Israel: obeying orders is no excuse

Perhaps one of the greatest hopes for peace in the Middle East lies in the democratic impulses of Israel and the moral self-examination and cleansing which many Israelis believe their nation must undergo. The independent commission which recently issued the report on the Beirut massacre was acting in the best traditions of such a democratic spirit. Now comes the finding of an Israeli military court that four soldiers acted contrary to Israeli law when they mistreated and humiliated Arabs in the West Bank.

The soldiers could not plead that they were simply obeying their superiors. The judges said that a military commander's orders to engage in such acts as driving Arabs from their homes and clubbing students were illegal and should not have been obeyed. Certainly such a judicial result would not have been possible in most countries of the world. Israeli law is in fact said to be unique as it applies to military personnel.

Knowing the Israelis' capacity for a sense of justice and humanity, Israel's friends and supporters yearn to see these sentiments emerge as the governing force in Israeli policies. If Israel were to give the Palestinians of the occupied West Bank, the rights of self-determination it seeks for itself, the Arabs would not be throwing stones and otherwise resisting the encroachment of Jewish settlers on their lands. There would be no need for Israeli soldiers to apply forceful measures against the Arabs (which the military tribunal did say were legal).

It is good to see an Israeli court ruling against humiliating Arabs in the course of putting down riots. But what of the greater humiliation inflicted on a people unable to stop the takeover of their homes and lands? Surely the conscience of Jews, who know only too well what can happen when a nation abandons its deepest religious principles, will one day challenge Israel's present course.

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