Soldier says rabbis pushed “religious war” in Gaza
Our Jerusalem bureau has sent a very interesting report about criticism within the Israeli army of the Gaza offensive in January. What caught my eye was that it brings up the issue of a religious war, a term usually used in relation to Muslims.
(Photo: Israeli air strike near Gaza-Egypt border in southern Gaza Strip, 26 Feb 2009/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
The story starts off as follows:
Rabbis in the Israeli army told battlefield troops in January’s Gaza offensive that they were fighting a “religious war” against gentiles, according to one army commander’s account published on Friday.
“Their message was very clear: we are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land,” he said.
The account by Ram, a pseudonym to shield the soldier’s identity, was published by the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper on the second day of revelations about the Gaza offensive that have rocked the Israeli military. (www.haaretz.com “Shooting and Crying, 2009″)…
The officer felt there was a “huge gap between what the Education Corps sent out and what the IDF rabbinate sent out”.
The corps distributed pamphlets about the history of Israel’s fighting in Gaza from 1948 to the present, he said. But the rabbinate’s message imparted to many soldiers the sense that “this operation was a religious war”.
It’s hard to know when to use terms like “religious war” for violence such as what we’ve seen in the Middle East, Northern Ireland or Afghanistan. The opposing sides in these conflicts have different religious labels, so there is — at least superficially — a religious angle there. But there is also an underlying political struggle which often plays a far bigger role than those labels. Northern Ireland, for example, is not about religion but has often been presented mostly as a struggle between Catholics and Protestants. By contrast, the unrest in Sri Lanka pits secessionist Tamils (Hindus) against majority Sinhalese (Buddhists), but nobody calls that a religious war. Some seem to evolve — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has taken on more religious overtones over time while the Taliban are now seen more as insurgents than the Koran students their name signals.
What do you think? When is a conflict a religious war and when is it more a political struggle going on behind those labels? Or is it impossible to disentangle the two?
Here is our video report on the story and the script (including translations).