National Union Chairman MK Betzalel Smotrich, responding the indictment of five IDF soldiers from the Netzach Yehuda haredi battalion accused of beating terrorists they held as detainees, today wrote: "The heroes of the IDF who we send to fight in our name against a cruel enemy deserve backing even if they erred, not abandoning them in the name of a distorted legalistic morality."
This problem is not new. The charge of "distorted morality" has been applied to the gamut of incomprehensible Israeli policies. Distorted morality is cited when condemning community evictions and demolitions such as Nativ HaAvot, Amona, and Migron. Distorted morality is used to describe the punishment meted to Kfir fighter Elor Azaria who killed a downed terrorist who carried out an attack in Hevron. Morality is distorted when murderer's bodies are released to their families. Distorted morality is the pathetic plea on the lips of families of terror victims who naively believe if they could only find words eloquent enough to impress the judge, they might yet enjoy the bitter and empty satisfaction of seeing the murderer's house knocked down in hopes that such demolitions will have some deterrent value in the face of an ideology that seeks to conquer the planet.
Every place where distorted morality is applied, misery and human tragedy increase. But it is especially corrosive and insidious when the dictates of false ethics come to bear in situations described by Chairman Smotrich and grunt-level combat soldiers become the final logical conclusion of a chain of contradictory and nonsensical orders that actually originate straight at the top. The misery is dealt with by elite fighters placed in impossible situations who often need years of therapy after their discharge. The human tragedy is measured in blood, which is the inevitable cost of every dent in Israeli deterrence.
Item: It was 1998 and I was serving reserve duty in the Ramallah sector. At Beit El junction a hapless soldier who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and who had received incomprehensible open-fire orders was attacked, pulled from his vehicle, beaten, and had his weapon stolen. I discussed standing open-fire orders on the Nadav HaEtzni Show on Reshet Bet of Kol Yisrael on December 6, 1998:
Nadav HaEtzni: We will hear harsh accusations of reserve soldiers on the IDF's firing orders and how to deal with rock throwing. Last week we experienced collective shock as a result of the filmed incident at the Bet-El junction. Among other things accusations were heard from IDF heads that the soldier, Asaf Niyara, should have opened fire on the rock throwers, and an additional complaint that Intelligence officers who passed that same place a short time before the incident in jeeps and could discern the rioting should have opened fire and dispersed the rioters, which could have prevented the entire incident. And yet, from a long list of reports which we received from soldiers and officers in regular service and in reserve duty, we hear a harsh claim against IDF leadership, saying that whoever would have opened fire, had there not been television cameras present, would have been tried in court. Before we get to our two interviews, we should just say that we turned to the IDF Spokesman and requested to speak about the issue with the General of Central Command or with the Commander of the Judea and Samaria Division so that they could grapple with the claims, and we received a reply in the absolute negative, that they would not respond.
We have with us on the line Mordechai Sones, hello to you. You are a resident of Yishuv Nachaliel, and you also do your reserve army service in the Sector Defense unit in that same area, and you were in the army there recently.
Mordechai Sones: Correct, I just finished two-and-a-half weeks ago.
HaEtzni: Now, Yossi Levy says the opening fire orders are pretty ambiguous, but you say that you received clear orders, which were?
Sones: Yes, from our Platoon Commander - that if rocks or cinder blocks are thrown at us, we are not to respond; they explained to us that since we were driving in bullet proof jeeps, it didn't constitute a danger to our lives if rocks were thrown at us, and so we were to continue driving.
HaEtzni: That is to say, the clear orders you received are that in that sector, the moment rocks or cinder blocks are thrown at you or at your jeeps, you are to flee, to run away from the area?
HaEtzni: And that's how the soldiers behaved?
Sones: That's right.
HaEtzni: Thank you very much, Mordechai Sones. I would just like to mention again that we turned to the IDF Spokesman and requested their response, and asked to speak with the General of Central Command or with the Commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, and we were refused. Of course, we would be happy to broadcast their response.
Good evening to Justice Minister Tzachi HaNegbi. Claims were made here, and usually these claims are connected to charges against the Judicial system that the IDF's firing orders, which in great part flow from the Judicial system, are to flee and to cut contact from rock throwers. Do you think that there may be place to examine anew the firing orders?
Justice Minister Tzachi HaNegbi: I have no knowledge of this. I really don't know if the Army Judicial system is having additional thoughts regarding whether the firing orders allow for self defense or not. I think that in the last cabinet meeting, which was attended by both the Chief of Staff and also other IDF generals, the overall opinion was that if that soldier would have been able to shoot, and if he would have shot...
HaEtzni (breaking in): ...We are not speaking about that particular soldier, we are discussing also officers who passed by before...
HaNegbi: We are speaking of any type of attack. If the attack is life-threatening, whether from a shower of rocks or one rock, if there is danger to life, the soldier is obligated, not allowed, but obligated to defend himself. That's why the IDF gave him a gun.
IDF soldiers have always been prepared to endanger their lives in order to protect Jewish civilians. As it becomes clear their official job is to protect only themselves, many end up concluding they could achieve that better by remaining at home.
After decades of the poisonous gas of distorted morality undermining our army and nation, it is refreshing that an Israeli politician would include advancing a fighter's immunity law in his arsenal of campaign promises. Yes the solders may be guilty of committing a human rights faux pas, but the law itself recognizes there is spectrum in the application of justice that ranges from the lenient to the strict.
Distorted morality will call for them to be dealt with strictly. But any judge or politician who claims to subscribe the principle of "Israel First" will recommend leniency for the grunts, and pursue policies that would preclude fighters being placed in such situations in the first place. Our soldiers mustn't be human sacrifices to the stupidity, ambition, or preening of their leaders.