« IDF Doctors Heal the Enemy | Main | Well, they didn't lie »

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Identifying with 'the enemy'

Few Israelis (or friends of Israel for that matter) would be foolish enough to suggest that Israel is not currently at war.  And being at war strongly suggests (one would think) the existence of an enemy, right?   Them.  Those people are our enemy.

Yet for some reason, when it comes to pointing a finger at an individual and saying 'that is my enemy', we seem to be trying too hard (IMHO) for moral clarity and political correctness.  For many, it is more important to identify with our enemy than to simply identify him.

What about that woman over there... trying to enter Israel for emergency medical treatment. Is she the enemy?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  Obviously she isn't wearing a uniform with rank or insignia.  But then none of our enemy's combatants identify themselves as such.

The 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1949 Geneva Conventions both state quite clearly that combatants not wearing a uniform, or some other badge or device visible at a distance that clearly distinguishes a combatant from the surrounding civilian population, need not be accorded the rights and privileges of soldiers.  More importantly, they are committing a war crime by impersonating a civilian!  Yet the onus remains on us to differentiate the good guys from the bad.  Funny how that works.

We 've read of numerous Gaza doctors providing bogus medical referrals to terrorists in order to allow them a better chance of crossing into Israel.  So is this woman at the checkpoint with the screaming family members and a horrifying medical diagnosis the enemy.  Yes or no?  Hurry up and decide.  It's a life and death decision where the life hanging in the balance may not be hers!

What about that handsome young man of 20 trying to get through the checkpoint.  He's removed several things from his pockets and yet is still setting off the metal detector.  He seems nervous and argumentative, but is that a result of being in close proximity to IDF troops or because he is up to no good?   And by 'no good' are we talking about an innocent pocket knife suddenly remembered... a bag of hashish... a gun... an explosive belt? 

Now what's he doing?  He's been ordered to remain still yet his hand is creeping towards his midsection.  Does he have an itch or is he reaching for a switch to trigger explosives.  If it turns out to be an itch and the soldiers shoot, they''ll spend a long time in prison.  If it's an explosive belt and they don't shoot, they'll spend the rest of their short lives contemplating this decision.   Bang!

What about the boy in yesterday's 'Healing the Enemy' article.  He was rushed to an IDF base by relatives with what turned out to be life-threatening injuries.  Is he the enemy?  Several commenters were outraged by the implication that a 14 year old boy was loosely identified as 'the enemy'.  But what of the 14 year old boys who have, on many occasions, been caught trying to smuggle guns and explosives through checkpoints, and even attack IDF installations?  What of them? 

Our enemy respects no age or gender limits in its cynical use of women and children in their armed 'resistance'.  They proudly use their civilian populations as human shields and have stated on many occasions that all Israelis - regardless of age, gender or civilian status - are legitimate targets.  Are we being foolish to make distinctions that our enemy does not?

And there's something interesting that only one commenter took the time to mention; the photo of that 14 year old boy taken months later in the hospital shows him wearing what appear to be camouflage army pants.  If he had arrive at the IDF base covered in blood and wearing those pants, a doctor would still probably be ethically compelled to treat him, but would be within his/her rights to wonder if this was a combatant and not just some hapless teenaged accident victim.

The author of the article quite vividly described the scene when the boy was brought to the base.  For obvious reasons they can't just throw open the gates of a military installation whenever a bunch of Arabs drive up yelling that someone has been hurt.  But by opting to treat the kid in the open, right there outside the gates (rather than telling the relatives to drive him to the hospital in nearby Ramallah), the docs exposed themselves to the risk of sniper fire from any of several nearby villages or even attack by the men who brought the injured boy to the IDF for treatment.

Again, there have been so many instances of Palestinians cynically exploiting Israeli ethical codes regarding medical/humanitarian 'emergencies' that these doctors quite literally took their lives in their hands by choosing to work there in the open on a member of an enemy population.

One of yesterday's commenters who took exception to the article's use of the word 'enemy' as it was tenuously linked to this injured 14 year old, is himself, a physician.  I have known him for almost half my life and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if he were faced with the decision right this very minute, he would rush out of those gates and treat the boy without a thought to the potential danger to himself.  He and I grew up in the M.A.S.H. generation and probably have an overdeveloped 'Hawkeye' complex when it comes to a doctor's responsibilities to a civilian population in a combat zone. 

But I imagine if he lived here and had to do reserve duty as an army physician for several months per year under these difficult circumstances, he might better appreciate how remarkable and un-obvious that doctor's decision was.  I also imagine that if my friend were to discuss the potential dangers of such an action with his wife and children, they might have a thing or two to say about him playing Hawkeye Pierce and potentially depriving them of a husband/father on the basis of a well-intended whim.

Every interaction between Israeli and Palestinian these days is fraught with these kind of blurry decisions.  I drive past (and through) dozens of Arab villages each day on my way to and from work.  I know intellectually that 99.9 percent of the people I see during my commute may not love me (or what I stand for) but they would not harm me if I were to stop to fix a flat tire or buy a bag of groceries in their village. 

But I'm not a mind reader.  I can't tell the difference between those who want me to leave and those who want to kill me. 

As a result, when my wife calls me in the car and asks if I can pick up some milk or sugar on my way home, it would never occur to me to shop in an Arab store (as Israelis used to do all the time before the Intifada/Oslo war began).  Believe me, it would save me a lot of time if I could stop in one of these small village markets when Zahava is missing some crucial ingredient for dinner.  But it could also potentially cost me my life.

On the two occasions when I've gotten flat tires along my commute - once next to Hevron's industrial district and once in the south Hevron Hills - I was fortunate to; a) be armed; and b) have someone along figuratively and literally 'riding shotgun' who could stand guard while I changed the tire. 

I imagine this isn't the norm along the Jersey Turnpike (although it would probably be wise on the Cross Bronx Expressway or on seedier sections of the BQE).

My point is that Israelis are required to view 'Arabs' (them... those people over there) as 'the enemy' these days.  I say 'required' because without a doubt we are at war, and our enemy flatly refuses to differentiate between civilians and combatants.   

Is it sad?  Yes.  Is it fair?  No.  Does it offend the sensibilities of anyone with a shred of humanity?  Of course!  And when one of the trees walks out of the forest it doesn't make our decisions any easier.  An individual (man, woman, child) is almost certainly innocent... harmless.  Unless, of course it turns out he/she isn't. 

But is it newsworthy when someone puts themselves at risk in order to perform an extraordinary humanitarian act?  Absolutely!  It is newsworthy for the simple reason that the recipient of that act was 'the enemy'.  Maybe not him personally... but then again maybe yes, him personally. 

The Doctor had no way of knowing at the time.  Until they'd cut away his clothes and begun treating him they didn't know for sure.  And for all they knew, the day before his tragic fall, this boy could have been out throwing potentially deadly Molotov Cocktails and rocks at cars... or trying to smuggle an explosive belt through a checkpoint in order to blow up a cafe.

The point is we (and they) just don't know.  And that uncertainty isn't our fault. 

We are at war with an enemy who has deliberately blurred the lines between innocent civilian and dangerous combatant.  In such a war it is far more important that we clearly identify our enemy... than that we identify with him. 

Posted by David Bogner on May 20, 2008 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Identifying with 'the enemy':


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

It doesn't matter what the world says, it doesn't matter what they say about Israel anywhere else, the only thing that matters is that we can exist here, unless its clear that there is a price to pay for Jewish lives we will not be able to survive and that is what counts.

Posted by: Rami | May 20, 2008 2:37:54 PM

"I know intellectually that 99.9 percent of the people I see during my commute may not love me (or what I stand for) but they would not harm me...."


I used to believe this, but I'm not so sure this is true anymore. As time goes on and their children are educated a certain way, and the adults are exposed to so many lies from their leaders, I believe more and more of the population is becoming radicalized. I think much more than .1% WOULD harm you if given the chance...

which makes your point all the more true.

Posted by: Baila | May 20, 2008 2:38:38 PM

Bravo- what a wonderful renunciation of the more "bleeding-heart" liberal tendencies.

You're coming along quite nicely... hopefully you'll remember this post the next time an Israeli makes an innocent mistake/opts for self-preservation. And print something similar - and similarly devoid of handwringing.

Posted by: Ben-David | May 20, 2008 3:29:20 PM

Great! You should send a more succinct version of this essay as a letter to the Jerusalem Post. It deserves the widest dissemination. Dad

Posted by: Delmar Bogner | May 20, 2008 4:41:38 PM

With all due respect (should tell you what's coming right:), your post is entirely beside the point in this case.

Why? Because the piece was written after the fact when all of the details where known. So again I ask, why was this 14 yr old labeled as being 'the enemy'?
If it was because he was, then fine.
If it was because it made for a better headline...I guess that's fine too, after all the job of a headline is to get people to read the article.

Posted by: G | May 20, 2008 5:59:05 PM

Nope. Israel's NOT at war! Israel, however, keeps getting VEXING PROBLEMS from the arabs. Who pay good money for this crap, to the likes of the BBC. Etc.

The real deal? The arabs don't want retaliation! Their game is to VEX Israel into over-reaching itself; and starting a conflict it CAN ONLY LOSE!

How so? Well, no more territorial gains for Israel! NADA! The UN, and the White House in the United States, will make sure that Israel "hands back" every single step into arab land. Be it in Lebanon. Or gazoo. (You haven't seen this yet, popping up like a light bulb in your brain?)

Abbas hungers for the IDF to advance and destroy hamas in gazoo. Why? Well, start with this. You have no idea how many envelopes full of cash have traded hands between diplomats who could care less about Israel's survival.

Oh, yeah. You can include Bibi! Who decided to sit outside of government, in opposition to Olmert, because he happens to want Olmert's "chair." And, he didn't mind running a Likudnik PAWN, Morris Talansky, in the "game's claim" that Olmert took envelopes. (Bibi takes more cash from sources outside of Israel than you can shake a stick at!)

So what? Well, your police are corrupt. And, Rabin's murder should have taught the right at least what wrong is.

But the crap continues. With Bibi making sure that Bush's visit was ruined.

It doesn't help that Americans, by and large, are very unimpressed with Irak. Troops. Or no troops. "Defending" arabs is a waste of time.

And, then? If you look at VEXING problems, you see MOTIVE. The arabs want to strip America's treasury! They got their wish in Iraq. While the Iraqis woke up to discover Bush is just a front for Riyadh. So? Maliki hates his guts. And, working overtime, to save the wreck, has been General Petraeus.

You sure can learn lessons from wars fought. And, wars left better un-fought.

What can you do? Just what the IDF is doing! WHich is driving arabs crazy! Day by day you see it. A female corporal, by the way, was part of the team that SHOT and KILLEd the 20 year old suicide bomber.

Sure. It takes a long time for the truth to put its pants on. To catch up to all the malice that gets unleashed.

Please don't be fooled. When you're on the right road you don't need a stinking road map. And, Olmert? Dances pretty well for a diplomatic pants dancer. Bibi? I think he stinks. Amazing, though, when the propaganda machinery won't point fingers.

But let me tell ya; Bibi really knows about envelopes! You think Morris Talansky hasn't passed him a few?

You think the police in Israel aren't corrupt?

You think it makes sense for judges to try to toss out elected prime ministers? Really?

Posted by: Carol Herman | May 20, 2008 7:47:30 PM

Carol, Your pervasive coverage of corruption in the Israeli and US governments is something most of us know about, tell us something we don’t know! Like… why on earth Israeli Jews have to drive through tunnels or protective walls to get to work/home, my take, To PREVENT infiltrators (I’ll be lenient on a suitable name tag) from attacking them, why? Because they can’t stand the sight of a Jew drive or walk past them, can’t they just get along? NO! why? Because they were patient enough to wait for a State to be created and THEN put up a fight to demand for a piece of ‘their’ pie (Bah!).

Let me guess, the contractors who built the protective tunnels and walls were all on Morris Talansky’s payroll, SO??? What about the doctor who risked his life to save the life of a boy whose whereabouts before the incident were not known? Would this boy in his lifetime have thought of assisting the Doctor if he would get lost in Ramallah without informing others of ‘fresh meat’?

I’ll have another guess again, a PR gimmick, no?

Posted by: Rami | May 20, 2008 9:58:19 PM

Since when has firing rockets at malls and health clinics been called "vexing" someone? Sounds like war to me, response or no response.

I agree with Baila when she points out that Palestinian education is designed to create more combatants, not peace-loving civilians. When polls show that the vast majority of Palestinians support Hamas's attacks on Israel from Gaza, or the shooting of teenagers at Mercaz HaRav, it's hard to see these same people as supporting a "peace process" or any kind of non-violent coexistence with Israelis.

With the boundaries so blurred, it's safer to err on the side of caution, even if it makes one look defensive, harsh, or politically incorrect. The Arabs have shown that they cannot be bought, with love, land, handshakes, or money. It's not beyond the real of possibility that that physician in Ramallah successfully treated a kid who may one day make it his life's work to kill Israelis. I certainly hope not, but who knows?

Posted by: Shimshonit | May 20, 2008 11:01:40 PM

Oh no.
I've heard it said that you know you're having a bad day when the van from Sixty Minutes pulls up in front on your house to interview you.
Well, you know you're in trouble when Treppenwitz quotes your relatively leftward leaning comment. I would like to discuss what was said, but at this moment I am knee deep in patients. Perhaps when things slow down later, I'll write something. But Dave, thank you for being so polite in approaching what I said. Your sensitivity makes the debate much more civil. It is sincerely appreciated

Posted by: Larry | May 20, 2008 11:54:18 PM

I understood the word enemy not only in the context of this one story but as one of the small threads in our saga, hardly noticed by anyone outside Israel: Israeli doctors indeed treat and heal enemies. All the time.

When the terrorist as captured and wounded on Megiddo junction, where did they treat and heal him? In Afula hospital. the young woman with the burn wounds from a domestic accident in Gaza, where was she treated? Soroka. She wanted to pay back with a bomb. Fatah men treated in Israeli hospitals after infights in Gaza...

It is the Palestinians who define themselves as our enemies, before we even identify them as such. And yet - our doctors and nurses treat them humanely. It's part of their tzelem enosh I guess.

The picture is made even more complicated by the fact that Israeli hospitals have mixed staffs (yeah, it's our form of Apartheid). Arab and Jewish doctors and nurses treat as a team both terrorists and their victims.

So I saw yesterday's story in a much wider context, and I think it would be unfair towards David to read anything into the headline that relates to the specific boy.

I wrote in my blog about it (my backlinks don't work here >:( ) and I said that both the boy's cousin and the doctor made pragmatic, reasonable, goal oriented decisions: to save the boy's life. If the Palestinians would stick to decisions that benefit themselves instead of shooting themselves in their feet all the time, they'd have much better lives.

Posted by: Lila | May 21, 2008 12:52:19 AM

well said.

perhaps, once, a long time ago, only 0.1% of the population sought to harm you

today, the statistics indicate that many more would like to harm you and over 80% would be supportive

if you want exact statistics, I will get them for you

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | May 21, 2008 12:56:16 AM


Yup. "VEXING PROBLEM." I picked up the term from Steve Den Beste. Back in 2005, he wrote a piece that analyzed what was going on in Iraq. In it, he points out how in the Mideast, arabs, and iranians, are not looking for full blown confrontations, "exactly." What they wanted to create? They wanted America to sink treasure into Iraq. treasure that would bleed us. Just as the USSR made this same mistake, during the 1980's. In Afghanistan. And, collapsed.

Wars are a poor response. All you have to do is look around, and see what the war in iraq is doing to the republican party, right now! See? Americans want no part of "halping" arabs. And, if you want to talk "oil," then we're much too beholden to the Saud's. On 9/12 2001 ... Bush should have "gone to war" against saudi arabia. And, taken over their oil fields. (Or? Whatever.)

We are currently involved in the long, long haul.

Now, above, I'm asked "why do Israelis drive through tunnels?" When the obvious answer is: BY CHOICE! SInce people tend to discover safer ways around areas that are up to no good.

To give you an example? The West Side Highway in New York City (when I lived there, more than 30 years ago), had one exit onto 125th Street. Cars, not knowing the 'probems' would drive off ... and into the hands of bandits. The way the mayor (Ed Koch, I think), at that time, solved this problem ... was to CLOSE OFF ENTIRELY any exit point through Harlem. Believe it. Or not.

As to the hatred? Doesn't work. Want the arabs to leave? Doesn't work.

As to the rip-tearing that goes on in Israel now? HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH POLITICS! It's criminalizing a democratic system. And, what you'd get? Well, Ben Gurion wanted you to "get" Marx. Now? You've got about 3-million russians in the mix. Marx is NOT a solution!

Crapping on Olmert because he was hosting Bush? INSANE. Even though these arguments break out in Jewish families, a lot! Doing this just to spoil Bush's trip was INSANE. It has no upside.

Yup. Politics is hardball. It is also said, that like the stage, it attracts people with big egos. Unlike the stage? You don't need good bone structure.

You also don't see a single Jewish name popping up with any journalistic talent. No more Norman Mailer. And, go ahead. Laugh. But in 1968 Mailer wrote Armies of the Night. About the fiasco in Chicago. When the mob ruled. And, lost control of the democrap's convention.

Stinky pickings? Well? Just like a whore house. Spend all the money you want; you're not going to find love. Or even women who are all that attractive. But they do know tricks!

ANd, if Obama wins? Oy.

Anyway, after 2008 ... Olmert's term will draw near to its end. And, another expensive election process will erode. You think there are fewer "envelopes" ahead for Bibi? Me? I think he stinks. But good luck. I've got enough problems on 11/4 ... What with so many youthful Americans taking a shine to Obama. Who can believe that?

Meanwhile, to drive safely, the car should even have air bags. And, you should use your seat belts. They are there because they are marvels of engineering. It compensates for human nature's flaws.

Posted by: Carol Herman | May 21, 2008 1:36:02 AM

Bravo David - Fabulous piece.

Posted by: Jaime | May 22, 2008 5:29:39 AM

Another insightful and thought-provoking piece. Thank you.

If anything defines the difference between "us" and "them," it's the fact that we're still capable of treating our enemies as human. It's tragic that the converse does not appear to ever have been demonstrated.

Posted by: Elisson | May 24, 2008 2:01:23 AM

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In