During the latest Israeli counterterrorism operation against Hamas, Operation Protective Edge, one could have heard many different opinions on how the Israel Defense Force carried out its duty to protect the existence and sovereignty the State of Israel, and the security of its citizens.
Unfortunately, my own social environment in Slovakia was dominated by rather negative attitudes toward the IDF’s performance.
Some of my friends, immediately following the beginning of the operation, accused the IDF – without hesitation – of committing “war crimes,” “ethnic cleansing” and even the “slow genocide” of Palestinians.
Some of the allegations were frankly anti-Semitic.
For example, one of my friends said “Jews are bloodthirsty warmongers who intentionally kill innocent Palestinian children...and IDF just needed another war for their Zionist goal to control the world.” He added that “illegally besieged Gaza is an inhuman laboratory for testing experimental and unconventional weapons and Israeli-American military contractors unethically profit from that.”
Even a well-educated friend, who works as a doctor at the World Health Organization, cynically compared the Gaza Strip to a Nazi concentration camp. According to this individual, Gaza is full of miserable Palestinians merely defending themselves against unprovoked and unjustified Israeli military aggression.
Heavy barrages of rockets and mortars fired at Israeli civilians are nothing: “Jews just exaggerate and scream as always.”
Although I tried to challenge their opinions and get their facts straight, I ultimately failed, with some dismissing me as part of the “Zionist conspiracy,” whatever that means. Mayim Bialik was not the only person who lost few Facebook friends during last summer.
Also some Slovak media spread biased coverage of the counterterrorism operation. For example STV 1 (Jednotka), a state-owned nationwide television channel, offered detailed stories exclusively from the Palestinian side. It aired touching and emotional stories about Palestinian civilian causalities, especially children, and showed powerful images of damaged infrastructure while failing to mention that Hamas and other terrorist organization intentionally use Palestinian civilians as human shields, launch rockets (some Iranian- made) from densely populated areas, use schools, hospitals, mosques and a complex of tunnels and bunkers under civilian buildings to store weapons.
Reporting during wartime is the ultimate challenge for the media, and STV 1 failed to provide objective news. STV 1 accepted – just like many other foreign media – a narrative of the conflict which accords the Palestinians victim status and portrays Israel as the guilty party.
Indeed, the summer war produced an explosion of hostile anti-Israeli and even anti-Semitic online hate speech, demonstrations and rallies, including attacks against Jews and Jewish cemeteries, shops, synagogues and other communal buildings all around the world. From France to Australia, from Canada to Mexico, the old demons of anti-Semitism returned once again. “Slaughter the Jews” yelled protesters at demonstration in Antwerp. “Death to the Jews!” chanted marchers in Brussels.
Shouts of “Jews to the gas” were heard in Gelsenkirchen in Germany.
A cartoon used at demonstration in Sydney, Berlin and Santiago de Chile depicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the bloodthirsty villain of some medieval blood libel.
The icing on the cake was executive director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth blaming the Jewish state for flaring anti-Semitism in Europe. As Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic
, rightly pointed out, it is probable that Roth does not actually understand the nature of prejudice, as “it is a universal and immutable rule that the targets of prejudice are not the cause of prejudice.”
All these events were the reason for my decision to participate in the IDF Sar-El volunteer program during my research fellowship in Israel. It was uneasy decision for a Christian like myself, since the program took place during Christmas. My family was bit disappointed with my decision to spend the holidays at an IDF base rather than at home in Slovakia. However, after I had explained to them why I wanted to do it, they changed their minds and supported me (eventually).
And what did I tell them? Why I support Israel? Firstly, I told them that although there are some flaws, Israel is by far the most stable, democratic, human-rights oriented country in the region, and is a society that shares Western values. Secondly, since its birth, Israel has been forced to handle repeated waves of terrorism, of various types. Nowadays, the culprits are mainly jihadist terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been trying to destroy this vibrant country.
Naturally, the IDF has been fighting against them, however Israeli soldiers have not been defending only Israel, but have been combating Islamic terrorism for the whole of the Western world.
Thirdly, during this ongoing mission, the IDF has done more to protect the lives of civilians in a fighting area than any other army in the history of war. Before the decisions to strike are made, the IDF followed procedures to ensure that the attack would be consistent with international law.
The IDF has also notified civilians, warning them to leave areas designated for attack. For example the IDF dropped tens of thousands leaflets, made phone calls and sent text messages in Arabic urging civilians to move away from Hamas targets. Another tactic used to warn civilians was so-called “roof knocking,” referring to the practice of targeting a building with a loud but non-lethal bomb. The IDF abandoned many air-strikes when despite warnings, civilians were still present in the target area. Thanks to these practices, the IDF can be considered the most moral army in the world, and it was a great honor to do volunteer work for such army.
Fourthly, Israel is nowadays facing a global attack on the very legitimacy of its existence as a Jewish and democratic state. This campaign is waged mostly by NGOs, which aim to isolate Israel and ultimately turn it into a pariah country in the international arena.
However, they are failing – because Israel is not alone. Many non-Jewish volunteers from Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Brazil and Mexico are excellent proof of that.
The writer is a PhD student at Masaryk University in Brno. He holds MAs in political science and security and strategic studies from the same university. He is currently a research fellow at Bar- Ilan University and an intern at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem.