Jewish war ethics

Prayer for Our Soldiers

We are all praying for the success of our soldiers who are fighting bravely for the defense of our people and the cities of our God. The appropriate perek of Tehillim (Psalms) to be recited for our situation would be Chapter 83, for it contains a prayer for victory and vengeance of the wicked, enemies of God who raise their heads, are full of craftiness, and plot against Your people. They say, “And let us wipe out Israel as a nation—we will destroy the very memory of her existence.” They say, “Let us seize for our own use these pasture lands of God!” And we pray:

O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive when we pray. Do to them as once you did to Midian, or as you did to Sisera and Yavin at the river Kishon, and as you did to your enemies at Ein-dor, whose decaying corpses fertilized the soil. O my God, blow them away like dust; like chaff before the wind— as a forest fire that roars across a mountain. Chase them with your fiery storms, tempests, and tornados. Utterly disgrace them until they recognize your power and name, O Lord. Make them failures in everything they do; let them be ashamed and terrified until they learn that you alone, Hashem, are the God above all gods in supreme charge of all the earth.”

The Virtue of Our Soldiers

It is difficult to imagine the virtue of our soldiers, who sacrifice their lives for the sake of their nation and homeland. Going out to battle with self-sacrifice for the clal (the whole of Israel), they rise to the supreme level of kedushat clal Yisrael. They must now fix the mistakes of all the governments since Oslo.

We Told You So

We said that as a result of the Oslo Accords missiles would be fired on us, and they mocked us, claiming we were terrifying the public.

We warned that retreating from Gush Katif would strengthen our enemies, but government and defense officials arrogantly said that, on the contrary – withdrawal would increase security.

We cautioned that without Israeli control over the Gaza Strip it would be stockpiled with weapons and missiles directed at us, and they said there were agreements with the Palestinians and Egyptians that only rifles for the purpose of policing would enter the Gaza Strip.

We warned that withdrawal would weaken our right to the Land and the world’s claims against us would increase, and they, in their dreams, painted a rosy future according to which, after the recognition of the P.L.O. and the withdrawals, the entire world would recognize our right to exist in Israel. Today, our international state of affairs is far worse – even the U.S. government makes demands on us that they never would have dreamed of in the past; incitement and anti-Semitism has grown immeasurably throughout the entire world, and also within the State of Israel (just listen to the Arab Members of Knesset).

We said that withdrawing from Gaza would bring Hamas to power and that when we would have to fight them after the withdrawal, the war would be much more difficult. They claimed that, on the contrary, if after withdrawal the Arabs open fire on us, we will then be free to strike them relentlessly.

We asked: “But they will shoot missiles from civilian homes?” Condescendingly, they snapped: “First of all, they don’t have missiles. Secondly, if they do fire a missile, we’ll destroy the houses from which they are fired, with all its inhabitants.”

And now, when they do shoot missiles, we do not respond by bombing them immediately, out of fear that civilian inhabitants might be injured, and thus, place our soldiers in danger of death.

All these misguided and misleading people – leaders, experts, and pundits – must now ask forgiveness from the Jewish nation, and vacate their positions for people more competent than themselves.

Hopes for Improving Leadership

In a gradual and exhaustive process, the supporters of Oslo and the Disengagement are finally taking their last bows. They aren’t apologizing, but at least, to our relief, they are leaving the scene. The Knesset Speaker and the new President both opposed the Oslo Accords and the destruction of Gush Katif. The Minister of Defense objected to the destruction of Gush Katif. Many Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu ministers opposed the Oslo Accords and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

On the other hand, the Prime Minister indeed objected to Oslo, and in the final stage he also opposed the destruction of Gush Katif, but in recent years he announced his support for a softer version of a Palestinian state. In this way he endangers the State of Israel, and foils the possibility of explaining our right to the Land of Israel. Minister of Justice Livni proudly led the destruction of Gush Katif, and to this day, has not apologized or asked for forgiveness. These two individuals, Netanyahu and Livni, will also probably descend from the political stage in the coming years, but it’s taking too long. The ‘Yesh Atid’ Party, which has revealed itself to be much further left than it tried to present before the elections, will presumably also lose its popularity, but for now we are stuck with them.

Still, the question remains – who will replace them? Will their alternates repeat all the same mistakes? Or perhaps there’s still a chance the Prime Minister will repent, draw conclusions, and lead the people of Israel in the expansion of settlement throughout the entire country, in the deepening of Jewish identity, and by putting the Arab population in its place? Halevy!

The Media

Try to hear on Israel’s public radio station ‘Kol Yisrael’, an interviewer ask tough questions to Oslo supporters –those faithful to the religion of peace, and the advocates of “two states for two peoples.” Try to hear them at least ask an innocent question – how did we get into this situation? How, within the span of twenty-five years, did we go from a situation where Jewish mothers together with their children, could buy vegetables in the marketplaces of Gaza, Schem, and Qalqiliya, to having these areas turned into nests of murder, terror, and anti-Semitic propaganda unparalleled since the Nazis?

Yet, you will not hear the interviewers at ‘Kol Yisrael’ ask questions to the point. All their chutzpa is directed towards those who believe in a Greater Israel, the rabbis, and supporters of family values and the Shabbat, whereas for the worshipers of the idol of peace, who have entangled the State of Israel to its neck, they have no questions.

Kol Yisrael’ should have been closed down a long time ago. Even when they talk about our righteous soldiers who fell in the battle for the defense of the people and the country, they are unable to hide their views.

The time has come to close Arutz 10 (Channel 10) as well. Their debts have been waived countless times. If they must express leftist positions – let them do it at their own expense. It’s time to close down ‘Galei Tzahal’ (Army radio) as well. Incidentally, without German financing, the ‘Haaretz’ newspaper would have been closed down long ago.

Criticism of those who Endanger the Lives of our Soldiers

Unfortunately, in this war we have also heard leaders and commanders boasting that pilots and soldiers have refrained from attacking terrorists situated in the vicinity of civilians. True, we no longer hear a Machat (Brigade Commander) say publicly that he would prefer his soldiers were killed so as not to harm the women of the enemy, as was the case in Operation Defensive Shield in the Jenin refugee camp (where 13 of our fighters were killed, and the officer was not suspended).

Nevertheless, we are still far from acting appropriately from a Jewish, ethical standpoint, and as needed to achieve victory.

Therefore, it is imperative to criticize those leaders and commanders who have mercy for the lives of our enemies’ civilians, and endanger the lives of our soldiers. Expressing this position is tantamount to pikuach nefesh and saving the lives of our soldiers.

The correct moral position is that in time of war, the enemy is struck together with the civilians beside them. War is not created by individuals. The ability to accumulate weapons, coordinate an army, and seize power requires broad public mobilization. Therefore, the public that brought Hamas to power with a huge majority bears full responsibility for its actions, and in particular, since they are so jubilant about every one of our soldiers who is killed or kidnapped.

This was also agreed upon by the U.N. in the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), namely, that when fighters are hiding among civilians, and there is no other option, it is permitted to strike them together with the civilians surrounding them.

How to Win the War

It is difficult to beat Hamas. As long as they remain in power – they win, even if we kill thousands of combatants and destroy thousands of homes. The worse the situation is in Gaza, the more they gain. Arab and Western countries will provide financial assistance to rehabilitate the houses, of which a significant part will unquestionably go to additional ammunition, and another large part of the money will slide into the pockets of the leaders of the organization. So what’s so bad about hiding in the meantime? Every day that passes, the more they gain.

Undeniably, in the Oslo Accords and withdrawal from Gaza we complicated ourselves above and beyond our heads – with all nations, and with all laws. There is only one way out of this complication: the reoccupation of the entire Gaza Strip, the imposition of full military rule, eliminate all the terrorists, and dismantle all terrorist organizations. As far as the Egyptian position is concerned, this is the appropriate time.

In order for the solution to be complete, it will be necessary to return all Jewish settlements to their original locations, and enlarge them several times over. At the same time, we should work vigorously to rehabilitate all Jewish sites in the Gaza Strip, including the synagogue located in the center of the city.

The Difficult Problem

The problem is the current Israeli government is incapable of doing this. It is hostage to conceptions which prevent it from doing what is necessary. Only if Hamas continues to attack relentlessly the government might be forced, for lack of another option, to conquer the entire Gaza Strip. And even then, it won’t know what the next step is.

This is not only a problem of leadership; it is a much more difficult and deeper problem. It is a moral problem which lies within the Jewish society’s elite, in all its components. The State of Israel must be based on the vision of the Return to Zion, but the Jewish elite are running away from this great vision.

Our Responsibilities

At this point, a reader may ask: I’m just one person. What can I do?

First, one should be aware that alienation to the vision of the Return to Zion is the root of the problem. Or as the old saying goes: The question of a wise person is half the answer. Understanding the problem is the beginning of the solution. The clearer the Jewish vision becomes, so will the way of dealing with the problems become clearer, and fewer errors will be made. Ultimately, all the problems we are facing today were created by the mistakes of the Israeli leadership.

Secondly, whenever a person is given an opportunity to act and take a stand, he should do so. And even if the overall vision cannot be realized, one should always choose the position that further promotes the vision of the Return to Zion – whether it is in elections, or any public educational or informational activity.

All this, of course, together with working as vigorously as possible to strengthen the settlements in Judea and Samaria, encouraging aliyah and having children, and genuine Jewish education.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be read here:

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper; His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English; Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: