By any sane definition of armed conflict, Israel's counter terror operation in Gaza against Hamas in December and January was a fully justified, lawful and moral undertaking. The IDF abided by the laws of war. It took every possible precaution to protect civilians in Gaza. The operation was conducted for the sole purpose of protecting the one million Israeli citizens in the country's south under assault from Palestinian missiles launched by terror operatives in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Then too, by any sane definition of armed conflict, the missile war that Hamas and its sister terror organizations in Gaza launched against Israel was unjustified, illegal and immoral. The expressed purpose of those projectiles was to kill, maim and terrorize as many Israeli citizens as possible in order to effect a disintegration and collapse of Israeli society. Schools, nurseries, and synagogues were purposely and repeatedly targeted.
The only unjust aspect of Operation Cast Lead was the outgoing Kadima-Labor government's failure to finish what it started. By pulling IDF forces out of Gaza without first overthrowing Hamas's terror regime, the government did two things which are both wholly unjust. It allowed Hamas to survive to fight another day. And by leaving the Hamas regime in place, it indirectly legitimized it.
For Israel's foes – particularly in the West – Hamas's survival has expanded its credibility. Today anti-Israel political activists no longer blink when they equate Israel with Hamas. Every day violent demonstrations are held in one Western city or another where Israel's flag is burned and torn, and the flag of Hamas – a genocidal terror group – is waved proudly. The IDF is daily castigated as a terrorist organization and Hamas upheld as a "resistance movement." Calls are made by political activists and self-declared "human rights" organizations for war crimes charges to be brought against IDF soldiers and commanders as more and more European governments consider following Britain's lead and openly advocate recognizing Hamas.
Until last week, the IDF and the outgoing government were able to minimize the significance of the post-Operation Cast Lead campaign against Israel because the operation enjoyed the support of the Israeli Left – and particularly of the media. So long as the Left remained loyal, both the outgoing government and the IDF could reasonably assume that the impact of the manufactured allegations against Israel would not harm the IDF's ability to function.
But now the media are beginning to switch sides.
OPERATION CAST LEAD was an unpleasant event for the Israeli Left and particularly for the national media which it controls. There were two main reasons for this.
First, the media were the primary supporter of then prime minister Ariel Sharon's plan to remove all Israeli military personnel and civilians from Gaza in 2005. In the lead-up to the withdrawal, the media demonized all who questioned the wisdom of the plan and who warned that its implementation would expose southern Israel to Palestinian rockets, mortars and missiles.
The Palestinians' missile onslaught against the south was incontrovertible proof of their profound stupidity.
Second, Operation Cast Lead was carried out by a leftist government on the eve of the election. Had the media even thought about criticizing it, they would have shown that Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's claim that only a war fought by the Left will be supported was a lie. To shore up votes for Kadima and Labor, the media had to swallow their pacifist pride and rally around the flag.
For their efforts, the media found themselves ridiculed by the popular leftist satire program Eretz Nehederet which portrayed them as warmongers.
It is hard to know whether the media would have kept up their vigilant support for Operation Cast Lead if Kadima had won the elections, but now that Kadima has lost, and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is forming the government, it is clear that the media no longer feel it is necessary to support the IDF. After all, the next battle will be led by Likud.
THE FIRST SIGN that the media were turning on the IDF came last month. It followed the well-known pattern: A far left political activist made unsubstantiated allegations against an IDF commander. The media treated the allegations as credible and demanded an investigation. In the event, Tel Aviv University Prof. Haim Ganz, who heads the Minerva Center for Human Rights, informed Ha'aretz that he wrote a letter to Prof. Hanoch Dagan, the dean of Tel Aviv University Law School, protesting his decision to hire retiring IDF Col. Pnina Baruch-Sharvit as an international law lecturer. Baruch-Sharvit was just ending her tour of duty as the commander of the IDF's International Law Division.
Ganz charged that Baruch-Sharvit had committed war crimes by giving legal authorization to IDF forces to carry out missions in Gaza, and that her presence on the law faculty was an insult to the humanitarian values of the university.
Ganz's allegations were patently absurd and libelous. But Ha'aretz was only too happy to give them credence and publish an editorial calling for her contract to be cancelled. In the end, after Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended her, Dagan stood by his decision to bring her onto the faculty.
The damage, however, was done. First, Ganz and Ha'aretz gave an Israeli face to the anti-Israel activists claiming that our soldiers and officers are war criminals. And second, their assault on Baruch-Sharvit will be in the minds of other IDF lawyers planning a post-military career. They will now think twice before giving legal approval to clearly legal military missions knowing they are liable to be blacklisted for defending the country.
If the storm over Baruch-Sharvit was the opening salvo, the first major media assault on the IDF came on Thursday. Here too, the campaign was a coproduction of a far-left political activist and far-left reporters.
The Yitzhak Rabin pre-military academy in Jaffa is run by the kibbutz movement. It is the only pre-military academy that is openly and avowedly leftist. Its founder and director Danny Zamir was jailed in 1990 for refusing to serve in Nablus during the height of the Palestinian uprising. In 2004 he allowed his 1990 manifesto calling for soldiers to refuse orders to be reprinted in a book Refusnik: Israel's Soldiers of Conscience which was published with a forward by Susan Sontag and a recommendation by Noam Chomsky.
In its year-long program, Rabin academy cadets are subjected to post-Zionist political philosophy that according to sources familiar with the institution indoctrinates them to believe that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. In a recent conference the academy co-hosted with the Druse pre-army military academy, the Druse soldiers expressed their amazement that while they identified themselves with Israel and Zionism, their Jewish counterparts at the Rabin academy were avowedly anti-Israel.
Last month Zamir organized a conference of his former cadets who are now serving in IDF combat units. There, he encouraged these young soldiers to tell him and their war stories. In what can only be compared to a Communist group confessional, Zamir told Channel 10 that young soldiers were encouraged to view their actions in Gaza as immoral. A number of them accepted the terms of debate and described purportedly immoral acts they alleged were carried out in Gaza. In most cases, Zamir's soldiers acknowledged that they were not present on the scenes in the events they described. These included killing Palestinian women and children who entered fire zones and behaving in an unfriendly manner to Palestinian civilians whose homes the soldiers commandeered during the operation. Others characterized ethical, legal standing orders – such as the requirement for soldiers to value their lives and the lives of their c
omrades more highly than the lives of terror suspects – as immoral or illegal.
Zamir claims that he took these non-eyewitness accounts to the IDF and asked that they be investigated. Since he refused to provide the names of the soldiers involved in the alleged incidents and his eyewitness accounts were from soldiers who had not witnessed the accounts, the IDF officers he spoke with said they would have a hard time investigating.
UNHAPPY WITH THIS response, Zamir published the unsubstantiated accounts in his school's bulletin and gave the bulletin to two far-left reporters – Ofer Shelach from Channel 10 and Amos Harel from Ha'aretz.
In an act of unmitigated journalistic malpractice, on Friday night Shelach presented the unattributed testimonials as first-person accounts. He used actors to read out the soldiers' statements as if they were the soldiers themselves, and never told his audience that the voices they were hearing were not the voices of the actual soldiers. Then, he attacked the IDF for refusing to take these accounts seriously and for having the nerve to note that the Rabin pre-military academy is a known leftist institution. He of course didn't mention that Zamir himself served a prison sentence for refusing orders or that as recently as 2004 he contributed to a book explaining why the IDF is an immoral army.
As for Harel, he published the soldiers' statements in Ha'aretz. He then wrote an "analysis" arguing that the IDF cannot discount the statements by these anonymous voices because, in his view, the soldiers have "no reason" to lie. The fact that they present no evidence of their claims is apparently of no importance.
Now by presenting these second hand accounts of battles as fact; by presenting Zamir as a credible and objective observer; and by instructing the IDF to be ashamed of itself and mend its ways, Shelach and Harel are certainly atoning for their "sin" of supporting the army in Operation Cast Lead. Perhaps for them, that was all this was about.
But the consequences of their actions will be devastating for both the IDF and for the country. Just as Ha'aretz's campaign against Baruch-Sharvit will frighten other military lawyers called upon to assess the legality of proposed operations into refusing to make decisions, so incidents like this will make commanders in the field think twice before they tell their soldiers to protect themselves. That is, they will make the IDF a far less effective fighting force.
Internationally, Shelach's and Harel's unattributed and unsubstantiated reports will serve to legitimize the West's move towards Hamas. Already, thousands of news reports parroting theirs have been published throughout the world. And why not? What could be more damning than Israeli press reports citing Israeli soldiers? If these are the people Hamas is fighting, no wonder it wishes to destroy Israel.
Aside from the aid and comfort their reports provide to Western politicians keen to have their pictures taken with Khaled Mashaal, Shelach's and Harel's reports also place every IDF soldier and commander travelling to Europe at risk of arrest and indictment and trial on imaginary war crimes charges before the kangaroo courts springing up all over the continent. No doubt, for their efforts, Shelach and Harel can count on receiving front row tickets to the first star chamber. Lucky them.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post