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Carpet Cleaning and
Carpet Bombing

Michael Freund

Despite its tough-guy, macho image, the Israeli army - you may be surprised to hear - is not above doing a little housework now and then.

Allow me to explain.

An Israeli friend of mine recently returned from a month of reserve duty, much of which was spent in Bitunya, a village near Ramallah best known as the home base of Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service (a misnomer if ever there was one).

Early in the operation, which was designed to capture dozens of wanted fugitives and terror suspects hiding in the region, my friend and his colleagues were ordered to take over a Palestinian home. The structure in question, located at a strategic point overlooking an important road junction, provided a commanding view of the area, making it essential for use as a lookout point and base of operations.

That is standard military procedure, and there is really nothing surprising about it per se. But what was surprising was what my friend told me next: the regulations that he and his fellow soldiers had to follow during the time they spent in the Palestinian house.

To begin with, they had to roll up the numerous carpets on the floors of the residence and neatly stack them in a corner to avoid damaging or dirtying them. The troops were strictly forbidden to use the electricity or gas in the house, since the costs involved would inevitably have fallen on the Palestinian owner's shoulders at the end of the month, something the army did not deem fair to the man or his family.

Each night, the soldiers slept on the cold and uncomfortable floor, even though the house had a large number of beds. When I asked my friend why, he said, because it would not have been right those beds belong to the family that lives there, not to us.

At the end of the mission, when it was time for the troops to withdraw, they went about one last maneuver before leaving the house they put aside their guns and picked up their mops, thoroughly cleaning the premises, returning the carpets to their original location, and tidying up as much as they could.

Now, we have all heard of armies around the world employing carpet-bombing to flush out the enemy. But have you ever heard of an army that engages in carpet cleaning? I have houseguests over for Shabbat who aren t that thoughtful.

Yet that is precisely what the Israeli Army does, demonstrating once again just how unique we are as a people. For, unlike our foes, our soldiers do not lose sight of their own humanity, nor do they trample on that of others.

It is, of course, far more than just an issue of winning a Good Housekeeping award. Regardless of what the media says, regardless of the Jenin blood libel being hurled against Israel by our enemies, we can all take pride in knowing that our society, and especially our armed forces, continue to be guided by unparalleled discipline and unswerving moral fortitude. Even under a hail of bullets, our soldiers cling to the highest and most noble of human values those of respect and dignity.

And don t forget these soldiers are just as angry and frustrated about the situation in the region as you or I are. They have seen the atrocities committed by Palestinian terrorists over the past 19 months, and some have lost friends or relatives as a result. They no doubt carry these heavy emotions with them into battle, yearning perhaps for a chance to hit back at those who have caused us all so much suffering. Nevertheless, their moral compass remains intact, pointing squarely in the direction of what is right and just.

Indeed, if there is a case to be made for excessive zeal on the part of the army, it is that the IDF occasionally seems to go too far in its willingness to put Israeli soldiers at risk to avoid civilian casualties. The fact that ground troops were used in Jenin, rather than an aerial assault, saved numerous Palestinian lives, but it also resulted in the deaths of 13 Israeli reservists. It is difficult to conceive of any other military in the world jeopardizing its soldiers in such a fashion.

But don't expect to read about that in the report that the UN fiction-finding mission on Jenin will eventually produce. As far as much of the international community is concerned, Israel has already been tried and convicted for its actions. All that remains is to decide on the sentence.

Nevertheless, Israel has nothing to be ashamed of, and we should not allow the world s indignation to undermine our confidence in the justness of our cause. Our consciences, like that Palestinian house in Bitunya, are clean. We are not only fighting a moral war - we are fighting it morally, too. And that, in the end, is what will help to ensure us of victory.


The writer served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999. This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.


 


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