I’ve recounted in several posts here, the exploits of IDF Col. Ofer Winter, commander of the Givati Brigade. In army lore, he should go down as “Samson, slayer of Philistines,” because he wrote publicly and acted militarily as if he was re-enacting the Samson story and inflicting Biblical vengeance on the latter-day enemies of the people of Israel.
The mythical-historical Samson was a Nazirite (a Joan of Arc-figure endowed with mythical powers) enslaved by the Philistines after Delilah cut his hair and drained his strength. As any Hebrew or Sunday school child knows, Samson, who’d also been blinded by his captors, waited for the moment when the Philistines held a banquet at which they featured him as the entertaining clown of the evening. It was at that moment, as they ridiculed him, when Samson regained his strength and toppled the pillars of the pagan temple, taking his enemies down with him.
This is the sort of latter-day Jewish heroism Winter was summoning in the Order of Battle he published just before the ground invasion began. In a holy war, there is no morality. Morality is a secular concept. In such a war, there is only the Lord and His commands, which follow their own sacred code.
That’s why Winter could call on his troops to kill Lt. Hadar Goldin when they couldn’t prevent his capture. The Hannibal Directive, despite gussying it up in the moral philosophical precepts of Asa Kasher, is a directive to kill captive soldiers so that they won’t hold the entire nation ransom if they’re held hostage by the enemy.
In response to Goldin’s capture, Winter unleashed the hell-hounds of war on the people of Rafah. Winter is a genuine IDF war criminal.
This riveting Haaretz article by Yagil Levy (not yet translated into English), recounts some of his barbaric military acts following that. Keep in mind as you read it that “Palestinian” and “Philistine” are almost interchangeable in Hebrew, and settler religious ultra-nationalists deliberately invoke the Bibilical term to conjure Palestinians as latter-day enemies of the nation of Israel:
Givati Brigade Battles Philistines
The order of battle which the Givati Commander Ofer Winter published at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge aroused a public furor. There were those who claimed that it should be impossible for someone who represented the battle in Gaza as a religious war–which declared the enemy to be “defamers, abusers and defilers of the God of Israel’s battle campaigns”–to continue in his military position.
…It’s important to remember, in any event, that we’re not speaking of a document having only abstract religious significance. The perspective of religious war [in the Order of Battle by Winter] guided the Givati brigade on a tactical [practical] level as well.
During battleground tours with journalists of Hirbet Ahza’a [more properly, Khuza’a], hundreds of meters into the depths of Gaza, Winter pointed to a mosque destroyed by an air attack. The mosque had been destroyed by the directive of Winter in order to neutralize fire that came from it, after Winter rejected the possibility of attacking it with a [less damaging] ground missile rather than an air-to-ground missile.
“Did you see it [the mosque]?” asked Winter pointing to the mosque. “This was once a mosque.” He said this giddily, without any hint of guilt, sorrow or apology as he strode through the ruins of the village, whose 13,000 residents were expelled according to the army’s [Winter’s] orders. He continued, saying with pride…: “When I said to you Ahza’a [Khuza’a] once looked different, I was referring to this [the mosque].”
In conversation with another reporter, Winter was proud of the steps he took to protect the lives of his soldiers: a shell or a missile hit every house before his soldiers entered. These things weren’t presented as part of a unified or obligatory military policy because, by comparison, Winter described incidents in which another unit lost three soldiers entering a booby-trapped house.
The height of this can be seen in his activation of the Hannibal Directive after the “kidnapping” [sic] of Hadar Goldin in Rafah. According to reports, a massive amount of fire was mounted by the IDF, which deviated from any measure of proportionality–to use military terms–to stop the “kidnapping.” So they fired directly on homes and killed 150 Palestinians, most of them civilians. This time no warning was offered to enable anyone to flee.
War crimes are not deterred by religious doctrine. Rather, the barriers to carrying them out are even easier to overcome, when the battle is seen as a religious war, conducted by someone who believes he kills an enemy which “defiles the name of God.” And that the command to inherit the land obligates an uncompromising war against the descendants of the Philistines [Palestinians], as Winter’s teacher, Rabbi Eli Sadan, director of the B’nei David pre-army academy, preached in the midst of Operation Protective Edge. The mission was, according to Sadan, to topple the “gates of Gaza,” like the feat of Samson, which would pave the way to realize Sadan’s ideal, the founding of a Davidic kingdom in Hebron. After founding such a kingdom “you would not find any more Philistines,” said the Rabbi. Therefore, for Winter and Sadan, the battle in Gaza isn’t one after which one reaches a compromise, but rather a part of a religious war which must not be ended before decisive victory.
The religious perspective of the Commander attests to a military doctrine that deviates from the official ethical norms of the army. This “ethics” is developed from the inspiration of pre-army education, which this commander received at the academy which functions under state authority. The boundary which prohibits expression of such a perspective, and in essence their realization in the field, should have been demarcated by Winter’s commanders. But they failed in this and instead fully legitimized his actions. Offering anew the demarcation of such a boundary is critical for the recovery of battle ethics and in order to guarantee that the army realizes a mission identified by the political echelon, in whose name soldiers are ordered to sacrifice their lives. A mission whose purpose is entirely different than founding a Davidic kingdom in Hebron.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.