How wonderful – well, how much better, anyway – wars would be if civilians were never casualties. Thus far, though, and lamentably, most wars have taken their toll of injuries and deaths on people who were not carrying arms, even those too young to carry them.
In some cases – like the current war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza – the purposeful placement of combatants and armaments among the civilian population all but assures that there will be civilian casualties. In fact, that is one of Hamas’ very motivations for the placement. When one lacks any semblance of moral justification for one’s belligerence and lust to murder innocents, there is only benefit in having as many dead civilians as possible of one’s own to display in lieu of logic.
Hamas’ other reason for making sure its terrorists and rockets are deeply embedded in Gazan residential areas is that it knows something that has somehow managed to elude a multitude of media: Israel does all it reasonably can to avoid harming civilians.
That’s not, of course, what the tens of thousands of protesters in places like London, Paris and Sydney shriek, what the headlines blare, or what the talking heads pronounce. But it’s there all the same – in the fine print, so to speak. Like the reference, entirely en passant and deep into a 1300-word New York Times article published on the first of the year, to how “hundreds of thousands of Gazans have received warnings in the form of telephone messages or fliers that their buildings are Israeli targets…”
Yes, mind-boggling as it is, the Israel Defense Forces actually telephones houses that it has reason to believe, based on intelligence reports, are harboring terrorists or munitions. It does so to give residents time to leave before the attack.
Haaretz, citing an Israeli Channel 10 report, disclosed another means the Israeli air force uses to avoid civilian casualties, something called “roof knocking.” It seems that residents of targeted houses in Gaza have been able to prevent bombings of their buildings by simply climbing up to the roof to show that they have not left, causing IDF commanders to abort the missions. Hamas leaders have in fact actively encouraged Gazans to use the ploy, and, when it was still functioning, Hamas’ television station called on children to form such human shields at the homes of several terrorist leaders.
And so, what the Israeli pilots sometimes do, the paper writes, is launch a relatively harmless missile at one corner of the roof to cause the crowd to change its mind and vacate the premises, after which the target is destroyed.
Such Israeli efforts to prevent the spilling of civilian blood present a colossal contrast to Hamas members’ unrestrained glee when their missiles hit Israeli homes, supermarkets or hospitals, or when their suicide bombers kill Jewish men, women and children.
A recent Associated Press photograph harbored a striking symbolism. It showed a bombed-out classroom in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, the result of one of thousands of rockets Hamas has lobbed at Jewish communities. A gaping hole in the ceiling lets in the sunlight. And there, clearly legible in chalk on a blackboard, is part of a Talmudic adage: “Who is honorable? One who honors [G-d’s] creatures.”
Israeli commanders may or may not realize it, but from a truly Jewish perspective, their most potent weapons are not munitions but actions like the warning phone calls and “roof knockings.” The Jewish religious tradition teaches that what ultimately win wars and protect against enemies are not bullets and bombs but good deeds and prayer. There are weapons, and there are weapons.
That Jewish conviction lies at the heart of the calls for prayers on behalf of Israel’s citizens and soldiers, like the one that was issued by Agudath Israel of America’s highest rabbinic body, the Council of Torah Sages. The Council’s members wrote, in part: “In light of the current situation…we … strongly emphasize the obligation on us all to awaken ourselves in prayer, to ask for Divine mercy for our dear brethren and to increase our charity and good deeds for the protection of the remnant of the Jewish people from any and all harm.” The rabbinic elders went on to reiterate an earlier call to recite chapters 83, 130 and 142 of Psalms each day on behalf of fellow Jews in danger, and “to fervently pour out our hearts” in various regular prayers, including one, in the evening service, in which G-d is beseeched to “spread upon us Your tent of peace.”
The prayer concludes: “Blessed are You, the Guardian of His nation Israel forever.”
May respect for life, good deeds and prayer protect and prevail.
© 2009 AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]
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