Crossing the moral line in Gaza

2014-07-27 15:00

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In July 2002, the Israeli Air Force dropped a one-ton bomb on the home of Salah Shehadeh, the head of the military wing of Hamas, in Gaza.

You don’t have to be an expert in air combat to imagine what’s left of a home hit by a one-ton bomb. That bomb not only killed Shehadeh, but also 14 civilians, including eight children.

At that time, I served as an operations officer in the Israeli Air Force. Like many of my friends, I found myself carrying the burden

of immense responsibility at the age of 20. I was responsible for running the aircraft squadron on the ground, relaying commands and intelligence from air force headquarters to the pilots, preparing the aircraft for operations and providing support to the pilots.

After the operation in which Shehadeh was assassinated, Israel shook.

Even when the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) insisted there was operational justification for the attack, public sentiment could not accommodate this assault on innocent civilians.

Several Israeli intellectuals petitioned the Supreme Court, demanding it examine the legality

of this action. A few months later, a group of reservist pilots submitted a letter criticising such actions.

As soldiers and officers used to carrying out our missions without asking unnecessary questions, we were affected by the public criticism.

But Dan Halutz, the commander of the air force at the time, told pilots they should “sleep well at night. Don’t pay any notice to the criticism”.

One month later, Halutz was asked in an interview what pilots feel when they launch a one-ton bomb on a home. He said: “A slight jolt of the jet’s wing.”

To outsiders, this statement sounded cold and detached, but

my friends and I trusted our commanders to make the right moral decisions, and returned our focus to the “important things” – the precise execution of further operations.

A few months later, I was appointed commander of a course for air force officers. I taught

cadets how to perform their tasks professionally and how to take responsibility for their actions as officers.

I taught them the IDF is the most moral army in the world and the air force is the most moral corps within the IDF.

I was 20, and I believed with all my heart that we were doing what needed to be done.

Things have changed and now I can no longer have that certainty. A few months after the assault

on Shehadeh’s house, the IDF acknowledged it was wrong to have dropped the bomb. They deemed it a failure in intelligence and said had they known there were civilians in the home, they would not have carried out the operation.

Seven years later, during Operation Cast Lead, bombs were dropped over densely populated areas on the Gaza Strip.

Today, in Operation Protective Edge, the air force boasts having released more than 100 one-ton bombs on Gaza. What was once the exception is now the policy.

Houses of Hamas members have become legitimate targets, regardless of the number of people within their walls.

Unlike in 2002, no one bothers to justify or make excuses. Entire families are erased in a second and the public remains indifferent. From year to year, from one military operation to another, our red moral lines are stretching further away.

It is unclear any more where they lie or even if we know we are crossing them.

I know from experience how difficult it is to ask questions during times of active conflict as a soldier. The information the officers on the ground and in the air get in real time is always partial.

That’s why the responsibility for drawing that red moral line, and alerting us when we cross it, lies with the public.

It cannot be a policy that is accepted without question. Public silence in the face of such actions – inside and outside of Israel – is consent by default, and acceptance of an unacceptable price.

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