I love this country dearly and it pains me deeply to think what may happen in the aftermath of this horrible war over the past month.
I had the opportunity to speak with several of Israel’s top experts in international law this past week while waiting together in television studios to give our comments and analyses of the war. Several have served in various Israeli government ministries in the past. Their remarks on the legal aspects of the war were toned down quite a bit on air, partly because we were still at war and their comments could damage national morale. Off camera, however, they voiced great concern about the magnitude of the legal charges that will be brought against the State of Israel and its political and military leaders for alleged war crimes committed in the fighting in Gaza. There didn’t even seem to be a question that these charges would be coming.
From our conversations I understood that in many instances Israel will have a very difficult time defending itself against those charges. Furthermore, they said that if Palestine should decide to join the International Criminal Court, those charges could be even more severe. It is true that Hamas could also face severe charges of war crimes because it bears responsibility for indiscriminate rocket fire against Israel’s civilian population, which is clearly a war crime. Nonetheless the severity of the charges against Israel is compounded by the enormity of the casualties of non-combatants – civilians including a large number of children, and the extent of damage and destruction to public and private properties.
There is little doubt in my mind that many Israelis, if not most, and the Israeli government will try to pass this off as global anti-Semitism and say that the world hates us anyway, avoiding taking any responsibility for what was done, or explain it away as the reality of warfare in densely populated areas where the enemy uses human shields. Israel will continue to speak about all of the precautions taken, such as calling people to leave their homes, using the “knock on the roof” rocket as a warning, and dropping leaflets from the air.
Israel will raise the flag that we have the most moral army in the world. Israel will speak of how Hamas uses human targets, stores rockets in schools, shoots from the most densely populated areas and even transports combatants in ambulances.
All of that may be true, but it will turn out to be a very weak defense, and even Israel’s greatest friends have already condemned the extent of the civilian deaths and the horrendous destruction. I fear that Israel will be facing international pressure and condemnation far beyond anything that we have ever seen.
Regardless of the outcome of the legal charges against Israel, as an Israeli I find very little to be proud of as we approach the end of this war. I feel shame for what my country has done. Yes, Israel had all the right to defend itself against an evil enemy that in my mind conducts crimes against its own people and has no moral problems seeking to kill me and my family. But the overwhelming majority of people in Gaza are not my enemy and are not Hamas or Islamic Jihad and if they could, they would chose to live in peace with us.
The current casualty figure is about 1,865 people and as they clear the rubble hundreds more are likely to be added to that list. More than 400 of those are children. Several hundred are women. Some 50 families were completely wiped out.
About 30,000 homes have been demolished or destroyed.
More than 140 schools were bombed.
Several good friends of mine, who were not Hamas and who have worked for peace for many years and have many friends in Israel no longer have a house to return to. Entire neighborhoods have been leveled. Witnesses have said, including some of Israel’s main news analysts on all three channels, that the damage done in Gaza far surpasses the damage Israel did in the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahia in Beirut in 2006.
I spent most evenings during the war speaking with friends in Gaza. Mostly I listened to their pain, their anger, their fear and despair. I asked many of them if they were able to see and understand the picture from our side of the border. Many of them said yes, but they could not understand the seemingly lack of sensitivity of Israel toward the innocent non-combatants. No one could find any way to justify the killing of entire families, of babies or pregnant women. The pictures shown in Israel in our media of the devastations of the war are censored and blurred so that we don’t have to see the graphic realities of what our bombs did.
Elsewhere in the world, especially in the Arab media and the social media, there is no censorship and the pictures shown of death and destruction are beyond what the human eye (the humane eye) can comprehend or accept.
During the first days of the war I posted a story of a Gaza family with many children that was wiped out. I asked people to simply express some compassion. This is what I posted: “The pictures of the killed children in Gaza are heartbreaking and anyone who cannot say so is not fully human.
I am very sorry that those pictures upset some of you. It is correct to be upset. But make sure that your anger is directed at the right object. The continuation of fighting will end up with more pictures like this. For me it is not relevant if the children are called Ahmed, Yusef and Mousa or Gadi, Moshe and Udi. No more killing. This will end with a negotiated agreement. We all know that. All the parties involved will make compromises on issues that they said from the outset that they will not compromise on. There will be political gains for those we wish to punish. This is unavoidable. It will not end until there is an agreement, so just do it. End the killing now and work out the details of the agreement.”
From the 148 comments on the post it was so clear that for the Israelis responding expressing compassion for the suffering of the Gazans was next to impossible. I know it is hard to express compassion for those on the side of the enemy, but without doing that, we lose our humanity.
We seem too easily to forget that tomorrow we have to live with these people. They are not going away. Does someone think that after what we have done the people of Gaza will increase their desire to make peace with Israel? With our own hands and bombs we have created more potential suicide bombers than those would support peace.
Israel is strong in war. The firepower of the IDF is awesome.
The commitment and dedication of our soldiers is inspiring.
The solidarity of the “home front” is beyond compare. Israel is a strong country. Now it is time to realize that strong countries make peace. We seem so prepared to take the colossal risks of sending our sons into battle. Now we must assemble similar resolve to take the risks for peace. We need not be hasty and make bad decisions in the pursuit of peace. Israel must remain strong and we will need a powerful army for quite some time to come. But surely we can find the determination and the courage to pursue peace with the same resolve we demonstrate in war.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.