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A Nightmare Called Hannibal

Despite the pall of military censorship, the Israel and foreign media are beginning, tentatively to air the problematic moral issues about the Hannibal Directive and how it was implemented during the Gaza war.  To be clear, there has been a lot of smoke and hokum written on the subject as well.  And that even is the preponderance of what is published.  But there have been two noteworthy stories written, one by Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz (Hebrew) and one by Ruth Margalit in The New Yorker.  Far the most important is Bar’el’s, but Haaretz hasn’t yet translated it into English.  Since I don’t know whether it will or not, I’m going to translate the most critical passages below.

But before I do, I wanted to point to Israeli reporting on Hannibal and the Hadar Goldin killing in particular, to illustrate Israel’s schizophrenic nature around this subject.  A Ynet article describes (Hebrew) the “heroics” of Deputy Commander “Eitan,” who demanded of his superiors permission to pursue Goldin and his captors into the tunnel in which they had disappeared.  The officer had to climb up the ranks of his commanding officers till he finally reached one who approved of his hot pursuit.  But the commander told him that before he entered the tunnel he had to throw a grenade into it.

Compare this to this subtitle of the story:

Deputy [Commander] Who Went into Tunnel to Save Goldin

You simply don’t throw hand grenades into tunnels into which your own comrade has just disappeared if you wish to save him.  Another ghoulish aspect of this report is that it features video of Eitan visiting the bereaved Goldin family, where he’s welcomed with open arms.  They truly believe Eitan valiantly tried to save their son when instead he tried to kill him (and perhaps did).  There is a secret, unconscious code (something like Hannibal itself), which allows everyone to pretend Goldin died a hero and that his comrades did everything possible to save him, when the opposite is the case.

hannibal directive hadar goldin

Ambulances of the sort destroyed in an attempt to kill IDF Lt. Hadar Goldin  (Saleh Hijazi)

Here is Zvi Bar’el’s Haaretz column:

A Nightmare Called Hannibal

Twice we heard sighs of relief from one end of the country to another.  Once when the army confirmed the death of Oron Shaul and a second, when it announced that Hadar Goldin had died.  It even seemed that a note of triumph accompanied that sigh: Hamas hadn’t succeeded in kidnapping our soldiers and the country had averted a double trauma.

Who could stand the drafting of thousands of citizen do-gooders to gather at intersections with placards calling for “the return home of the soldiers?”  Who has the patience of these parents, who immediately begin to run to European capitals in order to seek support and pressure Hamas?  Who has the resources required to conduct negotiations with German, British or Qatari mediators in order to get a bit of information on the kidnap victims?  Not to speak of the political pressure, the empty declarations of MKs concerning the “strategic threat” posed by freeing [Palestinian] prisoners in return for [Israeli] hostages.  In short,  give us those dead bodies and we’ll be satisfied.  War, death, funerals, a clean shiva, all of which satisfy.  [They offer] formal recognition of our bereavement.  This is the desired order of things.

A hostage shatters the picture of victory, the narrative of complete success.  A captive is a national fashlah [mishap].

But there is a cure:  the army pharmacy invented the Hannibal Directive.  A perverted, satanic product which, in common parlance, we may describe as: “let the world go to hell and the kidnap victim too, as long as we’re not shamed.”  The practical ramification of the expression is artillery bombardments, aerial bombardment, and destruction of all that moves in the vicinity of the kidnapping, in order to prevent the kidnappers from fleeing.  Let a hundred die, even a thousand, let hundreds of homes be turned into dust, let children be made orphans and women in labor roll in their own blood, just so that the kidnappers and perhaps the kidnap victim himself should die.

“You must act, to the extent possible, to stop the kidnapping, including laying down fire, but not in a manner which causes a high likelihood of death to the kidnap victim.  This is due to an understanding that the value of the life of the kidnap victim is greater than the price of the kidnapping [ransom],” clarifies Prof. Asa Kasher, who wrote the IDF’s ethical code.

How do you define “a high likelihood?”  How many residents may you kill and how many homes destroy in order to prevent a kidnapping?  Is 100 Palestinians acceptable?  Maybe 150?  100 homes is in the realm of what’s acceptable?  It goes without saying that the lives of Palestinians aren’t worth much to begin with, their homes worth even less.

But where did that shrug of the shoulders that was seen among IDF spokespersons and politicians of several days past go, when they troubled themselves to explain that falling captive, just like the death or wounding of a soldier, was an inseparable part of war?  If falling captive is so “natural” why do we need to make worlds quake [when it happens to us]?  Even when a soldier is killed, the IDF doesn’t purposely destroy a school or clinic.  At least this is what we would hope.  So why for the sake of a captive does the IDF ignite a a spewing volcano which is likely to pour boiling lava also on the kidnap victim himself?

There is no intent to save [the soldier] in the Hannibal Directive, and certain no ethics or essential [moral] value.  The falling of a person into captivity obligates that we do everything to free him…from captivity, not from life itself.  Yes, it is permitted, even criticial to conduct negotiations to free him, to exchange him for prisoners or to pay ransom if that’s what is necessary.  Nations no less ethical than Israel have done so and continue to do so.

The bluff that we don’t conduct negotiations with terrorists has been exposed for some time.  Even now Israel conducts talks with Hamas, with which it signed a ceasefire in 2012.  Are ceasefire talks more moral than talks over returning a captive?  All the argument for and against exchanging prisoners have been exhausted in the case of Gilad Shalit and his predecessors.  In the end, freeing them was considered, in effect, the most humane and ethical act the country could do on behalf of its soldiers.  The Hannibal Directive contradicts in an absolute manner this approach.  It must be repudiated immediately.

As for Margalit’s article, it is generally quite good.  But I take strong issue with this statement:

To be clear, there is no evidence that Goldin was killed by friendly fire. 

There are heaping mounds of evidence that Goldin was killed by his own comrades.  I’ve reported here that members of his unit wounded him as he was being carried away.  You’ve read above that another soldier threw a grenade into a tunnel into which he’d been carried.  Every ambulance or vehicle approaching the hospital where he might be taken for treatment was annihilated by IDF fire.  How much evidence do you need to say that it’s highly likely Goldin (as well as Guy Levy) was killed by his own?

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Elad August 7, 2014, 2:04 AM

    “You simply don’t throw hand grenades into tunnels into which your own comrade has just disappeared if you wish to save him”

    You say that with some experience in combat? Goldin “disappeared” into the tunnel some time before and not likely to be waiting at the entrance which might, for example, be booby-trapped.

  • smith August 7, 2014, 4:34 AM

    I think it would be worthwhile to investigate the point of view of Jewish law in this Hannibal matter. I would assume it has been run through the chief rabbinate etc.

  • vin August 7, 2014, 4:38 AM

    that is inhumane the soldier family was waiting for their son to be back home and the idf !his own people murder him how shameful !let him be a captive you can negotiate and get him back alive to presume his life not to rob him his life he is your own son how could you !

  • Donald August 7, 2014, 6:25 AM

    The Margalit story was good, but what needs to be made clear is just how thoroughly this makes nonsense of the claim that Israel is a society that values life as compared to those awful Palestinians. Not only do they try to kill the soldier, they just pound the area, killing civilians, in order to achieve this. I still see people talking about how Israel warns civilians, how it is all Hamas’s fault for using human shields and meanwhile, one reads about all the incidents that don’t fit that narrative (the boys on the beach, houses blown up with families inside, people shot while trying to flee, etc) and now this.

  • Gina August 7, 2014, 3:42 PM

    Richard, too bad I can’t post pictures here, but I visit a page in Facebook of an Israeli (soldier) who is very meticulous about everything regarding Israel, history and the army. I will post the text he wrote when he posted a picture of the Goldin family, apparently with the soldier wo eliminated their son.

    Text by photo: “Hadar Goldin”:

    The officer sitting is the Second Lieutenant who enforced Protocol Chanibbal (Hanibbal) when Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was captured by HAMAS. He dove into the tunnel and eliminated them, preventing Hadar from being held prisoner.

    The Protocol was used two times in Protective Edge, the first time was with Sayeret Golani Sha’ul in Shajayyah when their APC was taken out. He was one of three survivors and was captured. Baruch Hashem for this Protocol but now that it will be reported there will be alot of Anti Israel propaganda because of it.

    Photo was at Goldin home as they sat Shiva for Hadar, a true hero. I hope readers understand the sacrifice made by Hader and Golanchik Sha’ul.

    • Slevdi August 7, 2014, 11:06 PM

      Any chance of a link to this soldier’s FB page?

      • Gina August 7, 2014, 11:49 PM

        Slevdi, here it is link to facebook.com

  • Scott Shepard August 7, 2014, 4:16 PM

    I appreciate that you alone, Richard, call attention to this issue that nobody else, so far as I can tell, wants to touch. Were I an Israeli parent I surely would not want the IDF to operate on the principle that if my child were taken it was better to try to kill him than to trade a few hundred (illegally held) Palestinians to get him back. Everybody knows that they could have gotten Shalit free in the first months, if they had just bitten the bullet, and made essentially the same deal they made years later. I don’t know why Israeli parents tolerate this madness.
    Goldin’s parents were on TV the first day saying they were confident that the IDF was going to rescue their son. There is a good chance that he was already dead. I don’t know if they really get the picture yet, at this point, but I think, I hope, that when it sinks in — even that the idiot threw a hand grenade in the direction of the fighters — they will reconsider their faith in the IDF and Israeli policy. It sure as hell is not how we do things in the US.
    This is only partly about shame and guarding the troops; Israel has this defiant attitude on the subject of prisoners; this used to be much less a problem. Trading prisoners was not as big a deal years ago, perhaps before of the more intense media attention, and the rise of right wing politics, globally.

    Meanwhile, American media dropped the topic as soon as Israel announced that this victim they supposedly did not have in their own hands was actually dead. They did this presumably because they did not want the media hounding them about pulling out of Gaza and leaving a man behind. But they had already extracted the CNN coverage, the scolding from Reverend — er, Secretary General Moon, and Obama.
    Once Israel killed the story, nobody wanted to go back and ask a few new questions. I emailed the journalists, the politicians and asked for more explanation, but I got no replies. Israel tells you when it is a story, and when to walk away.

  • Shmuel August 7, 2014, 8:15 PM

    An hour ago Hamas broke the ceasefire by firing two mortars into Israel.
    They couldn’t wait even for the 72 hours to end and started 4 hours early.
    Is talking so difficult? Do they enjoy suffering so much?

  • Shmuel August 7, 2014, 10:12 PM

    Now end of ceasefire and Hamas continuing to fire at civilians.
    In soccer it’s called an own goal

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