show no mercy?
In Haaretz the other day there was an article detailing some recent statements by the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Defence Force (the IDF, or the IOF – the Israeli Occupation Force – as some more appropriately call it).
The Israel Defense Forces’ chief rabbi told students in a pre-army yeshiva program
last week that soldiers who “show mercy” toward the enemy in wartime will be
Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki also told the yeshiva students that religious individuals
made better combat troops.
Speaking Thursday at the Hesder yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Karnei
Shomron , Rontzki referred to Maimonides’ discourse on the laws of war. That text
quotes a passage from the Book of Jeremiah stating: “Cursed be he that doeth the
work of the Lord with a slack hand, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword
In Rontzki’s words, “In times of war, whoever doesn’t fight with all his heart and
soul is damned – if he keeps his sword from bloodshed, if he shows mercy toward his
enemy when no mercy should be shown.”
Rontzki’s remarks came during a ceremony to celebrate a new Torah scroll at the
yeshiva. The service was held in commemoration of Yosef Fink, one of two yeshiva
students kidnapped by Hezbollah in 1986.
Their bodies were returned 10 years later in a prisoner exchange.
Rontzki also referred specifically to the Israel Defense Forces’ conduct during
Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. “Apropos all that we’ve heard in the media of late,
thank God that the people of Israel has united recently around the simple
understanding of how it must fight. One of the major innovations of that offensive
was the conduct of war – not as some kind of mission or detention.”
“We all remember the beginning of the war, with a major attack of 80 planes bombing
various places, and then artillery, mortar and tank fire and so forth, as in war,”
he said. “Everyone fought with all their heart and soul, and that includes bravery
of course, but also fighting with all the resources one has – to fight as if to
truly determine the mission.”
Rontzki also referred to the qualities of the ideal combat soldier.
“In Israel’s wars, warriors are God-fearing people, righteous people, people who
don’t have sins on their hands,” he said. “One needs to fight with an understanding
of what one is fighting for.”
Pretty amazing, hey. As a post on Jewschool pointed out, this sort of argument comes rather close to the language of holy war, or jihad. Which leads me to think about the various ways in which Israel does the sorts of things which it accuses Palestinians of doing. That is, there are all these anxieties that Palestinians will perpetrate violence against Israelis, that Palestinian adults are indoctrinating Palestinian children to hate Israeli children, that Palestinians don’t know the ‘true’ histories of the past. But, it seems to me, these anxieties are often a reflection of what Israelis are doing themselves: the use of violence in particular is a stark example of a situation wherein Israeli actions are projected onto Palestinians.