The Israeli Military Advocate General Avichai Mandleblit is investigating accounts of religious extremists pushing soldiers to view the Gaza invasion as a “religious war” against gentiles. In the meantime, human rights groups are calling for the removal of military’s head chaplain, Rabbi (and Brigadier General) Avichai Rontzki, who told soldiers that it was “immoral” to show mercy to the enemy in the operation.
Here is how a unit commander described the “clear” message given to his unit: “We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the Gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. . . . This was the main message and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”
The Gaza campaign was the subject of intense international criticism for the use of prohibited weapons, wanton destruction, and high civilian casualties. One account explains how the most extreme voices came from soldiers from the hesder yeshiva system, colleges that combine religious study and military service who often lead soldiers in prayer before battle and tended to portray the invasion as a holy war. For this part, Brigadier General Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, reported warned soldiers that it was “terribly immoral” to show mercy to a “cruel enemy” and that the soldiers were fighting “murderers”.
Of course, we have had our own holy warriors in combat such as http://humaniststudies.org/enews/index.php?id=173&article=5Lieutenant-General William Boykin in Somalia. Yet, the combination of these recent accounts and the controversial destructions in Gaza has led to a formal investigation into whether soldiers were encouraged to view this as a holy war. To their credit, many in the Israeli military are alarmed by how the intrusion of religious extremism may have eroded the professionalism and restraint of the military. The military, however, is also struggling to respond to a report of tee shirts by Israeli soldiers that appear to mock the shooting of Muslim children and pregnant women.