Big Lies, Then and Now

Big Lies are nothing new. This week’s parashah, for instance, has Dasan and Aviram refusing a summons to appear before Moshe Rabbeinu with the biggest, most outrageous lie of all: “Isn’t it enough that you took us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert…?” Am Yisrael had been in Egypt a bit more than a year earlier — the memories of slavery were relatively fresh — and yet Dasan and Aviram had the temerity to claim it was a land flowing with milk and honey!

But for all our rich experience with Big Lies, it is not less infuriating to see them used to defy common sense and obscure the line between right and wrong, just and unjust.

In modern times, the Big Lie has found a home in the United Nations, which regularly buys the fairy tales bald-facedly passed off as facts by the Arab world and is now set to issue a report on Israel’s conduct in last summer’s IDF Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. It is a foregone conclusion that the report will find Israel guilty of “war crimes,” and that it will be used as evidence in the charges that the Palestinians will be filing in the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Nonetheless, Israel this week wisely issued a 242-page report on the military operation, for the record. The report reminds us that Israel launched a military offensive on July 8, after its citizens endured weeks of heavy rocket fire from Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.

The Palestinians compare their fatality count, 2,200, to Israel’s, 73, and conclude that Israel targeted civilians and responded with disproportionate force. The report shows that the reason for the high casualty rate among the Palestinians was the fact that Hamas used people as human shields, cravenly firing missiles from hospitals, schools and mosques.

The report proves that 44 percent of the fatalities were terrorists and demonstrates how Hamas “ordered the removal of any military symbols from the bodies of the dead terrorists so they would not be counted as gunmen.”

Israel took unprecedented measures to avoid civilian casualties, ordering residents to leave through leaflets, phone calls, radio broadcasts and “knock on the roof” warning strikes with unarmed shells ahead of live air strikes.

Lawyers were given authority over pilots and commanders and had to approve every single mission in real-time.

“If a lawyer says it is not a legal target, the commander cannot execute the attack and cannot challenge this,” said IDF Lt. Col. Eran Shamir-Borer, a senior official in the International Law Department of the Military Advocate General. “The job of the lawyers is to determine whether this is a military target [as opposed to a civilian one], to keep to the issue of proportionality and even to be involved in presenting different attack scenarios.

“We had a map with thousands of sensitive installations, painted orange, so all forces knew they were sensitive sites. This map is updated constantly… Ten minutes after we received the information from the United Nations — it was passed to the troops in the field.”

Meticulously planned missions were routinely called off at the last minute when pilots saw civilians stray in the line of fire, forcing them to return home with their payload and, more importantly, allowing dangerous terrorists to go free.

Testimony as to the IDF’s extraordinarily high ethical standards comes from high-ranking generals around the world. The High-Level International Military Group on the Gaza Conflict held a fact-finding mission to Israel on May 18–22 this year. It was given unprecedented access to senior officials, and unfettered opportunity to investigate allegations of war crimes and disproportionality.

The group found that “during Operation Protective Edge last summer… Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard.”

They wrote that “in some cases Israel’s scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers’ and civilians’ lives.”

“The war that Israel was eventually compelled to fight against Hamas and other Gaza extremists was a legitimate war, necessary to defend its citizens and its territory against sustained attack from beyond its borders,” the group wrote, adding that even in that time of war, Israel took extraordinary measures to protect the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians.

“Each of our own armies is of course committed to protecting civilian life during combat. But none of us is aware of any army that takes such extensive measures as did the IDF last summer to protect the lives of the civilian population in such circumstances,” the report read.

The inevitable Big Lie that will be adopted by the United Nations almost makes it pointless to risk the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians. If all these efforts prove to have been for naught, and Israel is found guilty of “war crimes,” the IDF should reconsider the extensive involvement of lawyers.