Friday, August 15, 2014

The Most Moral of Armies

Conscripted militaries have existed so long as people’s rulers have taken them to war against each other.  And citizens who object to being asked to kill other people in the service of the state have long been subject to scrutiny and hostility.  In Britain during the First World War, thousands of conscientious objectors were imprisoned.  Some were sentenced to death, and although none were executed, some were killed in prison.  In the U.S., thousands of conscientious objectors were jailed during WWII.
Its poor relations with its neighbours, and its need to be in a constant state of preparation to launch attacks in its colonies (the existence of which is a big reason for the hostility of neighbouring countries) mean that Israel operates with a system of conscription.  However, Israelis are permitted to seek alternatives to service within the Israel Defence Force. 
Until now, some Israelis had completed their alternative service by working with a human rights group, B’Tselem.  But no longer. 
The Guardian reported that “the director of the body responsible for non-military options for Israelis who don’t want to serve in the IDF…told Channel 2 TV that B’Tselem had ‘crossed the line in wartime [by] campaigning and inciting against the state of Israel and the Israel Defence Force, which is the most moral of armies’”.
To claim that any army is moral—let alone one that uses indiscriminate weaponry not only to level whole neighbourhoods in Gaza, but also to attack facilities of the United Nations—is risible.  But to claim that a colonial army, which exists in part to police and crush people being ruled in a colony against their will, is not just moral, but “the most moral of armies” demonstrates a serious detachment from reality on the part of the Israeli regime. 
It is unclear whether members of the regime—which counts some fundamentalist nuts amongst its number—actually drink their kool-aid, or whether they simply expect the public to choke it down.  But the rhetoric has the distinct ring of fundamentalist with their backs to the wall and their eyes firmly averted from the disaster their behavior is creating.
What, more precisely, were the crimes of B’Tselem, the human rights group which is supposed to have imperiled the Israeli colonial government?  It seems that the humanitarian organization, which documents war crimes, had the temerity to mention some of those crimes committed by the Most Moral of Armies.
We are learning more about the cost of Israel’s most recent attack on Gaza as the dust settles for the moment.  The Guardian reported that casualties ranged in age from a 10-day-old child to a 97-year-old Gazan.  Around 2,000 people were killed, and 10,000 wounded.  Some families—134 to be precise—lost more than two members. 
B’Tselem sought to put the names of the children killed by the IDF on television by way of confronting Israeli citizens with the deaths of their colonial subjects.   But the ad was censored by the colonial regime, which also does its best to foil investigations into its crimes by the United Nations. 
One would think that the Most Moral of Armies would expect to be held to a high standard.  But critics abroad are despatched as anti-Semites, irrespective of the fact that all but a few reprehensible crackpots are criticizing the Israeli regime rather than Jewish people, and those at home subjected to censorship and, in the case of members of B’Tselem, death threats.
As it engages in state terrorism against a subject population, the Most Moral of Armies has no interest in tolerating criticism.  A government minister came to its defence, arguing that “Israel is in the midst of a difficult military and diplomatic campaign against terrorists”, presumably referring to the civilians—many of them children—killed by the military.  “An organization”, the minister continued, “that works to prove allegations that Israel is committing war crimes should be so good as to do so with its own resources and not with civilian national service volunteers and state funds”.
There we have it.  The regime doesn’t want to help identify or prove war crimes in which it is complicit.  It is not interested in moderating its campaign of colonial terror to protect civilians—or its own self-interest for that matter.  In its war of terror, the ultimate state of exception, the rules go out the window.  And it is increasingly intolerant of those who seek to apply moral standards to its behavior.

It is a frail democracy indeed—and I would argue no kind of democracy at all so long as it remains a colonial power—which cannot handle criticism of its institutions in war-time, and which actively sabotages the efforts of human rights groups to document atrocities.  How long, one wonders, before the Most Moral of Armies transforms what U.S. defenders of the colonial regime like to call the sole democracy of the Middle East into something much worse? 

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