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Losing my faith in humanity: Six years since 'Operation Cast Lead'

Somewhere between that Saturday, when the gates of hell had opened on Gaza, until the ceasefire 22 days later, everything I had known about human beings, about my society, even about myself had been blown to pieces.

By Lilach Ben David

File photo of an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip (Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

File photo of an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip (Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

It happened exactly six years ago. Three weeks of murder, blood and unfathomable cruelty came to a sudden halt. All of a sudden the noise was gone.

As my life quieted down following weeks of protests, violence, news and arguing, I felt it for the first time. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that for the first time I had the breathing room to comprehend just what had changed inside me.

Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t my first “operation” as an activist. I was already yelling into the megaphone during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and the smell of tear gas is something I have gotten quite used to. I remembered the horrors of Operation Defensive Shield during the days of the Second Intifada, the killing of 13 unarmed Palestinian youth during the events of October 2000, and despite my age, even Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 left a mark on me. None of what was coming should have taken me by surprise.

But despite those memories, when the three weeks of Operation Cast Lead ended, it felt like someone had reached into my chest, tore out a piece of my heart, and left me breathing.

Somewhere between the Saturday I spent with a group of lovely women near the end of December, which was cut short by the news that the gates of hell had opened on Gaza, until the ceasefire 22 days later, everything I had known about human beings, about my society, even about myself had been blown to pieces. My heart broke during Cast Lead like no unrequited love, unfaithfulness or false hopes could ever break it until then or even since.

Protesters in white suits covered in fake blood arrive at Sde Dov Air Force Base in north Tel Aviv to protest Operation Cast Lead, January 2, 2013. The signs read: "You have children's blood on your hands." (Photo: Activestills.org)

Protesters in white suits covered in fake blood arrive at Sde Dov Air Force Base in north Tel Aviv to protest Operation Cast Lead, January 2, 2013. The signs read: “You have children’s blood on your hands.” (Photo: Activestills.org)

During Cast Lead I lost much of my faith in human kind, in Israeli society, in the Left and in the hope that one day things will be better here. My ability to love and believe in the goodness of others was damaged.

Six years have gone by, and in some ways I am still picking up the pieces – still trying to make sense of the 1,400 killed, the majority of whom were innocent.

This last summer, like a sprinter competing for blood and tears, we broke our own record in cruelty, destruction, indiscriminate murder and collective hysteria that moved us to seek comfort for our own grief in the blood of the innocent. But like all of us, the occupation is mortal. Better days will come to this land after it is over. And when those days come, Gaza will remain an open wound that needs healing. A crime whose real proportions are impossible to understand, yet demands rectification.

God, please grant the Palestinians the generosity, strength and compassion to, one day, forgive us for Gaza.

Lilach Ben David is a transgender and feminist activist based in Tel Aviv. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here

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    1. Pedro X

      Israel owes neither Gaza nor Palestinians an apology for the wars involving Gaza. A prime obligation of any state is to defend its citizens against attack. This is what Israel did in accordance with the rules of the law of warfare and Israel has nothing to apologize for defending its citizens.

      Gazans died because Hamas, Islamic Jidah and other terrorist factions engaged in a war with Israel. Hamas prosecuted its war in a fashion that determined there would significant collateral damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure. Hamas over a period of years built up its military infrastructure and arsenal deep within civilian areas in Gaza. It used these areas to fire upon Israel and to fight Israel’s army. It was inevitable that any Israeli military operations would result in civilian collateral damage. For every militant/terrorist killed, one civilian lost his or her life.

      It is in contravention of international law for Hamas to effectively have used its citizens as human shields to protect its rockets, fighters and war infrastructure. Israel has a right to attack Hamas’s military infrastructure even if located in civilian areas. The British Manual of War makes it clear that:

      “[i]f defenders put civilians or civilian objects at risk by placing military objectives in their midst or by placing civilians near the military objectives, this is a factor that must be taken into account in favor of the attackers in considering the legality of attacks of those objectives.”

      Michael Newton and Larry May in “Propotionality in International Law” state:

      “It seems counterintuitive to allow one side to engage in wrongdoing in placing its citizens in harms way, and yet give that party a kind of exemption from having its military targets attacked that it only receives because of its wrongdoing.”

      The United States Joint Targeting Manual states that an enemy cannot:

      “use civilians as human shields in an attempt to protect, conceal or render military objects from military operations…”

      This is what Hamas did. It exposed and caused the deaths of many of its civilians by placing its military operations, stores and infrastructure in heavily built up civilian areas.

      Hamas should be apologizing to its citizens and disarming instead of rebuilding for the next Gaza War. If Ben David wants to help she should urge her friends who support Palestinians to demand that the international community indict Hamas for war crimes and disarm it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Weiss

        The IDF killed over 3,600 people in these massacres, and are going to be held accountable at the ICC.

        Next up for Satanyahoo:
        The Hague

        And yet 3,600 more reasons why I am Ashamed to be Jewish.

        Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        In other words, when the Jewish Quarter was captured by the Arab Legion in May of 1948, it was the Haganah at fault for taking positions in Synagogues and houses. Or is there a different set of rules for the Zionist soldiers and their enemies?

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Benny Morris in his book “1948” indicated that as of May 13, 1948 there were 90 Haganah defenders in the Old City. After a battle with Arab irregular fighters on May 16-17th, 1948 the Haganah fighters had 10 bullets per fighter. The Haganah did not have ten thousand rockets or thousands of mortars which it was firing from houses or synagogues at Arab positions or at Jordan.

          The British before their departure from Jerusalem cordoned off the old City and prevented Haganah from bringing in additional defenders. After the British left the Haganah fought its way in and brought another 113 fighters, 88 of them being middle aged men without fighting experience. The Haganah were defending the Ultra-Orthodox population from being massacred by the Arabs.

          Meanwhile Hamas and Islamic Jihad had 30,000 well armed fighters, over 10,000 rockets and thousands of mortars which they rained down on Israel’s population. Their actions had nothing to do with self defence but with their wish to kill Israelis for the sake of killing Jews. In doing so they were not defending Gazans, but using Gazans as human shields to carry out attacks on Jewish population centers and to attack Israel’s defenders who came to Gaza to stop the attacks.

          Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Every country and every military force make mistakes. Israel doesn’t do apologies though. Did you apologize for the killing of Rachel Corrie or simply lie about how she died and complain that she should not have been in a residential area when your army was conducting reprisals. Did you apologize for the deliberate slaughter of American sailors on board the USS Liberty, and the blatant attempt to sink the vessel and its entire crew and to destroy its life-boats or did you just lie about an unfortunate mistake and then attempt to deny the victims adequate compensation? Did your Prime Minister react with glee to the tragedy of 9/11 saying that now the world would understand your terrorist conflict? Did your PM exploit the Charlie Hebdo killings as a boost for immigration? You can nonchalently proclaim the IDF the “most moral army in the world” because you have a notion of morality that is entirely at odds with the civilized world.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      News: a Israeli grad student at Stanford explains how he can support the BDS movement, a movement that will affect his country:


      For once, we should ignore the moral discussion related to the occupation. Moral arguments rarely influence people with different ideologies and often even polarize the discussion. Instead, we should have a practical discussion about the future of Israel….

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bar

      Lilach might feel better if she recognized that a 1:1 civilian to combatant casualty outcome is extremely impressive when fighting takes place inside built up urban areas. It certainly is better than what NATO forces were able to accomplish in cities where there was a civilian population present during attacks.

      The sentence “1,400 killed, the majority of whom were innocent” may be accurate, but it doesn’t appear to be. We know this since the head of Hamas military told us they lost more than 700 combatants. There were other Palestinian groups fighting as well, so it’s almost certain the majority killed were Palestinian combatants.

      Since Lilach absolutely hates what happens to Gazan Palestinians during war, and since she’s a veteran activist, we can all only hope and pray that she’ll actively pursue all means to stop Hamas and its friends from attacking Israel. There is absolutely no better way to ensure that Gazans aren’t in a war with Israel again.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Do I sense a retreat (strategic withdrawal?) here. You’re no longer the “most moral army in the world” and one that “goes to quite extraordinary lengths, even putting Israeli soldiers at risk, in order to protect civilians”, but you are no better than any other invading army. But surely you should be because you fight your battles entirely when you want to (in synch with the Israeli election cycle)? You have Gaza completely surrounded; you have total control of the skies, the seas and the land borders, and a level of security surveillance plus collaboration from the local population, far in advance of NATO activities on remote battlefields. You have massive military superiority and the very latest in cutting edge technology, provided by your US patrons and your own technological genius, that can execute surgical strikes. Now its just possible that you only kill as many civilians as you kill terrorists (though you are speaking about 2008-9 and not about 2014 when the ratio was far different). Even for your 2008 you distort the case because you use a warped definition of combatant: many of the Hamas “operatives” killed were potential civilians in that they were civil police killed on the first day of operations at a passing out parade, or were unarmed political activists. (See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israeli-military-in-pr-offensive-to-explain-civilian-deaths-in-gaza-1657050.html) Be careful what you argue, because what was the point of building a utopian paradise in the Holy Land, “based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel” if you can do no better than failing societies of the West, from which you struggled to achieve separation.

        I don’t believe NATO has an acceptable level of civilian war-deaths (the whole concept is bizarre) but NATO figures are 1 civilian per 10 combatants in Yugoslavia and 1:2 in Iraq. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualty_ratio#NATO_in_Yugoslavia). NATO also seems to be a little more scrupulous about the use white phosphorus, flechettes and heavy shelling in heavily populated civilian areas.

        Reply to Comment