Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Heavy Hangs the Head

 
Sgt. Elor ‎Azaria.

Some issues are harder to write about than others. Some touches of the keyboard are ‎preceded by doubt and confliction, juggling the impulses of the heart alongside the ‎knowledge of the mind. Nothing sums up this battle more than the sorrowful saga of the Israeli soldier Sgt. Elor ‎Azaria, and as I follow the news of the verdict in his case, I gather that little resolution or ‎healing will come of it. Azaria has come to be a symbol of whatever either side of this ‎argument thinks is right, and that is a form of emotional argumentation that is perhaps ‎understandable but potentially harmful to the fabric of the Israeli nation. ‎

Three judges convicted Azaria of manslaughter for shooting Palestinian terrorist Abdel-Fattah al-Sharif in the head, 15 minutes after al-Sharif had already been ‎incapacitated after he had attempted to kill a soldier in the town of Hebron. There was video of the ‎event used as evidence in the highly publicized case — and despite several attempts by ‎politicians on all sides to influence the case or use it to further their own careers — the 97-‎page verdict shows that the proceedings were surprisingly straightforward. The ‎aftermath, however, proved to be anything but. ‎

The judges presiding over the case have had their lives ‎threatened, and similar threats have been made at IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. This comes as many, particularly on the right, are calling for Azaria to be ‎pardoned. The reasons for this are that he is “the nation’s son,” “a child,” and that his ‎actions are understandable given the enormous pressures he was under. Saying otherwise ‎is now referred to as “breaking ranks,” and I guess that is what I am about to do. As a ‎right-winger and a Diaspora Jew, I will surely travel well beyond my purview. ‎

The men and women who serve Israel and ensure its defense are not children. They are ‎somebody’s child but they are not children, and saying they are infantilizes them ‎individually and undermines their heroic efforts collectively. Furthermore, the IDF, like ‎any army, is dependent on the chain of command, and breaching it endangers the entire ‎army, including many parents’ children. Pardoning one soldier ‎sends a very mixed and confused message to all those who serve alongside him. However ‎understandable Azaria’s actions were on a human level, we ask the superhuman of ‎our IDF soldiers, and in an overwhelming majority of cases, they live up to that steep ‎expectation.

If we pardon Azaria, a soldier who broke the chain of command and acted of ‎his own volition, what does that then say about all those who go against their own hearts ‎and wishes while following orders to evict Jewish residents from illegal outposts, hold fire when feeling both fear and ‎threat or go into the lion’s den when every bone in their body tells them to retreat? The ‎soldiers of the IDF do the impossible and unthinkable time and time again, and despite the ‎horrors presented by their enemies, they remain the world’s most ethical army — or is it ‎perhaps because of this very fact? ‎

I learn Torah weekly with a study partner, and the lessons we learn leak into events throughout the following seven days. Last week, as I saw the reactions to the verdict, I ‎recalled the conversation we had about the massacre of Shechem, in which Simeon and Levi avenged the rape of their sister Dinah by killing all the newly ‎circumcised men and looting the city. I instinctively sided with the brothers against their ‎father, Jacob. Jacob’s level-headedness angered me, knowing full well how I would react ‎if, God forbid, something of that caliber happened to a child of mine. But my study partner quite ‎rightly pointed out the burden of leadership and the importance of not making strategic ‎decisions based on impulse or emotion. The pain Jacob felt must have been ‎doubled by the fact that he was forced by his role as leader to keep his emotions in check.

The IDF is lucky I am not in charge, for I would have rushed into Shechem on heart and ‎anger. And I am lucky that others are willing to hang that heavy crown on their heads, ‎facing many awful choices. Our enemies care little for honor, regulations, or accountability, ‎but we are not like them; we couldn’t be if we tried. We Jews are defended by the most ‎accused and least guilty army, and there is great pride in being able to speak those words, ‎perhaps not knowing but sensing the sacrifices that they entail. I feel for Azaria and I ‎cannot say I would act differently in his shoes or even that I, on an emotional level, ‎condemn him. But I also see his place in a larger entity, and we cannot act out of compassion in ‎one case if it endangers the welfare of all others.

Many have said that the IDF is betraying Azaria by charging and convicting him and that ‎parents no longer can be expected to give their children to this potentially life-threatening ‎service if the IDF does not have their backs. But the IDF does, by honoring the code under ‎which they serve, and we owe it to the IDF to honor them right back. This is not a left- or ‎right-wing issue; it is a matter of trust in the eye of the storm and faith when the heart fails ‎us. That is what we ask of the soldiers, and we should ask it of ourselves, to trust the ‎leadership and the code, knowing it is there to protect us from human emotion, no matter ‎how hard that may be. ‎

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  1. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Difficult things, well-said, Annika! Thank you and good to see you here!

    • #1
    • January 18, 2017, at 12:44 PM PST
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  2. Umbra Fractus Coolidge
    Umbra Fractus Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    If the nationalities were reversed, Azaria would have a street named after him. Instead the rule of law prevails even when the defendant is sympathetic. Whatever one thinks of the merits of the individual case, this is why Israel must win.

    • #2
    • January 18, 2017, at 1:01 PM PST
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  3. Valiuth Member
    Valiuth Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I have a question, and I do not know if you are in any position to answer it, but I will ask it all the same.

    The soldier has been found guilty of manslaughter because he killed another man by shooting him in the head after that man had been incapacitated for 15 minutes. Why was the conviction not for murder? Is there some difference between Israeli and American definitions of murder v. manslaughter?

    I generally thought manslaughter was for the unlawful, but unintentional killing of a human. But, shooting someone in the head seems very intentional. Granted I am not very familiar with the case, but a conviction for manslaughter seems like a rather mild judgement from the description of the event. Was the ruling then a kind of compromise between a conviction for murder and acquittal?

    • #3
    • January 18, 2017, at 1:09 PM PST
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  4. Skyler Coolidge

    Hear, hear!

    I have similar sentiments for the Marines who massacred those families in Haditha in 2005. It was a crime committed by a battalion relieving mine just a month or so after we left. Many people who weren’t there want to defend those murders for the honor of the country, wrapping a flag around them and calling them patriots.

    As a Marine officer, I want no part of leading men who can’t obey orders. I don’t want men who think they have license to kill anyone without cause. I want them to kill with violence and enthusiasm, and quickly and effectively — but only when they are acting within orders and lawfully.

    If you can’t trust them to follow orders such as “don’t murder people in cold blood,” then what orders do you think they will obey?

    And I don’t want to be associated with men who murder innocent families, or in this case a disarmed enemy in their control.

    I may not agree with the limitations imposed on how we fight wars, but I don’t have to like laws and orders. I just have to follow them if they are lawful. The wisdom of the orders is not mine to judge.

    My Marines* are to follow my orders and I will allow nothing less.

    *well, I’m retired now

    • #4
    • January 18, 2017, at 1:13 PM PST
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  5. Israel P. Inactive

    When a soldier says that this ruling leaves him confused and afraid to shoot, the terrorists gain an advantage. And it seems there are many soldiers who are now confused and afraid to shoot.

    • #5
    • January 18, 2017, at 1:20 PM PST
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  6. Jules PA Member

    Israel P. (View Comment):
    When a soldier says that this ruling leaves him confused and afraid to shoot, the terrorists gain an advantage. And it seems there are many soldiers who are now confused and afraid to shoot.

    What is confusing about choosing (or being ordered) NOT to shoot an incapacited individual in the head?

    It seems like there must be other options than that singular option…

    • #6
    • January 18, 2017, at 1:27 PM PST
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  7. Jules PA Member

    Thank you Annika for sharing this story and your point of view.

    I especially appreciate the story of Jacob and his responsibility to control his emotions as a function of his obligation to be a leader.

    Leadership is not without peril, or pain.

    • #7
    • January 18, 2017, at 1:29 PM PST
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  8. PHenry Member

    Thank you for this summary of the case, I have heard of the case but none of the details.

    Was there any claim of temporary insanity or that kind of thing, is that why it was manslaughter?

    • #8
    • January 18, 2017, at 2:20 PM PST
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  9. Dad Dog Member

    The ultimate outcome here reminds me of the story of Karla Faye Tucker.

    As you may recall, Ms. Tucker brutally murdered two people with a pickaxe in her native Texas in 1983. She was later convicted and sentenced to death.

    She accepted Christ a short time after her arrest, and later married her pastor. She and others credited her conversion for her “model inmate” status.

    For these reasons, as her execution date approached in 1998, appeals were made for the commutation of her sentence. Most prominently, she and her supporters reached out to President George W. Bush, due in part to his being the former governor of Texas, but primarily because of his outspoken Christian faith. However, Bush declined to intervene.

    As a Christian, I agreed (and still agree) with his decision. Accepting Christ, and even demonstrating the fruits of that conversion, does not absolve us of the earthly consequences of our choices and actions. With certain exceptions, God calls us to obey the law of our land, and to accept the consequences of our failing to do so.

    In other words, we cannot expect to use our faith (or our good intentions, or the “justness of our cause”) as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card if we make poor (i.e., illegal, by earthly standards) choices.

    I am a staunch supporter of the IDF and of Israel’s right to defend herself, but even the members of the IDF have to obey their superiors — and, especially, the law.

    • #9
    • January 18, 2017, at 2:20 PM PST
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  10. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I think a core part of the problem is that Israel has no death penalty, so everyone knows the bad guys will be back on the streets. And they deserve the death penalty.

    When Justice is not seen to be done, then people take the law into their own hands. It is not right, but it is understandable. This is by way of an explanation, not an excuse.

    If Israel’s justice system executed those who attempt murder, then police and soldiers would be much more willing to trust the system.

    • #10
    • January 18, 2017, at 2:22 PM PST
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  11. Valiuth Member
    Valiuth Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Does any country with a death penalty give it for attempted murder?

    • #11
    • January 18, 2017, at 2:52 PM PST
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  12. Umbra Fractus Coolidge
    Umbra Fractus Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    PHenry (View Comment):

    Was there any claim of temporary insanity or that kind of thing, is that why it was manslaughter?

    That would be my guess. I know some courts in the US will accept “extreme emotional distress” as an diminishing culpability, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel had similar provisions.

    • #12
    • January 18, 2017, at 2:55 PM PST
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  13. Jules PA Member

    iWe (View Comment):
    I think a core part of the problem is that Israel has no death penalty, so everyone knows the bad guys will be back on the streets. And they deserve the death penalty.

    When Justice is not seen to be done, then people take the law into their own hands. It is not right, but it is understandable. This is by way of an explanation, not an excuse.

    If Israel’s justice system executed those who attempt murder, then police and soldiers would be much more willing to trust the system.

    I’m not familiar with the details of the story. Was the incapacitated victim also a murderer who was set free? And was the soldier administering justice?

    Even if both of those are true facts in this story, individuals are accountable to the law, which does have specific consequences. It may be our vigilante soldier must pay a personal price for the Justice he served.

    It is difficult, but in the end the law must prevail.

    • #13
    • January 18, 2017, at 3:00 PM PST
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  14. Chuck Enfield Coolidge

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    The soldier has been found guilty of manslaughter because he killed another man by shooting him in the head after that man had been incapacitated for 15 minutes. Why was the conviction not for murder?…

    I generally thought manslaughter was for the unlawful, but unintentional killing of a human. But, shooting someone in the head seems very intentional.

    You’re describing involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is intentional, but provoked. I don’t know the circumstances, but based on Annika’s description it seems to fit.

    (No, I’m not a lawyer, but I googled this after watching Law and Order some years ago.)

    • #14
    • January 18, 2017, at 3:14 PM PST
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  15. Richard Harvester Inactive

    iWe (View Comment):
    I think a core part of the problem is that Israel has no death penalty, so everyone knows the bad guys will be back on the streets. And they deserve the death penalty.

    When Justice is not seen to be done, then people take the law into their own hands. It is not right, but it is understandable. This is by way of an explanation, not an excuse.

    If Israel’s justice system executed those who attempt murder, then police and soldiers would be much more willing to trust the system.

    I agree wholeheartedly with this. This was a vigilante killing and must be punished as such. But it also speaks to a need for a change in the law. I wrote about it i a piece called Pre-Meditated Execution: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/pre-meditated-execution/2016/03/31/

    • #15
    • January 18, 2017, at 3:20 PM PST
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  16. Chuck Enfield Coolidge

    Israel P. (View Comment):
    When a soldier says that this ruling leaves him confused and afraid to shoot, the terrorists gain an advantage. And it seems there are many soldiers who are now confused and afraid to shoot.

    I’m not buying it. Every soldier for a civilized nation knows they’re not allowed to execute incapacitated prisoners. Certain rules of engagement can lead to dangerous moments of indecision, but this ain’t one of them.

    • #16
    • January 18, 2017, at 3:20 PM PST
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  17. Richard Harvester Inactive

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Does any country with a death penalty give it for attempted murder?

    I believe Azaria killed because he had a strong suspicion the terrorist on the ground would be released in some swap or other trade. He wouldn’t be punished for his own attempted murder. Israel had recently gone through such a swap. I think Israelis, knowing that there is no proper justice in the legal system, tended to err on the side of an over-reactive defense. If there had been a death penalty for terrorism – that was applied – I don’t think Azaria would have fired.

    • #17
    • January 18, 2017, at 3:23 PM PST
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  18. Richard Harvester Inactive

    Chuck Enfield (View Comment):
    I’m not buying it. Every soldier for a civilized nation knows they’re not allowed to execute incapacitated prisoners. Certain rules of engagement can lead to dangerous moments of indecision, but this ain’t one of them.

    Azaria’s (weak) defense was that the guy could have been wearing a bomb. Obviously, it didn’t pass muster. He should lost the battle (pay the price for breaking the law) but win the war (getting the law changed so that the political system stops releasing terrorists).

    • #18
    • January 18, 2017, at 3:24 PM PST
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  19. Chuck Enfield Coolidge

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Does any country with a death penalty give it for attempted murder?

    The US mostly attempts to execute the condemned, so it would seem fitting.

    • #19
    • January 18, 2017, at 3:43 PM PST
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  20. DocJay Inactive

    I guess I’m the bastard here but I’d advise my military son to be more rapid or stealthy in killing the enemy or not get video taped while doing it or take the video tape at the point of a gun and destroy the video tape. I’d be proud of him for killing a terrorist.

    There is an existential war going on and the enemy eats, breathes, drinks, trains, and lives for your death. The only thing that will stop him is his death. That is reality. Dealing with a system that releases such barbarous people is lunacy.

    Rule 303 refers to the British service rifle caliber.

    • #20
    • January 18, 2017, at 5:54 PM PST
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  21. GrannyDude Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Hear, hear!

    I have similar sentiments for the Marines who massacred those families in Haditha in 2005. It was a crime committed by a battalion relieving mine just a month or so after we left. Many people who weren’t there want to defend those murders for the honor of the country, wrapping a flag around them and calling them patriots.

    As a Marine officer, I want no part of leading men who can’t obey orders. I don’t want men who think they have license to kill anyone without cause. I want them to kill with violence and enthusiasm, and quickly and effectively — but only when they are acting within orders and lawfully.

    If you can’t trust them to follow orders such as “don’t murder people in cold blood,” then what orders do you think they will obey?

    And I don’t want to be associated with men who murder innocent families, or in this case a disarmed enemy in their control.

    I may not agree with the limitations imposed on how we fight wars, but I don’t have to like laws and orders. I just have to follow them if they are lawful. The wisdom of the orders is not mine to judge.

    My Marines* are to follow my orders and I will allow nothing less.

    *well, I’m retired now

    Wow. Semper Fi.

    We do ask the impossible of people like you. As I understand it, they’d just had a buddy blown to bits.

    • #21
    • January 18, 2017, at 7:57 PM PST
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  22. GrannyDude Member

    DocJay (View Comment):
    I guess I’m the bastard here but I’d advise my military son to be more rapid or stealthy in killing the enemy or not get video taped while doing it or take the video tape at the point of a gun and destroy the video tape. I’d be proud of him for killing a terrorist.

    There is an existential war going on and the enemy eats, breathes, drinks, trains, and lives for your death. The only thing that will stop him is his death. That is reality. Dealing with a system that releases such barbarous people is lunacy.

    Rule 303 refers to the British service rifle caliber.

    Great movie, Doc!

    • #22
    • January 18, 2017, at 7:57 PM PST
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  23. Skyler Coolidge

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):
    We do ask the impossible of people like you. As I understand it, they’d just had a buddy blown to bits.

    My battalion had 48 buddies blown to bits. None of our guys ever massacred any families. We give stripes to men who are charged with keeping a cool head and making lawful decisions. If he didn’t want the authority and responsibility, he should have refused the rank. It means something, and that’s exactly when it means something.

    And it means something to America, too. We tend to hold our military in high regard. If we lose the standard and the morality that we are defending, then we diminish the regard the people should have for the military.

    As for the battalion that relieved us, I spent a lot of time with them while we were turning over with them. They had a lot of fine men, to be sure, but they had a lot who were veterans of Fallujah and who thought that type of fighting was the rule and not the exception.

    • #23
    • January 18, 2017, at 8:33 PM PST
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  24. DocJay Inactive

    Skyler (View Comment):

     

    My battalion had 48 buddies blown to bits. None of our guys ever massacred any families. We give stripes to men who are charged with keeping a cool head and making lawful decisions. If he didn’t want the authority and responsibility, he should have refused the rank. It means something, and that’s exactly when it means something.

    And it means something to America, too. We tend to hold our military in high regard. If we lose the standard and the morality that we are defending, then we diminish the regard the people should have for the military.

    As for the battalion that relieved us, I spent a lot of time with them while we were turning over with them. They had a lot of fine men, to be sure, but they had a lot who were veterans of Fallujah and who thought that type of fighting was the rule and not the exception.

    Would you like to see our country’s ROE changed?

    Ive spent time with Marines who fought at Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Phillipines, Midway, Pelelue, Papua, Saipan, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Burma, Korea, Chosin, plus hundreds of Vietnam Vets including my father.

    Pretty much they killed the enemy with whatever they could whenever they could. Bert beat someone to death with an entrenching tool then stuck cigarettes in his facial orifices, good for him. God Bless the USMC.

    We should never go to war again under current ROE in my non military opinion.

    • #24
    • January 18, 2017, at 9:19 PM PST
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  25. DocJay Inactive

    BTW Skyler, my son would follow orders and he would demand his men would too. He’s a better man than I am in many ways.

    • #25
    • January 18, 2017, at 9:28 PM PST
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  26. Jason Turner Member

    DocJay (View Comment):
    I guess I’m the bastard here but I’d advise my military son to be more rapid or stealthy in killing the enemy or not get video taped while doing it or take the video tape at the point of a gun and destroy the video tape. I’d be proud of him for killing a terrorist.

    There is an existential war going on and the enemy eats, breathes, drinks, trains, and lives for your death. The only thing that will stop him is his death. That is reality. Dealing with a system that releases such barbarous people is lunacy.

    Rule 303 refers to the British service rifle caliber.

    Breaker Morant an Australian hero murdered by Kitchener.

    • #26
    • January 18, 2017, at 11:49 PM PST
    • Like
  27. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Great essay. I too feel conflicts. I am not at all sad that the terrorist was killed. He deserves to be dead and would likely try to kill again if he was not dead.

    I am grateful for Israel and the rule of law in that country. Long may it endure.

    And I agree that the knowledge that the terrorist would almost certainly be set free to kill again would be toxic in my own mind. I would want the man dead with every fiber of my being.

    Lord protect us all from the dangers of such hatred. And bless the judges and prosecutors, and the soldier and his family.

    • #27
    • January 19, 2017, at 2:47 AM PST
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  28. Evan Pokroy Inactive

    So, I’d like to bring some personal experience into the discussion.

    I live in Israel and have done so for about 25 years. My oldest son recently finished his army service having served as a Sergeant in a combat unit with responsibility for leading a team in the field. My second son will be turning 17 soon and had his preliminary appointment at the draft board and will likely be starting his service in a year or two.

    As a parent my main concern is that the Army has my son’s back if they will be putting him in life and death situations. Our main issue was more with how the General Staff and Defense Ministry handled this than anything. There should have been a quiet field trial, in the purview of the battalion commander, and the soldier should have been disciplined accordingly. Considering we know someone who was commanded by his officer not to shoot a supposedly incapacitated terrorist (which the dead man here was) who then detonated a device killing the officer and seriously wounding the soldier.

    None of these cases are black and white, but when the upper echelons seem to take the side of the people trying to kill us, we lose trust in the system.

    • #28
    • January 19, 2017, at 3:44 AM PST
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  29. Chuck Enfield Coolidge

    Evan Pokroy (View Comment):
    None of these cases are black and white, but when the upper echelons seem to take the side of the people trying to kill us, we lose trust in the system.

    It’s not my intention to argue with you. You may have information on long-term behavioral trends to support your thinking on this, but I’d like to point out that just because the interests of group A, people who demand discipline and lawfulness from their soldiers, and group B, people who support terrorists, have occasion to overlap doesn’t mean that group A supports terrorists.

    • #29
    • January 19, 2017, at 5:12 AM PST
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  30. Evan Pokroy Inactive

    Chuck Enfield (View Comment):

    Evan Pokroy (View Comment):
    None of these cases are black and white, but when the upper echelons seem to take the side of the people trying to kill us, we lose trust in the system.

    It’s not my intention to argue with you. You may have information on long-term behavioral trends to support your thinking on this, but I’d like to point out that just because the interests of group A, people who demand discipline and lawfulness from their soldiers, and group B, people who support terrorists, have occasion to overlap doesn’t mean that group A supports terrorists.

    I totally agree. I’m making a comment on the perception of those outside that group. No one believes that they’re taking the side of terrorists in reality. It’s more along the lines of internalizing the arguments posited by people who don’t have your best interests in mind. That is, if the General Staff accepts the premise that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter then they will judge their subordinates in a way inconsistent with the views of the majority of Israelis including much of the rank & file (and their parents).

    • #30
    • January 19, 2017, at 5:53 AM PST
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