Zionism). On the other hand, primarily because of the things that I preciously mentioned, we lean towards believing that what we do in the army is good for the country (if we agree with the mission or only think that we need to carry it out to protect the decisions' mechanism of the country). And so, I've learned that we have arrived at a contradiction.
This policy of the occupation is a security disaster; its continuation is causing a grave security problem for the country. Because of the occupation, new graves are becoming daily occurrence.
As a result of this, in my opinion, our serving the occupation is in fact against the interests of the state. Thus, it is an anti-Zionist act.
Zionism is the movement to create a secure and democratic home for the Jewish people. A country that is going in a non-democratic direction is not a realizing the dream of Zionism.
The country (in its actions) is cheapening the value of a Palestinian life - this is not democracy.
Millions of people are dependent on our piety - this is not democracy.
Closures, curfews, administrative arrests, tortures - this is not democracy.
Hundreds of checkpoints preventing the Palestinians the basic human rights like freedom of movement, right to medical treatment, and right to dignity - this is definitely not democracy.
All of these things are not moral, not democratic and thus oppose Zionism.
Recently I've been feeling that the country has begun deteriorating into a security and moral abyss, whose end is difficult to envision.
I feel that our responsibility is to stop this.
What is Zionism 2002?
Refusal to take part in the occupation.
Ron Gerlitz, February 2002