There is a resounding ring of truth in Ya'alon's position: He sounds
like someone who was horrified by the findings of cruelty on the part
of soldiers toward the Palestinian population and like someone who
believes, with all his heart, in the supreme value of the words "Your
camp shall be holy" (Deuteronomy 23:15). He speaks with regret, which
sounds sincere, about the possibility that, in the heat of battle,
soldiers received a double message. He spoke this week about "crumbling
values." He told soldiers he met that even when they are ordered to
carry out unpleasant activities, like searching homes in the middle of
the night, and conducting examinations at checkpoints, they must act
sensitively and considerately toward individuals and families.
But the reaction of the chief of staff begs a question: Where was he until now? Is it possible that he did not receive the complaints from human rights organizations, led by B'Tselem, pertaining to mistreatment of the Palestinian population? Did he not read the compelling stories that writers like Haaretz's Gideon Levy and Amira Hass have told about the territories? Was he unaware of the following statistic: Since the beginning of the intifada, nearly 1,500 Palestinians who were not engaged in battle were killed?
The prevailing fashion in the IDF this week is to admit that occupation corrupts but to point the accusing finger at the political leadership that did not find a way to end the conflict with the Palestinians - rather than pointing a finger at the army. This is a convenient fig leaf: The "political leadership" is an almost abstract term because, in this case, it includes all of the Israeli governments since the Six-Day War. They are all, according to the theory, guilty of causing the moral erosion of the IDF, which is at the root of the shameful incidents that captured the public's attention during the last month. And all of society is actually responsible for the occupation - or, at least, those elements that prevented Israel from contributing to its end because of their refusal to give up territory.
When one reads the report the B'Tselem investigation regarding the testimony of witnesses to the killing of Qamail by naval commandos, the heart fills with shame: A Palestinian lies near the home of a relative who hid him, surrounded by dozens of Israeli soldiers who repeatedly send neighbors to check him to make sure that he does not pose a threat. The Palestinians give soldiers the wounded man's gun and his cellular telephone. They drag him out in response to the orders of the soldiers, and identify him as the wanted man. They remove all of his belongings, such as a lighter and cigarettes, and hand them to the soldiers - but in any case, someone in the unit decides to kill him.
When one hears and reads the version of the story told by parents of these soldiers, the heart fills with understanding: The naval commandos considered the potential resistance of the wounded man to be a threat. They were afraid that there was an explosives belt attached to his body. He was a known member of the Islamic Jihad, and they took legitimate precautions based on hard-learned lessons of the past regarding Palestinian terrorist activity. The soldiers want to go home in one piece - and what right do critics have to judge that?
The prime minister attacked those who doubted the military ethics of the crack naval commandos on Wednesday, and declared that the IDF is the most moral army in the world. In the book, "The Seventh War," by Amos Harel and Avi Isascharov, the writers present a quote of the prime minister's words to then-chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, his deputy Ya'alon, and then-head of the Shin Bet security services Avi Dichter, during a meeting in May 2001: "We have to attack the Palestinians at all locations, and at once. They have to awaken every morning to find that they have 12 dead, from all sorts of activities, without understanding how it happened."
When that is the leading commander's take, the IDF's amazement regarding its eroding morality rings of phoniness.