Bezalel Smotrich
Bezalel SmotrichYonatan Sindel/Flash90

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich published an open letter Wednesday evening apologizing for his misunderstood comments following the murder of Hallel and Yagel Yaniv in which he said that the Arab village of Huwara in Samaria should be "wiped out."

"I have a friend, a senior-ranking Air Force reserve pilot, who reflected to me the feeling that my statement evoked in his fellow aircrew members after the horrible murder of Hallel and Yagel and how it contributed to the pilots' protest," Smotrich wrote.

"It took me a while to understand what the connection was and what he wanted from me. He explained to me that some of the pilots took my statement as a call for the air force to 'wipe out' the village and its inhabitants from the air. Such an intention on the part of a senior minister and a member of the political and defense cabinet, together with what they understand as granting unlimited power to the elected government as a result of the reform of the judicial system, made them truly anxious, since in their view it could lead in the future to the issuing of such an obviously illegal order to the Air Force, and of course they are not prepared to take part in this."

Smotrich said that his friend explained to him that this fear has helped lead to the refusal of dozens of reserve pilots to report for training.

"According to this friend of mine, and I trust him one hundred percent, this is not some cynical campaign by the pilots as part of the opposition to the reform, but a deep and real concern that led them to do what they did," he said.

"And the truth is that I'm quite shocked. When left-wing elements in the Israeli media created a storm out of my statements, I did not attach any importance to it. I saw this as the continuation of their false and biased campaign against the right-wing government and against me. I have been living with this false demonization that has been made against me for years and I do not allow myself to be affected by it. When political and media figures overseas made use of my statement and attributed to it intentions which I never had to attack me and the government, I similarly attributed it to the hypocrisy and the continuation of the smear campaign that I have been going through for years.

"In the case of certain parties, it is clear to me that this is even part of the BDS campaign against the State of Israel, which is forced to operate in an impossible situation against a murderous terrorist campaign which is launched from a civilian population against a civilian population, and it does so while maintaining moral and legal principles that no other country in the world would be able to uphold. In the case of certain others, I attributed it to a lack of understanding and familiarity with me by those who only know me through the false media smear campaign.

"I assumed that if someone is able to attribute to me a call for the indiscriminate killing of women and children, it is only from his fevered mind or that he doesn't really believe it either and is doing it on purpose to harm me.

"But when it comes from good, intelligent, serious and dedicated people, who devote the best years of their lives to Israel's security, and when I hear that such serious people attribute such terrible intentions to me in all seriousness, I can no longer console myself by blaming others. I am forced to take stock of what I've done.

"By G-d, such a crazy thought never crossed my mind, not even for a split second. It's simply not in my lexicon. When the storm surrounding my comments first arose, I wondered how far they could be taken to criticize and attack me. I thought the farthest they could go was the interpretation that the houses of the villages on both sides of the road would be destroyed to prevent the continuation of the terrorist attacks on that road, which is used for the movement of thousands of settlers, men, women and children. Something like what Arik (Ariel) Sharon in the 80s wanted to do, and which the Supreme Court forbade in the area that made possible the murder of Tali Hatuel and her daughters.

"At most something like what the Egyptian president did just recently, a kilometer away from the border with Gaza, as part of the fight against the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. In none of those cases was there harm to human life, only against property. I assumed that such a step was also seen as excessive and disproportionate, hence the accusations against me and the accusation of war crimes and the call to not let me into the US. Until this conversation this morning, I really didn't imagine that anyone could seriously understand my words as a call for the indiscriminate killing of women and children in the village.

"That's when the penny dropped for me. Pilots who have in their hands a weapon with tremendous firepower, like a fighter jet, are constantly dealing with this tension. They study it, talk about it and live it day by day, hour by hour. Every time they put on their flight suit, get on the plane and go into action in enemy territory, just before they push the button and release the bomb, they live the dilemma between the just, moral, and critical goal for the security of the country they were sent to accomplish and the collateral damage that may occur.

"In professional legal language it is called 'proportionality,' in real life this word takes the form of life and death. This is a dilemma that only those who hold in their hands a tremendous responsibility for human life and forge destinies with the push of a button can really understand. And blessed are the people whose children they are, who live this moral tension, and do it with unchanging vigilance even after decades of service and countless operations.

"As someone who did not get to serve in combat service, I only know this tension from a theoretical level. From the discussions, from the transcriptions of the standing orders and the orders of the IDF General Staff, and from the investigations of the exercises and operational activities in which I had the privilege of taking part in the operations division of the General Staff, in regular and reserve service, from the training on the values of the IDF that trainees receive, from the lectures in the yeshiva on the mitzvah of fighting Amalek and the Torah discourses seasoned with the wine of the Purim feasts, and from the discourse - public and social in Israel around the morality of fighting. I can only imagine what that tension looks like in reality - from the air, sea or land - when you hold in your hand a mighty weapon such as a fighter jet, tank or other machine of war.

"And here I came to two insights: the first concerns how much we don't know each other. How much foreignness and alienation there is between the different parts of Israeli society. We are so close and yet so far apart. So close in the practical partnership of the Zionist enterprise, our enterprise of national revival. We study together, serve together, work together, build the country together. And so far apart in the lack of familiarity with each other's values and worldview. For years I have struggled to understand the gap between the image I have in certain parts of the nation and who I really am. I know myself. The house I grew up in, the values I bring with me from home, from the environment I grew up in, from the Torah I studied. I know how much light and goodness and justice and morality and love of man and nation there is in all of these, and I don't recognize the black figure that often stares at me in the media mirror. I can blame it on the media until tomorrow, but it doesn't change the result.

"And if there is a huge gap between who I am and how I am perceived 'on the other side', to the extent that I can be accused of calling for the murder of women and children, who knows what gap there is between how I often perceive people or the statements of parties on the other side and who and what they really are?! Could it be that I'm making the same mistake?

"The last few weeks reveal something that goes far beyond the debate about this or that detail in the judicial reforms. They reveal deep currents that probably contain sharp value disputes that touch our most exposed nerves, but they also reveal a lot about our mutual fear and apprehension of each other. Fears and concerns that stem only a little from the disputes themselves but much more from the fact that we don't know each other well enough. We don't talk enough, we don't listen enough, and we don't learn enough from each other.

"And so, whatever the results of the judicial reforms (which, as you know, I believe with all my heart are good for Israeli democracy and the core values we all share), we must begin a course of national discourse. of breaking down walls and achieving a new unity. With and out of our disputes, but on the basis of real knowledge of each other and free of stigmas, mutual respect and factual discourse.

"The second insight relates to Avtalion's statement in the Mishna, in Pirkei Avot: 'Scholars, be careful with your words; lest you be liable for (the punishment of) exile, and are exiled to a place of evil waters, from which the disciples who come after may drink and die, and thus the Name of Heaven will be desecrated.' I studied this Mishna with the interpretations given to it by the Sages countless times. But as the Sages said: 'A person does not understand statements of Torah unless he stumbles in them.' I never understood it as I understand it today. How far does the necessary caution go and how heavy is the responsibility placed on us, not only for what we say, but for how things can be interpreted, even in faraway places and in far-fetched directions where we never imagined where they could be taken?

"To the extent that I, who live in a certain worldview and could not imagine at all that it might be understood from my words that Huwara should be wiped out with all of its inhabitants, I must take into account how my statements can be received by people like our heroic pilots, who do not know me and for whom these concepts are not something theoretical, who don't see them as just words meant to convey the message of a demand for a sharp response, but as something taken from the real world, something which is part of their lives and very sensitive which they deal with day by day, hour by hour.

"So after I failed in this responsibility - and believe me I am still shaken by the thought that this is how I could have been understood - it is important for me first of all to apologize to the IDF and its commanders, with an emphasis on the Air Force personnel, if I had a part in breaking the trust that is so important between the IDF, as the people's army, and the elected political level. And now to say things I thought I would never have to say:

"My brothers the pilots, the IDF, and all of Israeli society, he fundamental humane values of the State of Israel are shared by all of us. It is possible and necessary to specify the ethics of our war in its details and balances, and we have had and probably will continue to have debates and disputes about this. But that is on the details. As a country, we have had this discourse around these specific details for all these years, during the Bus 300 Affair, when Yair Golan thought he was acting humanely but the Supreme Court prohibited what he was doing, during the Kissufim case and the Elor Azaria case, and more. Moreover, we are blessed that these are our dilemmas, that this is world and the values we live in and believe in. We can discuss the application of the exact formula of proportionality, the relationship between the quality of the target and the collateral damage that we always try to reduce but sometimes is unavoidable. But an obviously illegal order for indiscriminate killing will never happen! Under no circumstances! These are the values we all share.

"The IDF is the people's army and has a clear framework of values and morals. Generations of soldiers and commanders have been educated in that framework. This framework is important because it gathers around it all the soldiers, commanders and officers, who come from different parts of the nation.

"These are the necessary values for maintaining the fundamental contract between the State and those who are willing to give their lives for it and use the most lethal weapons to protect it.

"This contract is simple and written in the blood of many soldiers. The place of the soldiers is simple but the hardest there is - they are willing to give their lives in order to protect the country.

"The state, for its part, undertakes not to subject them to clearly illegal orders, those over which a black flag flies.

"As a senior minister, as a cabinet member, I stood in the past, stand in the present, and will continue to stand by this code in the future. It is the basis of our cohesion.

"Together with the other members of the cabinet, who constitute a variety of voices which balance and challenge each other, I will continue to support the uncompromising integrity and professionalism of the IDF and its commanders in the processes of exercising its power.

"I have stood, and with G-d's help I will continue to stand, for my side of the social contract!

"There is no need to even mention your side of the contract. You have held to it since the establishment of the State of Israel, including yesterday in Jenin," Smotrich concluded.