Rattling the Cage: The moral superiority of an F-16

We were not the good guys in Operation Cast Lead. In this war, we were the aggressors and Hamas was the defender.

February 4, 2009 22:11
4 minute read.
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )

Ordinarily, we Israelis tell ourselves that we are morally superior to the Palestinians because they're terrorists and we're not, they deliberately target civilians and we don't. After this last war in Gaza, though, we can't really tell that to ourselves because it's not very convincing. After all, Hamas only killed three civilians with rockets during the war, while we killed several hundred Gazan civilians with all sorts of hi-tech weapons. Hamas did very little property damage here, while we destroyed thousands upon thousands of Gazan homes and civic buildings. So the argument that the Palestinians fight civilians and we don't is a little too farfetched, a little too ridiculous, to convince ourselves of our moral superiority in Operation Cast Lead. This time, we don't talk so much about terrorism, about how the Hamasniks made war against our civilians. Instead, we talk about human shields, about how the Hamasniks used Palestinian civilians for protection while they were fighting our soldiers. The point remains - they fight dirty and we fight clean. As I've written, we're distorting the meaning of the term "human shields" for propaganda purposes. Palestinian civilians offered little or no protection to Hamas fighters during the war: The civilian death, injury and property damage toll in Gaza makes that pretty clear. During the war, we heard time and again from the army that the standing order was to "fire at the source of incoming fire"; since the source of incoming fire was usually within crowded civilian areas (Gaza being as small and crowded as it is), that's what our soldiers aimed at. SO IF the Palestinians weren't fighting a terror war this time because they were up against an army, and if they didn't use human shields because the IDF didn't recognize human shields, then what sort of war did they fight? They fought a guerrilla war. Hamas fought a guerrilla war that doesn't seem to have been any different, or any dirtier, than the countless other guerrilla wars that have been fought in the past. By definition, a guerrilla war is fought from among the civilian population. Why do guerrillas fight that way? Because they enjoy seeing their countrymen get killed? It's hard to understand how the Viet Cong, the Algerian National Liberation Front and Hamas, just to name a few guerrilla armies, could have become so popular if they'd deliberately gotten their countrymen killed by the enemy. No, as everyone knows but Israelis have chosen to forget, guerrillas fight among the civilian population because that's the only advantage they have against an enemy that has invaded their country with a vastly superior military machine. The guerrillas know the terrain a lot better and the surrounding population is on their side. The only way the enemy can neutralize that advantage is by carpet bombing the whole place. We didn't do that in Gaza, but the French didn't do it in Algeria and the Americans didn't do it in Vietnam, either, to name just a couple of examples. By restraining itself from turning the Gaza Strip into one big graveyard, Israel wasn't being uniquely humane. A guerrilla army fights among its civilian population because it has no choice - its country has been invaded and it doesn't have the weaponry to "take the war to the enemy." I'm sure Hamas would have preferred to use F-16s and Apache helicopters and Merkava tanks to fight in Israel rather than having those weapons turned against them in Gaza. But Hamas didn't have those weapons - Israel did, and Israel invaded Gaza, so the Hamasniks fought a guerrilla war. That's not fighting dirty. That's fighting the only way they could. All in all, Hamas is not "better" than Israel. All in all, the Viet Cong wasn't "better" than America and the Algerian FLN wasn't "better" than France. In each case, the opposite was true, for many obvious reasons. To illustrate one, if I were a Palestinian writing in Gaza about Hamas the way I'm writing about my government and army, I'd probably be dead. SO FOR THIS and many other reasons, we, in relation to Hamas, are the good guys. But we were not the good guys in Operation Cast Lead. In this war, we were the aggressors and Hamas was the defender, just like France was the aggressor and the FLN the defender in their war, just like the US was the aggressor and the Vietcong the defender in theirs. We are better than Hamas, but not as much as we were before Operation Cast Lead. This episode has narrowed the morality gap. We fought the most one-sided war imaginable. We devastated a country. We deliberately bombed Gaza's parliament and other government buildings because they were "symbols of Hamas power." We bombed Islamic University because it employs scientists who develop Hamas's military arsenal. (Kassams? How much of a scientist do you have to be?) We say that we fight cleaner than they do. If the kill ratio were 100-to-1 in the their favor instead of ours, would we still say that? If our cities looked like Gaza does today, would we call that a clean war? If Hamas or any other enemy bombed the Knesset, the government ministries, the police stations and other "symbols of Israeli power" - if it bombed the Technion because it employs scientists who develop the IDF's military arsenal, would we say these are "legitimate targets"? The truth is that this time, the Palestinians fought much cleaner than we did. It wasn't because they're better than we are, it was but because they didn't have the ability to do more damage than they did, while we used our superior ability to the extreme. We bashed their brains in. We were like a 280-pound wrestler beating up a kid. All in all, we're better than Hamas, but this time we, not they, were the bad guys. How bad? Look at Gaza and imagine.

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