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The Cross of Bethlehem

The Cross of Bethlehem II

An Eye for an Eye: On War Semantics



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On War Semantics | Folding Language in Strange Ways


"Kidnapped Soldiers" blared the Israeli headlines in 2006, after a soldier was captured in Gaza and two in Southern Lebanon. I was surprised. Since when is a soldier "kidnapped?" Were they watering their mothers' gardens at the time? No, they were participating in military events. Soldiers are never kidnapped; they are captured. Afterwards they should be treated according to the international Geneva Convention. That one simple semantic deceit by the Israeli media kidnapped the nation's mind.

"I never thought of that in such a way, but you are right," an Israeli told me after hearing my reasoning. The semantic bombardment of Israeli citizens by their own government-controlled media continued, despite my remarks, and a few days later, I emailed a couple of pictures to my friends there. The first showed young Israeli girls writing hateful messages on artillery shells destined for Lebanon. Before sending this photo, I carefully analyzed it. The writing was done with a confident Hebrew hand and included typical spelling errors of Israeli children. As a former officer of the Israeli army, I can say with certainty that the military equipment in the picture belongs to the Israeli army. Next to this picture, I sent a second one of a dead Lebanese child. Not one of my friends questioned the authenticity of the pictures, but one of them - a major in the army - answered unapologetically: "They are criminals."

Hence, soldiers are kidnapped and dead children are criminals; this is the semantic world of wars. I could cite many such examples, but the most illuminating one dates back to 1982. At that time, the Israeli government had baptized the Lebanon War as the "War for the Peace of the Galilee." The Hebrew possessive could be literally translated as "War-Peace-the Galilee:" a perfect Orwellian oxymoron.

"Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" says the Bible in Exodus 21:24. It may seem a bit barbaric nowadays, but back then it established the idea of proportional punishment and - in nearby texts - a method of indemnification for crimes committed. But these days, if your neighbor breaks the window of your house, you expect to get a new window and maybe some degree of compensation if the damage was intentional. No modern society would accept the retaliatory breaking of the neighbor's window - or demolishing his house, as the Israelis do in Lebanon and the occupied Territories - as a just response.

For a long time now, Israelis have been running amok in this manner. Having rejected their last Teacher, they are now forgetting even their first law and religious texts, receding dangerously back to lawless times. Millennia ago, the ancestors of the modern Israelis had a more comprehensive and just legal system than its descendants.

That is their choice and they will be judged for their deeds. However, it is the personal responsibility of each of us to shout as loud as possible that these actions are crimes.

If we won't defend the innocent Lebanese children of today, we will ignore the French children of tomorrow. And, then, when American children are forced to carry their own cross, then, it will be too late to save them.

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