Ruling Over a Hostile Population

        Our  rule over three million Palestinian Arabs in the territories  has perforce put us in a position of committing a number of moral outrages. Continued rule will necessitate not only continued denial of many basic rights to Palestinians,  but will require our taking additional steps which are reprehensible, if not morally questionable. While we certainly did not set out intentionally to take drastic measures to buttress  our rule, these are  willy-nilly consequences of such a position.  To maintain our rule we will have to continue to mete out collective punishment that  often  cruelly affects those who are not guilty.

        Among the steps we have taken is the enclosing of millions of humans in their cities, towns, and villages.  We often  deny  basic rights such as the right to earn a living, , to study, to move freely, to purchase basic necessities, to vote, to travel for medical care, to move sick or injured to medical facilities, etc. But most severe is that innocent civilians die. While this occurs in every violent conflict throughout the world, and throughout history,  what is happening now is more than  unintentional collateral deaths of civilians.  Ruling over millions of people who despise your rule necessitates such deaths of youngsters, women, and elderly.
        The IDF, like any army, makes both avoidable and unavoidable mistakes;  but it is certainly not bloodthirsty and has no daily quota of corpses.  It is not an oxymoron to term the IDF  a humane army. Nevertheless, it  seems that a large number of the hundreds of  Palestinian civilians who die are not  killed because Israeli armed forces are acting in self-defense. The IDF maintains that these are victims of  such unavoidable actions that must be taken to quell unrest. In this respect, the IDF is correct because to put down a popular uprising   drastic measures (i.e., maiming and killing civilians)  are often needed, in addition to the enforcing of curfews,  establishment of blockades,  abrogation of civil rights, and condoning of inhumane treatment.   The governmental decision to remain in the disputed territories  leads to the viewing of most, if not all,  Palestinians as enemies and anyone who is connected to the enemy is a fair target.

Collective Punishment

Issues related to the practice of collective punishment (where this involves punishing innocents who are part of the collective) appear in a number of instances in Jewish sources.

Abraham's Refusal
One could consider our forefather Avraham as the first “conscientious objector to collective punishment”  for his refusal to participate in or condone collective punishment. He was even willing to risk punishment himself in order to try to dissuade G-d  from His intention to mete out collective punishment to  Sodom and Gemora.  His argument with G-d is described in Genesis:

“If there are fifty righteous within the city, will You indeed sweep away and not forgive the city for the fifty?…It is  far from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked… Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?” (Genesis 18:24-25).

        Here Avraham courageously  questions G-d and appeals His decision to destroy entire cities.  Avraham’s  questioning of  the impending collective punishment succeeded in persuading G-d, so to speak, to reconsider. The implication is that collective punishment, where it includes innocents,  is not acceptable, and only those who have sinned should be punished for their own wrongdoing.

        Avraham held himself  to a very high standard. He feared that he may have killed innocent people during the wars he waged (described in Genesis 14).  According to  midrash Tanhuma:

        “Avraham excoriated himself mercilessly saying, ’Perhaps among those whom I have killed there were some righteous men…’  (Tanhuma  3:14 on Gen. 15:1 )

Massacre in Nablus
This principle  of not harming innocents appears elsewhere in the Torah. Our forefather Yaakov  severely  rebuked two of his sons, Shimon and Levi, when they massacred the city of Shechem (Shechem/Nablus today) as a form of revenge. This act of reprisal, shading over to vicious vindictiveness,  was executed by the two brothers as retribution for the rape of their sister Dinah. Despite this seeming justification tendered by the brothers, Yaakov   censured his sons in one of the most caustic statements in the Bible, when he reproved them:

“Simon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are the means of  their livelihood.  Let my soul not be coupled with theirs; into their assembly let my glory not be united.  For in anger they slew men, and in their willfulness they continued in their destruction of cattle. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath for it was cruel.” (Genesis 49:5):

Yaakov was shaken by what his sons did, and  does not mince words in his reproach.  Similar words might be said in reaction to our attempts to justify aerial bombing of Palestinian cities as retribution for attacks by terrorists.  If we do not want to be  cursed, we have to decline  to participate in these actions, even if we have to refuse to serve in the territories altogether.

The argument is made that we have no choice and that the IDF must take such steps to preserve the security of the State. I cannot be convinced that the existence of the State of Israel hangs on the killing of children in refugee camps. The rule over another nation, a  hostile population, does not strengthen our defense posture; rather it weakens us. It prolongs the necessity for curfews and blockades of millions of humans, for abrogation of their elementary rights, and for physically injuring them.

In  the case of Shimon and Levi,  they defended their action as being of deterrent value. Yaakov rejects this argument because even in military conflicts there are acts that are prohibited.  This can be derived from the comments of Ramban (Nachmanides)  on the episode. He discusses  the claim  (heard today as well) that  Shimon and Levi were justified  in attacking and murdering the  men  of Nablus and sacking the city because the citizens did not bring the rapist to justice. After discussing this line of defense of Shimon and Levi, Ramban rejects it unequivocally. There is no justification for harming innocents. This is a basic tenet of justice.

Contrast Shimon and Levi’s  headstrong cruelty with the earlier  introspection of their father. Yaakov  feared killing innocents.   When his brother Esau  approached Yaakov   with four hundred armed men for a  face-off, we are told that : 

        “Yaakov was greatly afraid and was distressed.” (Genesis 32:8)
Rashi explains the seeming redundancy (afraid and distressed) by saying that  Yaakov was afraid he might be killed,  and distressed that he might kill Esau, in the event that Esau had  innocent intentions.

Individual Responsibility - A Religious Norm
The concept of individual responsibility for wrongdoing   is encapsulated in the prohibition towards the end of the Torah:

“The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”  (Deuteronomy 24:16)

        This moral and religious norm appears elsewhere in the Tanakh. For example, the prophet Ezekial warns that:

“The soul that sins, it shall die.  The son shall not hear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself alone.” (Ezekial 18:20)

  This pertains to all Jews (and is not restricted to ‘teary-eyed left-wing liberals’).  In the territories we are violating this precept daily by destroying houses of families of terrorists, preventing  food and medical supplies from reaching villages,  and physically harming  blameless civilians --  acts that would be forbidden under the rubric of   “the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself alone.”

        This dilemma has preoccupied military officers around the world in the past as much as it baffles us today. How can you fight an enemy that intentionally blurs the lines between the military and the civilian, an enemy that  uses that very ambiguity to its own advantage?  It would be simplistic to dismiss all military operations that affect civilians  as morally indefensible, especially in the context of vicious guerilla and terrorist attacks.  This conundrum has always been with us. For example, a member of the pre-State  Jewish  Special Night Squads (that were trained to fight Arabs  by the British Major General  Orde Wingate)   observed, “The problem of punishment and.. the morality of battle was something that concerned Wingate greatly.  On the one hand, he demanded that the innocent not be harmed.  On the other hand, he knew that he faced a dilemma: Can one observe this rule in battle against gangs that receive assistance from the residents of the villages?” 
[Bierman and Smith, Fire in the Night: Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia, and Zion, p. 11, as quoted in Azure, No.10, Winter 2001, p. 46, published by the Shalem Center]

        I wish that I could agree with those settlers who claim  that we  can  humanely and fairly occupy and rule   those  over-the-Green-Line portions of the Land of Israel, as precious to me as it is to them.  But there ain’t no such animal as an “enlightened occupation.”   The rule over 3 million antagonistic  people, stripped of their rights,  will  necessitate,  nolens  volens, cruelty  on our part. It will require us to violate normative prohibitions of Jewish law.  Therefore the refusal to participate in actions directly related to the occupation is a religious imperative.  We hope that every soldier, in the standing army and in the reserve, will ponder these dilemmas and draw conclusions himself.  

Blind Obedience  to One’s Country

        Blind compliance  can lead to bestiality, for animals live without morality and law. While there is a halakhic principle of   dina  demalkhuta  dina  (the law of the land is obeyed when it does not contradict Jewish law),  obedience to the state is not an ultimate Jewish value. The Prophets riled against those regimes in the Jewish past that used their powers to the disadvantage of weak populations. They did not hesitate to call for disobedience to such wicked regimes. (E.g. see the episode over Navot’s vineyard involving Ahab  and Jezebel in  I Kings 21). Law abiding citizenship is encouraged; but obedience per se as a value is not sacrosanct.

        Questions of immorality and  illegality waft above  the orders to serve in the territories.  We must continue to serve in the IDF, as a defence army, but not as an occupying force committing crimes against humanity.  

         We dare not become soldier robots.  We may have to suffer the consequences of refusal , which can  run the gamut from ridicule  and social ostracism to imprisonment. As soldiers we not only have to obey orders, but we also have to be aware that they may violate our most basic moral, legal, and religious norms.

Updated February 7 2002