Israel-Gaza War, Opinion

The Dead in Gaza are not only Because of "Christian Morality"

Good and intelligent people are mistaken to think that there is no need for casualties in the battlefield at all and in fact, all the casualties are a result of moral weakness. When correct moral intuition meets a lack of understanding of the practical and harsh realities of war, ideas devoid of reason are born, and another unnecessary heartache emerges.

War has a price (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

One of the new and most astonishing phenomena in my eyes in the Israeli public is an acquired inability to deal with losses on the battlefield, and this precisely among parts of the deep right-wing circles.

The same faction that, in the past, stood firm with the costs of war; the same faction whose best sons shed their blood on the battlefields in recent years beyond their share in the population – it is precisely from this faction that voices of brokenness against every casualty emerge. The reason for this is the perception that all the casualties in the field of battle in our forces are unnecessary sacrifices on the altar of 'Christian morality,' and unnecessary sacrifices are indeed difficult to digest and accept.

There are many who were convinced that if we only conducted our wars according to the 'Jewish code of warfare,' not a single hair on our soldiers' heads would ever fall. But it doesn't happen that way.

It's not the purity of the weapon – it's righteous impurity

In my opinion, this is a classic example of ideological distortion that disconnects from actual reality. This is what happens when you take a claim that contains a lot of truth and stretch it to the extreme. Instead of getting a greater truth, you get a caricature. There is no doubt that the morality of the IDF's warfare was responsible in the past and remains responsible today for the unnecessary risk to soldiers, in order to avoid harming the enemy population, and to avoid the use of ammunition types that cause significant and indiscriminate damage.

Indeed, there is no doubt that the State of Israel as a whole, and its security branches in particular, have gone to extremes when it comes to the readiness to risk our sons and citizens for the sake of 'the purity of the weapon.' Weapon purity, the meaning of which is to prevent the possibility of victory over the enemy or bringing soldiers into harm's way despite a clear possibility to avoid it by using more destructive tools, is not weapon purity but rather righteous impurity. Israel has been sinning in this regard throughout its existence, and it continues to do so even now. So far, the truth stands firm.

The problem starts when this distorted reality convinces good people that there is actually no need for casualties in the battlefield at all, and in fact, all the casualties are a result of moral weakness. When the correct moral intuition encounters a lack of understanding of the practical and harsh realities of war, ideas devoid of reason are born, and another unnecessary heartache emerges.

Even Russia does not destroy cities in Ukraine

Russia is not a country guided by an excess of Christian moral warfare. It does not spare the lives of its enemies' soldiers, nor does it spare their populations. Nevertheless, Russia does not level entire cities through artillery in Ukraine. It refrains from doing so not because it is humane but because it lacks enough missiles and shells to do so, and it also does not see great benefit in it on the battlefield.

A city that turns into ruins is still a city that can be defended from those very ruins, sometimes even more effectively. All the more so, when such a city has extensive underground fortification systems. Therefore, Russia, in the end, is also forced to send soldiers to clear the enemy's positions during battles. Russia, too, has to maneuver in streets of partially built cities with vulnerable armored vehicles and tanks waiting for the anti-tank teams to destroy them.

Bombing entire cities with artillery is not a practical option for Russia, which historically places emphasis on artillery. It is certainly not an option for Israel, which abandoned its artillery since its establishment. Cutting off electricity and water supply also does not exempt the need to manually clear tunnels because those who built the tunnels prepared them for the possibility of disconnecting electricity and water. Filling the tunnels with gas is not a magical solution either. Those who construct serious underground tunnels also prepare them for this possibility.

War comes at a cost in human lives

At the end of the day, tanks need to storm, and some of them go over roadside bombs. Armored vehicles need to protect the tanks from enemy anti-tank ambushes, and some of them get hurt by anti-tank weapons themselves. Soldiers need to march into enemy territory, and some of them get killed by enemy drones and mortar shells. War is a dreadful and bloody business. It has a cost in money, a cost in equipment, and a cost in human lives. Even when not considering Christian moral considerations at all, even when just wanting to win.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that self-restraint in warfare, while risking soldiers' lives, does not necessarily arise from distorted morality on our part. It can also be a result of state considerations, which unfortunately are part of the reality of war. If the government is convinced that using a particular type of ammunition will lead to policy outcomes that will undermine the objectives of the war, then there is a justification for risking soldiers' lives by refraining from using such ammunition, despite the horror of knowingly risking the combatants. Wars do not take place in a vacuum; they are a means to achieve political objectives.

It's clear that we need to achieve our objectives while minimizing the risk to our soldiers, but sometimes the political conditions dictate the necessary minimal level of risk, not just the presence or absence of particularly lethal weaponry on the reserves storage unit. Even the Russians have certain types of weapons that they don't use due to the political implications. Not just Israel.

The third harsh imperative regarding casualties on the battlefield that must not be ignored is the simple lack of professionalism among the fighting forces. There are no perfect armies. There are no perfect commanders, and there are no perfect soldiers. When a nation and its people go to the battlefield, they must take this into account.

Many of the casualties and the wounded are 'unnecessary' in the sense that a perfect army could have achieved its objectives without these casualties and injuries. However, they are necessary given the existing army, the current commanders, and the soldiers. This is a fact of life that has nothing to do with Christian morality or any code of warfare. It's the fundamental tragedy of armies: those who are not skilled enough in the art of warfare pay for it with the blood of their soldiers.

We will pay the price and pave the way

I have no doubt that as a country, as a people, and as a society, we have a great need for a process of 'returning in repentance' from the distorted code of warfare, where soldiers are indeed put at risk without justification. The blow we received during the Simchat Torah massacres has opened the eyes of many to the need for a tough and realistic code of warfare that aligns with the Jewish code of warfare, which does not place the lives of the enemy population above the lives of our soldiers in combat. However, the original Jewish code of warfare does not ignore the harsh limitations of the world of war and cannot ignore them.

The Jewish code of warfare cannot allow itself to ignore the fact that not every military objective can be achieved in practice without risking soldiers and even sacrificing them. On the contrary, the Jewish code of warfare sanctifies self-sacrifice for the sake of the collective in such situations. The Jewish code of warfare also cannot allow itself to ignore the policy limitations of war management. To wipe Gaza off the face of the Earth using atomic bombs (which may or may not exist in our possession) is not a real option.

Even starving and dehydrating the population of Gaza to death is not a realistic option. These are not feasible options for the simple reason that the political price to be paid for them would be too high to bear literally. Even if there is no moral restraint to deter the enemy with weapons of mass destruction and even if it would save the lives of our soldiers, it is not a real option, and the Jewish code of warfare recognizes that.

We would all do well to face the bitter truth: fighting evil comes at a high cost in the real world, even when we don't artificially inflate that cost through taxes to the Christian church. Israel has always been willing to pay the full price for eradicating evil from the world, and even now, we won't back down in the face of the lengthening casualty lists of our forces, supreme saints that no creature can stand in their midst. We will pay the price and pave the way. We will cut off the global evil and inherit the glory of Jacob, and may it be the will of the Lord that our suffering will be minimal.

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Eliyahu Ben-Asher is a rabbi, a Torah scribe, a history enthusiast, and a soldier in a reserve unit.

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