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Testimonies reveal IDF campaign to dismantle Palestinian society

IDF soldier testimonies, collected by Breaking the Silence, and published exclusively on +972 (here and here), confirm that the intent of the IDF during the Second Intifada was to undermine the ability of Palestinian society to politically challenge Israel, by destroying its capacity to function as an integrated whole

Reading the testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence (BTS), one is struck, as Joseph described, by the recurring theme of purposelessness that characterizes military operations during the Second Intifada. Joseph suggests these activities do have a purpose: they train soldiers to dehumanize Palestinians. This is in line with a great deal of scholarship, which points out that ideologies and opinions are often produced by actions, rather than the other way around.

But there is also another purpose which motivates these seemingly senseless activities. The IDF came into the Second Intifada with a way of thinking about military operations, that is very different from the classic notion of war. The BTS testimonies substantiate that the intent of the IDF during the Second Intifada was to undermine the ability of Palestinian society to politically challenge Israel, by destroying its capacity to function as an integrated whole.

This was not a subconscious effort, or a tacit notion. The highest echelons of the IDF explicitly articulated this campaign in internal meetings and documents, presentations before foreign audiences, articles in professional journals, and sometimes even press interviews.

The proponents of this policy drew their inspiration from conceptual frameworks developed by the US military, which in turn go back to Soviet military doctrine. An entire language was adopted, littered with acronyms such as RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs), SOD (System Operational Design) and EBO (Effects-Based Operations). One of its phrases, “Shock and Awe”, became famous during the Iraq War, which was planned and carried out, to a substantial extent, according to those principles.

Describing these concepts in full would take a book or two, and would not be easy, considering that there is little agreement on their meaning or implications. I would like to focus on just one of them, which I consider especially important for understanding IDF operations during the Second Intifada.

The terms “rival system rationale” or “rival as rationale” reflect a new understanding of the best way to achieve victory in war. Traditionally, the threat the enemy posed was thought to emanate from its fighting forces. Victory was achieved when these forces could no longer fight, either because they were destroyed, or because their logistic support was destroyed or depleted.

According to the new thinking, an easier way to defeat the enemy was by attacking its rationale. In this context, “rationale” stands for whatever enables the enemy to operate as a coherent entity which works to achieve certain goals. Even with the enemy’s fighting force largely intact, without a rationale, it cannot pose a serious threat. Fighters can engage in random violence, but they no longer work together to achieve a purpose your own side considers undesirable.

The reason why this doctrine refers to “rival” instead of “enemy” is explained quite well in the following passage:

The second framed discussion is that of the Rival as Rationale, the purpose of which is to define and describe the rival as a system. Although rival is traditionally thought of as an adversary, SOD intentionally takes a broad perspective in that the rival may be any condition or component, whether friendly or enemy, that is to be disrupted or influenced.63 It leads to a definition of the rival by examining the logic, motives, intent, behaviours, culture, economics, and interrelationships of the rival with other entities in the system.64 This definition provides an account of the exploitable tensions within the system.

The best way to “dismantle” the rival system’s rationale is to attack the connections between its various parts, and to keep it constantly unhinged and unstable. Hence, in Iraq, the use of “shock and awe”. In the West Bank, the same ends were achieved through the massive use of internal checkpoints, and by the constant pressure of “disruptive” operations. These “disruptive” actions, specifically targeting the civilian population (a weak link in the “rival system”), turned into a routine procedure, described in BTS testimonies, and admitted even by the commander of the IDF infantry brigade [PDF] in the West Bank.

This operational method was successful, as far as it goes. Palestinians’ ability to act together as a whole with a common purpose was severely compromised. At the price of Palestinian civilians’ immense suffering, Israeli decision makers were provided with increased room for diplomatic maneuvers, which they then proceeded to waste on shortsighted foolishness. The IDF certainly cannot take all the “credit” for this outcome, but its contribution was crucial, and intentional.

Read More on Breaking the Silence’s report:

Breaking the Silence: The testimonies (part I) and The testimonies (part II)

Joseph Dana: The moral corruption of Israeli society

Yuval Ben-Ami: The birth of tragedy from the spirit of occupation

Mairav Zonszein: BTS: the IDF’s magnum opus

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    1. Hostage

      “The IDF came into the Second Intifada with a way of thinking about military operations, that is very different from the classic notion of war. …the intent of the IDF during the Second Intifada was to undermine the ability of Palestinian society to politically challenge Israel, by destroying its capacity to function as an integrated whole.”

      Targeting a group or society for destruction as a group or society, without necessarily targeting the individual members for physical destruction was part of Raphael Lemkin’s original definition of genocide. It wasn’t included in the treaty definition, because the imperial and colonial powers were reluctant to outlaw their own behavior.

      Lemkin was describing the tactics employed by Germany in Europe, but he could just as easily have been describing CIA-Special Forces counter-insurgency doctrines that were employed against the Vietnamese and are still being used to excuse the capture or killing of local civilian leaders in Afghanistan.

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    2. Roi Maor

      Interesting. I wasn’t aware of that history, but it reminds me of Baruch Kimmerling’s notion of Poiliticide.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Hostage

      The Genocide Convention requires contracting states to adopt national legislation to prosecute the crime. A few countries actually have adopted the wider definition that Lemkin originally proposed.

      For example, in Jorgic v. Germany the European Court of Human Rights “also found that the applicant had acted with intent to commit genocide within the meaning of Article 220a of the Criminal Code. Referring to the views expressed by several legal writers, it stated that the “destruction of a group” within the meaning of Article 220a of the Criminal Code meant destruction of the group as a social unit in its distinctiveness and particularity and its feeling of belonging together; a biological-physical destruction was not necessary.” … …The Court considered that, while many authorities had favoured a narrow interpretation of the crime of genocide, there had already been several authorities which had interpreted the offence of genocide in a wider way, in common with the German courts.”

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    4. Ben Israel

      Very interesting. According to “Hostage” Israel is guilty of genocide by defending itself against a war of suicide bombers that killed or wounded THOUSANDS of Israelis.
      In other words, Israel is guilty of genocide merely by trying to continue to exist. Fascinating!

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    5. Hostage

      The only reference to Israel in my two posts was a direct quote from the main article. I didn’t say Israel had been found guilty of anything. I realize that Israel has faced indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population. Nonetheless, the measures it takes in response to terror attacks are bound to remain in conformity with applicable international law.

      The International Court of Justice has dismissed the idea that Israel can rely on a state of necessity or self-defense to preclude the wrongfulness of some of the on-going illegal acts that are being perpetrated against the Palestinian population as a whole. FYI, the Court ruled that the State of Israel owed compensation in that regard. Some of the interested state parties observed that the resulting situation in the occupied territory amounted to collective punishment and corresponded to a number of the constituent acts of the crime of apartheid, as enumerated in Article 2 of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, including “the deliberate imposition on a group of living conditions calculated to cause its physical destruction in whole or in part”. See for example page 8 of the “Written Statement of Lebanon” http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/131/1563.pdf

      The Court found that, with the exception of Israeli citizens, Israel was systematically violating the basic human rights of the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories. The Court cited illegal interference by the government of Israel with the Palestinian’s national right to self-determination, land confiscations, house demolitions, the creation of walled enclaves, and restrictions on movement and access to adequate supplies of water, food, education, health care, work, and etc. The Court also noted that Palestinians had been displaced in violation of Article 49, paragraph 6, of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Goldstone Fact Finding Mission and responsible UN Rapporteurs have subsequently noted that in the movement and access policy there has been a violation of the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of race or national origin. All of those things happen to be constituent acts of the crime of apartheid that are enumerated in article 2 of the international Convention.

      The ICJ noted that many participants in the proceedings before the Court had contended that the state of Israel is under an obligation to search for and bring before its own courts persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, grave breaches of international humanitarian law. The crimes of genocide, apartheid, and persecution can and do have overlapping elements and definitions under the various national and international laws. A number of “officials on mission for the United Nations” to the occupied territories have suggested that charges be referred to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, or that advisory opinions be obtained from the International Court of Justice to determine the extent of the State of Israel’s responsibility for those crimes. Those recommendations are still awaiting action. Any unlawful acts committed by government officials give rise to individual criminal responsibility, but that doesn’t automatically mean that the State, or the people of Israel are legally responsible.

      Reply to Comment
    6. […] in the West. These policies, very much like the construction of settlements and the IDF’s systematic disruption of Palestinian society, manufacture more insecurity than they […]

      Reply to Comment