Historian and Shalem Center fellow Michael Oren writes in The Wall Street Journal (www.opinionjournal.com) on Aug. 23 that Israeli army duty in Gaza left him pained but proud:
"My feelings were, at best, ambivalent. I wanted to end Israel's occupation of Gaza's 1.4 million Palestinians and preserve Israel's Jewish majority, but feared abetting the terrorists' claim that Israel had fled under fire. I wanted the state to have borders that all Israelis could defend, but balked at returning to the indefensible pre-1967 borders. I honored my duty as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, but wondered whether I could drag other Israelis from their homes or, if they shot at me, shoot back.
"The same code of ethics that binds members of the IDF also obligates them to 'preserve the laws of Israel' and its 'values as a Jewish and democratic state.' Both the government and the Knesset had repeatedly approved the disengagement plan as a means of safeguarding demographic and democratic integrity. In acting in accordance with those decisions, the IDF would be fulfilling one of its fundamental purposes. But could that charge be reconciled with the task of emptying and bulldozing Israeli villages?
"These were the questions that challenged me and the 55,000 soldiers assembled in and around Gaza on the eve of the operation.
"I observed a battalion drilling their anti-riot techniques. Women and men, religious and secular, native-born Israelis and immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia, they had left their usual army jobs as teachers, flight engineers and navigators to join the disengagement force. When asked about their feelings on Gaza, they insisted that their personal opinions were irrelevant, and that as soldiers, their duty was to carry out the instructions of the legitimately elected government. The assignment, they admitted, was tough, but essential to defend democracy.
"In a combat formation of twin columns we approached the settlements. With their gates barricaded, their houses swathed in smoke from burning tires and refuse, these looked, indeed, like battlegrounds. But we came unarmed, wearing neither helmets nor flakjackets but only netted vests emblazoned with the menorah and the Star of David.
"In home after home, teams of officers and NCOs listened patiently while settler parents pleaded with them to change their minds and not evict them, wailing and tearing their shirts in mourning. Women soldiers played with weeping children, telling them stories, hugging them. Eventually, though, each of the families was led onto the evacuation bus, leaving the soldiers emotionally drained but also resolved to proceed to the next household, the next excruciating tragedy.
"The severest test of the battalion's fortitude – and humaneness – occurred in Badolah's synagogue, where the settlers were afforded an hour of parting prayer. But after two hours waiting in the blistering sun, the soldiers decided to enter. The scene that greeted them was shocking: settlers clutching the pews, the Ark and the Torah scrolls, or writhing on the floor. The troops tried to comfort them, only to break down themselves, and soon soldiers and settlers were embracing in mutual sorrow and consolation.
"Ultimately, the settlers were either escorted or carried, sobbing, onto buses. But their rabbi, stressing the need for closure, requested permission to address the soldiers, and the battalion commander remarkably agreed. So it happened that 500 troops and 100 settlers stood at attention, with Israeli flags fluttering, while the rabbi spoke of the importance of channeling this sorrow into the creation of a more loving and ethical society. 'We are all still one people, one state,' he said. Together, the evicted and the evictors, then sang 'Hatikvah,' the national anthem – 'The Hope.'
"I retain many of my forebodings about disengagement – the precedent it sets of returning to the 1967 borders, the inducement to terror. About the army's role, though, I have no ambivalence. The same army that won Israel's independence, that reunited Jerusalem and crossed the Suez Canal, has accomplished what is perhaps its greatest victory – without medals, true, and without conquest, but also without firing a shot."
A Paper That Buried So Many Crimes Finds One It Deems Noteworthy
Editor-in-chief of The New Republic (www.tnr.com) Martin Peretz writes on Aug. 19 that the New York Times' bias against Israel is once again on display:
"A few months ago, I read a very scholarly and immensely devastating book, Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper by Laurel Leff.
"Its conclusion: that the Times simply ignored or buried in the back pages what its correspondents, editors, and owners deeply knew and grasped, which was that European Jewry – a whole civilization, really – was being exterminated by the Germans and their allies in Europe. Well, another book could be written about the complicated and often ugly history of the Times' relationship to Zionism and Israel, a relationship that has frequently been marred by antipathy and anxiety, and sometimes even with prejudice. In any case, why do I bring this up now?
"It's one thing to read the Times' news pages … but it's another matter, mind-numbing and masochistic, to go regularly to its editorials. Take the top [editorial on Aug. 18]. Its subject was the withdrawal from Gaza. I hasten to declare that I support withdrawal.
"But the Times editorial board has elected not to tell the whole story, and to draw conclusions that are perverse in their pro-Palestinian emphasis. 'Some Gaza settlers pinned orange stars to their chests in a reference to the Holocaust,' which, of course, if you were a reader of the Times during the years of the Jewish catastrophe you wouldn't have the slightest inkling ever happened.
"Now, I, too, was in Gaza, at four settlements, to be exact, including Neve Dekalim, the largest one. I'm on the alert for details. I saw exactly two such badges. Anyway, the yellow star psycho-drama was, according to Ha'aretz, a production of one family. It was certainly not a phenomenon of the settler resistance. But … it did not fit the Times' editorial line to admit the fact that almost no one was really hurt, and no one was killed, in Gaza. For killings, the Times had to focus on the West Bank, where a 'settler grabbed a security guard's gun and opened fire, killing several [there were actually four] Palestinians.' The Times went on to say that this was 'an act that Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon rightly denounced as 'Jewish terror.'
"Once again, the renunciation and the denunciation cut through the entire society. But do the Times editorialists have no shame? Finally, they have shed their reluctance to call an act of terror 'terror,' but only when they can put the adjective 'Jewish' before it. Was the Dolphinarium bombing in Tel Aviv, which merited no Times editorial, not Palestinian terror? And to how many of the dozens and dozens of other helter-skelter murders of Israelis has the Times affixed the term? The Jewish killer, standing in the Petach Tikvah courtroom, asserted that 'I hope someone also kills Sharon.'
"When has a Palestinian terrorist been arrested and brought to a Palestinian court as an accused? Does the Times editorial page ever call the murder of 30, 40 innocent Iraqis a day – looking for work or at the market – terrorism? Hardly."