Originally published in the Eugene Register Guard on April 12, 2002. Reprinted with permission.
THE WEEPING WILL LAST for generations to come, and what are we to tell our offspring?
I was born and raised in Israel, where I served in an elite unit in the Israeli Defense Forces. When my comrades and I were trained to be soldiers, we knew that our army was essential for protecting our homes and families.
We also still believed that our army was guided by the principle of “tohar ha’neshek.” It translates into English as “purity of arms,” and refers to the moral understanding that any weapon must be used solely as a means of defense in preventing the destruction of oneself, one’s family and one’s nation.
Since those days, we saw the principle shatter a thousand times into countless corpses and body parts. It now seems as if throughout the world this basic moral principle – upholding the sanctity of human life – is all but lost.
We constantly see how our humanity is losing ground to the power of contorted messianic interpretations of the word of God – claiming the rights of this nation or that race to invade lands, to dominate fellow humans, to destroy the body and spirit of this race or that nation, to kill the infidel and the rival.
My initiation into the reality of war was in 1982, when I rumbled into Lebanon with the IDF. There I was witness to the threads of lies that led from the lavish desks of the politicians to the shattered bodies of my fellow soldiers. Twenty years later, the eternally young faces of these men are still smiling amid their always-grieving kin.
In the late 1980s and well into the first Intifada, when my reserve unit received its West Bank assignment, I knew that my moral dilemma required resolution. Policing the seething civilian population seemed not only frightening but also utterly foreign to my earlier (naive?) comprehension of “tohar ha’neshek.”
My refusal landed me a 30-day stint in military jail, among a motley group of moralists: Alongside my fellow “refuseniks” was a militant religious soldier who killed an unarmed Palestinian youth under mysterious circumstances. Within a few months he would be released, and probably allowed again to carry arms.
Over a decade later and in the midst of the current Intifada and IDF incursions, the picture could not read clearer. The occupation of the Palestinian territories is destroying two nations, while tormenting their faiths.
Every bullet that kills a Palestinian rips a bleeding wound in the hearts of the Israeli soldier, the Israeli nation and the Jewish spirit.
Every suicide bombing triggers a catastrophic moral implosion within the Palestinian psyche and the Muslim spirit.
While the media describe scores of dead and injured Palestinians unreachable by medics, the Palestinian militants are blamed for barring the medics’ access in an effort to attain another short-lived victory in this horrific public relations battle.
Israeli soldiers are accused of using local women as human shields when conducting house-to-house searches. Who among us – when ordered to enter enemy houses in a war zone – could be the moral giant whose conscientious judgment rules over a better chance of returning home alive?
A relative in Israel described a phone call he received from the heart of a refugee camp. His shell-shocked buddy reported that 13 of his reserve unit’s comrades were just ambushed and mowed down before his eyes. Even in the safety of his Tel Aviv home, our relative could not stop muttering: “All is ruined here, all is ruined.”
It seems impossible now to see beyond the blinding fury of revenge, the bottomless abyss of grief and the rhetoric of the militants. But I believe it is clear to anyone whose vision reaches further, that the occupation must end.
The survival of both Israel and Palestine – and the safety of the region – is completely dependent on termination of the occupation and the establishment of a secure border between the two states.
It is a matter of time. The questions are when will this occur, and who in Palestine and Israel will live to see that day. The current leaderships on both sides are weak, lack vision, and are vulnerable to the extremists’ pressure.
The responsibility for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rests squarely in the hands of the most powerful world leader – the United States of America. With both nations’ survival dependent on constant American support, our leadership is the only force that can make the Israeli and Palestinian governments move away from occupation and constant war, toward peace and co-existence.
The crisis is at its worst, and the time has come. Let this opportunity be embraced, not missed. I plead with my American government to lever its might to pull together the Palestinian and Israeli nations, sponsor the creation of peace, and support the stability of the Middle East. End the occupation, disarm the terrorist organizations, and establish an internationally monitored safe border between Israel and Palestine.
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