I want to address some of the disconcerting stories that you may have seen on CNN or the BBC (I have to say, though, CNN’s coverage of the war has been mostly positive… I cannot say that for the openly anti-Semitic BBC). Before I do that, I want to share a video with you from last night. We were hosted by the mayor of Ashkelon and his family of 10 brothers and sisters. They could not have been nicer. The video below shows all the brothers, sisters, and cousins saying the prayers on the second to last night of Hanukkah.
Over the past week or so, there have been some reports coming out of Israel that our soldiers have been misbehaving or dishonoring Palestinians. The AP had a headline: “Amid outcry over Gaza tactics, videos of soldiers acting maliciously create a new headache for Israel.” NBC wrote: “Smashed toys and candy store fire raises questions over Israeli military's conduct.”
Here are the four examples.
1. There was both video and photographs of Palestinian men handcuffed and in their underwear. Many said that this was humiliating.
2. There is some video of an Israeli soldier having fun breaking toys in a Palestinian toy store.
3. And apparently, there’s some video of Israeli soldiers destroying food in Gaza.
4. And lastly, there is video of Israeli soldiers, arm in arm, chanting “racist slogans.”
I am certainly not here to condone such behavior. Truth be told, as a believer. I’m kind of a pacifist when it comes to violence. However, I think the Bible differentiates between our roles as believers and citizens of countries. Augustine wrote eloquently of the just war, and there are times when nations must take up arms against other nations. For instance, if another nation invaded yours, killing 1,200 people in one day, raping and pillaging, and then taking back several hundred hostages. That would be cause for a just war.
Now, before we condemn these young boys, many of whom are 19 to 21 years old, for doing stupid things in the midst of battle, maybe we should just remember what it was like to be young. But let’s not stop there. Imagine what it is like to be 20 years old, a soldier in the Israeli army, and maybe your best friend’s sister was attacked and then murdered on October 7. Or maybe you have an uncle who was killed. Maybe a coworker is a hostage. There’s hardly any of us in this country who aren’t just a few degrees away from someone who was molested, abducted, or murdered on October 7. We took a friend to a local Ashkelon restaurant yesterday for lunch. The owner's brother was killed on October 7.
So logically, there is a sense of anger over what was done to our nation on October 7. And AP was quick to point out that “Such videos are not a new or unique phenomenon. Over the years, Israeli soldiers — and members of the U.S. and other militaries — have been caught on camera acting inappropriately or maliciously in conflict zones.” Yes, Israel and the US… Those are the two countries to blame. You would think that AP could’ve found some videos of ISIS or Al-Qaeda or Iran, but no, let’s blame two of the world’s democracies for misbehaving in battle.
Let’s look at each of these incidents:
Shameful or Shrewd?
I’m sure you’ve seen the picture of handcuffed Gazan men in their underwear. The only thing humiliating me in that picture is that the picture was leaked. But the act was absolutely 100% justified. You have to remember that Israel is at war with an unconventional army. They don’t wear uniforms that say Hamas on them. They dress like every other adult male in Gaza. In fact, after they shoot their rockets, they often will run to blend in with the rest of the people.
Palestinian men surrender to troops in northern Gaza's Jabaliya, on December 10, 2023. (Social media; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
So when there are surrenders, such as was represented in those pictures, the IDF does not know who is surrendering and who actually has a handgun in their pants, ready to kill soldiers. When you’re dealing with such an army, the only thing you can do is have them strip to their underwear and handcuff them. That is the only way you can make sure that they don’t have a weapon. Let me put it more bluntly: I would rather embarrass a Palestinian for a few minutes than take a chance that one of our soldiers is going to die for forever. This really isn’t rocket science. And if you go back and look at any war like this in Iraq or Afghanistan, you would see similar pictures. You should know that most of those men were Hamas terrorists. The ones who were not let go.
Breaking Toys and Burning Food
While I would prefer that our soldiers displayed 100 percent perfect character on the battlefield, I do think we are getting worked up about nothing. Again, remember what these boys are fighting for. Their sisters and daughters and mothers and grandmothers. They're fighting for people who don't have homes anymore because they were burned down. Some of them were burned alive while their houses were burned down.
Furthermore, Gaza was thought to be very dangerous for our soldiers. The IDF has had incredible success taking over many of the cities of Gaza. While these soldiers went in courageously, that does not mean they were not afraid. Finding themselves inside and secure and alive must’ve been a great relief. Blowing off some steam by breaking some toys in an abandoned toy store is the least of my concerns.
Smashed toys and candy store fire raises questions over Israeli military's conduct in Gaza (Photo credit: NBC News).
In another incident, Israeli soldiers videotaped themselves burning candy, claiming that the fire was for the second night of Hanukkah. “The soldiers in the video claim the factory’s candies were intended to be given out to Palestinian children to celebrate terrorist attacks. Panning the camera, they also mention that they had found a Hamas tunnel shaft inside the building.”
There is a video going around where a bunch of soldiers are dancing and apparently singing a song that has racist overtones. Having just watched it, I think it is more a declaration of their desire for victory over their enemies. But even still, you have to see such immaturity in light of October 7. And all of these incidents, no one was killed, molested, raped, blinded, stabbed, or shot—all of which were done to innocent Israelis on October 7. These are young men being young men in the midst of war, something most of us can’t even comprehend.
An image from an undated video shared on social media platform X that shows Israeli soldiers chanting racist slogans in Gaza. (X / Associated Press)
I’m not justifying it; I am just saying I understand it.
What I find horrifying, and that is an understatement, is that the whole world is worried about young men saying stupid things while breaking some things but has such difficulty condemning brutal rape and the dismembering of females by Hamas. Are the soldiers wrong? On a scale of one to 10? It is maybe two. Hamas’s actions on October 7 on a scale of one to 10 are 100!
Nevertheless, our government is looking into it, and our army will deal with it. I can guarantee you that if you look at any army in the world from Russia to China to Ukraine… any army, even America, in the midst of battle, and especially in victory, things happen. This certainly can’t be compared to Abu Ghraib, where prisoners of war were actually tortured and humiliated. In all of these fake scandals involving the IDF, no human beings were hurt. But on October 7, thousands of human beings were hurt, and in the worst ways.
So yes, I would like the IDF to have better character and composure in victory. But in light of what we suffered as a nation and how it has been ignored by much of the world, I’m not going to make a big deal of such things, and neither should anyone else.