Tohar Nesheq has been pushed to an immoral extreme

Today we see clearly the outcome of a doctrine that requires Israeli soldiers to risk their lives in order to not kill terrorists who come to kill them. Literally dozens, even scores, of armed soldiers under attack by a terrorist in a truck, ran away rather than shooting him. An armed civilian was the one who shot and killed the terrorist. He asked how could it happen that no soldier opened fire to stop the attack.

After Elor Azaria shot a wounded terrorist, many of the highest personages in the country rushed to pronounce judgment on him. The Chief of Staff roundly denounced him. The Defense Minister at the time condemned him in the most adamant language and the media were nearly hysterical in their choice of language. The Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon went on to say that anyone who disapproves of his opinion “does not share our values.”

No, Mr. Ya’alon, we do not share your values or those of your Chief of Staff. We value, very highly, something called “fair trial,” which you denied Elor Azaria. Bad enough that the atmosphere was poisoned against him by you and other top officials as well as Members of the Knesset and the media. In a democracy that is always a legitimate argument for a change of venue to someplace less toxic. But there is no other venue. There is only one IDF. Military judges are officers subordinate to the Chief of Staff. Beyond that, the judges will have future careers. To rule against such vociferous opinion at the top is powerful pressure on them to conform. Why are so few of the commentators concerned that Azaria could not have had a fair trial?

That consideration seems to be irrelevant because, as it appears,  the governing “principle” underlying the IDF’s Rules of Engagement is ma yomru hagoyim — what will the goyim think of us? We so desperately want them to think the IDF is the “most moral army in the world” that it is accepted beyond question in Israel that Israel’s doctrine of tohar nesheq — “purity of arms” — is morally elevated and perfectly noble. The practice is typified by sending Israeli ground troops into deadly situations to take out important enemy positions, which could be done by air strikes, in order to avoid casualties to enemy civilians who stand in the way as human shields protecting the enemy. To do that is to prefer the lives of enemy civilians over the lives of our own soldiers. I am here to say that that is immoral.

Suppose your own child and another child were trapped in a burning building and you had time to save one but might not have time to save the other. Which child would you save first? If there is someone who would save the other child first, thinking it is morally superior, would you admire that person’s high morality and feel morally inferior for the impulse to act in your own “selfish” interest? No need to feel that way.

I am quite willing to assume that both children are equal in the eyes of God, that God loves both children equally. You, however, are not God and neither am I. We are mortals and our position and role in Creation are different. We do not relate to all children the same, nor are we supposed to. We have a special relationship with our own children, a relationship of loyalty and protection. I say that to save the other child first would be a gross and unforgivable violation of that special relationship of loyalty and protection.

What if the two people trapped in the fire are adults? Does that special relationship end when the child reaches adulthood? Not at all. It becomes reciprocal. That is why our children go to war to protect us.

And what if you are at war and the other adult is one of the enemy? I say that is all the more reason to save your child first.

What if the other adult is one of the enemy civilians serving the enemy combatants as a human shield? Can it then override your duty of loyalty to your child? That proposition is absurd on its face. One who protects an enemy combatant becomes an enemy combatant.

What if the other person is really an enemy civilian and not a combatant? Can that make your duty to that other person higher than your duty of loyalty to your own child? Not at all. Your child is in a stronger position than in the first hypothetical because he is defending us.

How then can we sacrifice our children in order to spare enemy civilians? How can we do that to our children when the enemy civilians are standing in the way of air strikes to protect the enemy gunmen and their military positions? Even if they are forced to be there against their will, that cannot at all override our duty of loyalty and protection that we owe to our children who have gone to war to protect us. Are we betraying our own children so that the goyim will think well of our top brass and high officials?

Shame on us. For shame!


About the Author
Ya'akov has practiced law in New York, California and Israel for a multi-national clientele including Israeli NGO's. He was a professor of law in the US and has contributed numerous opinion pieces to various media outlets.