Israel's Deadly Logic, As Seen By A Former IDF Soldier

Funeral of a 20-year-old IDF soldier killed in Gaza
Funeral of a 20-year-old IDF soldier killed in Gaza
Yehuda Shaul*


JERUSALEM — I finished my military service as a fighter in the Israeli military's Nahal Brigade 11 years ago. That’s when, together with some friends, I founded the NGO Breaking The Silence. Since then, I’ve talked to hundreds of soldiers who've told me about their service in the occupied territories. From what the dozens of soldiers and officers who took part in last summer’s Operation Protective Edge told us, the rules of engagement have never been so permissive. Their testimonies reveal how the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) acted and help explain why the fighting left so many Palestinians dead.

But the testimonies only tell one part of the story. They don’t say that Protective Edge was the last in a series of regularly launched IDF operations in Gaza, after the 2008 Operation Hot Winter, Cast Lead in early 2009, and Pillar of Defense in 2012. They also don’t explain why it’s obvious to everybody that it’s only a matter of time before the next one is launched.

This succession of military operations in Gaza is the reflection of a strategy that senior IDF officials have dubbed “mowing the lawn.” Those who support this strategy describe it as an inevitable answer to the terrorist threat against Israel. It’s presented by these officers as a defensive tool aimed at shaking the powerful terrorist organizations that threaten the safety of Israeli citizens.

For them, the threat facing Israel is constant, and can never be completely eradicated. That’s why Israel must regularly “trim” the means used by those terrorists organizations and undermine their fighting skills. The launch of a new operation in Gaza every two or three years is not happenstance, but rather the long-term reflection of a cold and calculated logic.

Heads down

Yet the last operation, like the previous ones, didn’t just affect the fighting infrastructures of Hamas and other armed groups. The main victims of this “mowing the lawn” policy are Palestinian civilians decimated by the perpetual conflicts. What does the future hold for a society that in the span of two months loses several hundred of its children and sees 18,000 of its homes destroyed?

When you look at the IDF’s methods and their results, it’s impossible not to realize that what they’re “mowing” isn’t the terrorist organizations’ potential but the ability of an entire society to live, develop and simply hold its head high.

The “lawn mowing” is, indeed, nothing more than one part of the mechanism through which Israel controls the Palestinian population, be it in Gaza or the West Bank. To preserve this control, Israel acts relentlessly, so as to make sure that Palestinian society remains weak and submissive.

As a soldier, I took part in countless operations aimed at making Palestinian civilians in the West Bank “keep their heads down.” This, of course, continues today. In the streets of Palestinian cities, at every hour of the day or of the night, security forces raid randomly selected civilians houses, install snap checkpoints inside densely populated civilian neighborhoods, so the Palestinian population knows that we, Israeli soldiers, are everywhere, always, thus creating among them a “feeling of persecution.”

Other methods, such as imposing a curfew in a village or arresting all the men there for an undefined period of time, enable the IDF to fix fear among the population and reinforce Israel’s control on them.

The difference between the soldiers’ mission in the West Bank and their mission in Gaza is the result of the different natures of Israel’s grip on the two territories. The West Bank has been submitted for 48 years to a total, direct and daily military control as well as a partial administrative control. In Gaza, although Israel hasn’t established a military control there since 2005, it still has a stranglehold on a certain number of the most basic aspects of the Gazans’ daily lives.

We control Gaza’s air space and territorial waters, as well as the movements of people and commodities to and from it and its registry of births, marriages and deaths. As a matter of fact, the regular assaults in Gaza are just another cog in the wheel of Israel’s indirect control over the enclave’s inhabitants, and another way of contributing to the dismemberment of Palestinian society.

We should remember that when we take away from the Palestinians the freedom to choose where to live their lives and the right to live in safety with a roof above their heads, we’re hurting ourselves. We’re destroying our values and humanity, but we’re also jeopardizing our security, and with it the hope of a life that isn't just about waiting for the next war to break out. Only freedom for the Palestinians can guarantee the freedom and safety of Israelis.

*Yehuda Shaul is the cofounder and a member of Breaking the Silence, an NGO that includes more than 1,000 former IDF troops working to put an end to Israeli occupation.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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