Price of ignorance
The enemy wears the other side's army uniforms or civilian clothes before launching attacks. The fighters shoot from passing cars, fire from cities and towns, detonate explosive devices. Children are used as shields. To deal with the new danger and try to disarm these irregular fighters -- whose conduct violates the norms of international law -- the army sets up roadblocks.
At one such barrier, a civilian beckons to troops staffing the checkpoint to help him with his stalled car. When the soldiers approach, the driver detonates the vehicle, killing himself and four soldiers.
Fearing other similar attacks, other soldiers in the area are put on a heightened state of alert. When a van approaches another checkpoint, the driver -- probably terrified by the armed soldiers -- ignores orders to stop and tries to run through. The soldiers, fearing another attack or a car full of terrorists, opens fire, killing at least seven, including children -- and are immediately reprimanded by their superior.
An embarrassed spokesperson says the government regrets the killings, but soldiers at checkpoints, as everywhere, "maintain the right to self-defense." A government investigation is launched.
In addition, the enemy puts its weapons in or near hospitals, mosques, schools and other civilian facilities. When soldiers return fire, civilians are inevitably killed and wounded.
These incidents took place in Jenin or Ramallah on the West Bank or a roadblock near a settlement in Gaza, right?
They certainly could have, and such incidents have in the past.
But, these examples of military-civilian friction took place in southern Iraq, as American troops try to keep the supply line intact for their colleagues driving toward Baghdad.
Israel and the United States confront eerily similar problems in their respective wars. Both are engaged in highly public conflicts in areas full of civilians. Both face foes -- Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein -- who understand they can't win conventional wars. But both those rulers believe civilian casualties will ratchet up political pressure in Jerusalem and Washington, and around the world, to end the fighting on terms that will permit them to continue in power.
Both Arafat and Hussein have shown themselves quite willing to sacrifice their own civilians, if those deaths perpetuate their rule. And both have an ample supply of "martyrs" willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Some U.S. military officials and observers have been quoted as saying this isn't the war for which America prepared. It is disturbing that officials seem to have overlooked what Israel has been forced to confront for years.
The U.S. now, like Israel, has no choice but to prosecute its war to successful conclusion, but for moral reasons, must never stop trying to keep civilian casualties at a minimum.
It is not an easy task.
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Friday, April 4, 2003