Israel and its ardent defenders proudly proclaim that Israel has the most moral army in the world. On July 18, Bibi Netanyahu said
“The supreme consideration guiding us is to restore security to the civilians and quiet to the state. There is not a more moral army than the IDF, and we do not want to harm even one innocent civilian. Not even one. We are operating only against terror targets.”
Israel's defenders are proud that the IDF tries to reduce civilian casualties by phoning the occupants of homes about to be destroyed or "tapping on their roof" in order to give them a few minutes warning to evacuate. "What other army would do so much to try to save civilian lives?" Israel's defenders will ask.
But should we take their claims at face value? Back in the early days of the war, back when only a bit over 150 Palestinian civilians had been killed, back before Israel bombed Gaza's only power plant, back before it had bombed 6 U.N. shelters, Omar Baddar wrote a column questioning this proposition. He cited Human Rights Watch to show that Israel was guilty of war crimes by using excessive force that "either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain." He cited Amnesty International to question Israeli claims in 2009 that Hamas used human shields. More damning yet, he linked to a BBC story that showed that in 2005, the Israeli High Court prohibited the IDF from using Palestinians as human shields and the IDF OBJECTED TO THE COURT'S RULING. He also cited Israel's then Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, who said that Israel's goal during its 2012 operations in Gaza should be to "send Gaza back to the Middle Ages."
But I can hear Israel's defenders now. Omar Baddar??? Are you kidding me? He's an AAAARAB! He's must be anti-Semitic. And so is Human Rights Watch. And Amnesty International. You can't believe what they say!
All right. Then how about Yuli Novak, a former Israeli Air Force officer? She believes that when she was in the IDF in 2002 that it WAS the most moral army in the world. Today she says that is no longer true. And if Yuli Novak isn't good enough, then how about Daniel Levy? Levy was one of Israel's negotiators in the Palestinian talks under Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. You would not expect someone with his qualifications to gratuitously badmouth Israel during a time of war. Yet, this is what he said about the current war in Gaza (emphasis added).
I think that Israel's right to defend itself when its adversaries are violating international law by indiscriminately firing on civilians allows for a just Israeli response. However, the Israeli response, I think it is clear to see, has been disproportionate and had not kept within realms of what could be called a just war.
When you see that hospitals, schools and shelters have been targeted and certainly been hit, when you see the civilian casualty toll on the Palestinian side, when you see that there is a ratio of civilian casualties that is approximately 300 to 1, I think this suggests that Israel has gone well beyond what can be called legitimate self-defense. . .
From the very beginning and for some period of time leading up to this and once more being in this crisis the Israeli position has been that Hamas a priori is to blame for everything. That they are using civilians as shields. What Israel has done, and this is in part why we are seeing such a big civilian death toll, is that it has preemptively absolved itself of any moral or legal responsibility.
When asked if it was " possible to avoid civilian casualties in a war like that, fighting in a city like Gaza", Levy responded:
There are two levels at which one can address that. One: Is it impossible in no circumstances to avoid civilian casualties? I think the answer is no. But it is it possible to avoid almost a thousand civilian casualties? And there the answer is almost certainly yes. And I think the constant Israeli propaganda - and I think one has to call it propaganda - that suggests that we are doing everything to avoid civilian casualties just has to be called the boldfaced lied that it is.
Israel's army is more moral than the Syrian army. And it is more moral than ISIS. And it is almost certainly more moral than Hamas would be if Hamas had Israel's military capabilities. But anyone arguing that Israel is the world's most moral army in the world is just blowing hot air.
Update: Shortly after I wrote this, I saw the following tweet from Trita Parsi. So true.