Losses are part of war. There’s no escaping it. The tragedy is immense. A person has precisely one chance at life, to love, to have children, to learn, to have a profession, to do all the things that a person aspires to do, and to have it all taken away when it has barely begun is catastrophic.
Whenever a life is lost, especially a young life, families and friends grieve painfully. In Israel, which has been at war without a break since her establishment in 1948, there is a phenomenon of national grief, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. Funerals of soldiers, police, and terror victims are sometimes attended by thousands of people, many of whom did not know the deceased. The media devote much time and space to each case. Memorial day in Israel is full of ceremonies, all across the country, to remember and honor the fallen.
Jewish Israelis (with some exceptions) understand that they have an obligation to pay a price for the existence of the state, and that part of that price is that some of our children will lose their lives. Nothing demonstrates more conclusively how important the state is to the Jewish people.
So you can imagine the anger when a young life ends because somebody in authority was incompetent or lazy. War is war and soldiers die, but one of the things a good military organization does is analyze its defeats and failures, learn lessons from them, and make changes so that future outcomes will be better. When a preventable casualty occurs, it is because someone failed to do their job.
There are micro- and macro-failures. For example, if a soldier dies because his weapon wasn’t properly maintained, that is a micro-failure. If many lives are lost because an enemy that could be defeated is allowed to continue to re-arm, over and over, and the result is an unnecessary war, that is a macro-failure. They are both the result of someone not doing their job.
The tragic death of Border Police 1st Sgt. Barel Hadaria Shmueli, z”l, traumatized the entire nation, because it was unnecessary, a combination of micro- and macro-failures. Shmueli, a sniper, was placed at a slit in a wall that forms part of the border between Israel and Gaza. The slit was improperly located (too low) and inadequately surveilled by cameras on the Gaza side. The location was known to be dangerous. Sniper weapons are carefully adjusted to fit the individual, and for some reason he was not using his personal weapon. It jammed several times at critical moments. There is a buffer zone along the border that is supposed to be clear of Arab “demonstrators” (i.e., Hamas fighters and human shields), and somehow a number of them were allowed to enter it and come up against the wall, where they could not be seen by the defenders. They attempted to grab Shmueli’s weapon from outside, and in the struggle one of them placed a pistol up to the slit and fired; the bullet struck Shmueli’s head (information from a Hebrew article in Israel Hayom, 1 September).
These are some of the micro-failures, which the IDF promises to deal with. There is also an ongoing macro-failure.
Consider the overall situation. The “demonstrations” orchestrated by Hamas and other terrorist factions in Gaza are not demonstrations; they are attempted human wave attacks against Israel’s border. IDF Soldiers and Border Police defend it; they try to use non-lethal weapons to control the crowds, as well as “less-than lethal” live fire from .22 caliber Ruger rifles, and more deadly weapons if necessary to prevent a breach of the border. Such a breach could result in a disastrous terrorist attack against the numerous small communities in the area.
Hamas and its allied factions, who are supported and financed by Israel’s enemies in Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, are constantly working on ways to attack us. They dig tunnels, release incendiary balloons, stage “demonstrations” to penetrate our border, produce and launch rockets, try to land terrorists on the beaches north of Gaza, shoot antitank missiles at vehicles on our roads, teach their kindergarteners to hate us (so this will go on forever), and more. They are creative and proactive.
On the other hand, the IDF – which has the power to scrape the entire 365 km2 of Gaza into the sea – does not even hunt down the few dozen top leaders of Hamas and other factions and kill them. When rockets are fired at random into Israel’s cities in the hope of creating mass casualties, we prefer to intercept the rockets, and only shoot back when absolutely necessary, and with great care to kill as few people as possible. When incendiary balloons burn hundreds of acres of cultivated lands and nature preserves, the Air Force bombs empty enemy installations. And when a young soldier is killed protecting the border, the IDF prefers to improve procedures and shore up the border – that is, to deal only with the micro-failures.
It’s almost as if we are afraid to fight back, because then we might make them mad. We are satisfied to merely push them away. God forbid that we should hurt somebody.
But it’s far, far worse than just that. Yesterday, the day Sgt. Barel Shmueli was buried, Israel allowed “dozens of truckloads” of building materials into Gaza for the first time since the last mini-war. Today the government announced further loosening of restrictions. If I weren’t too embarrassed by the idea, I might say we are paying them for “protection.” Nice border you have there, we wouldn’t want it to experience a violent “demonstration.”
I have heard the argument that if we did respond more aggressively, then our soldiers and leaders would have to face charges in the International Criminal Court. Perhaps – but what came first? Maybe we have trained the world to think that attacks on Jews are the normal order of things, and Jewish self-defense is the true crime. Somehow the Russians and the Iranians don’t seem to worry about the ICC. Why do we?
Sgt. Shmueli gave his life fighting for the State of Israel. Why doesn’t the State of Israel want to fight for herself?