Our Harsh Logic: Israeli soldiers' testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-€“2010 is the first book compiled by Breaking the Silence, one of Israel's most internationally lauded non-government organisations. Philosopher and author Raimond Gaita gave this speech on the occasion of the book’s Australian publication.
‘Our Harsh Logic is a book of testimonies by Israeli soldiers who served on the West Bank and Gaza strip between 2000 and 2010. For obvious reason, its 374 pages make for depressing reading. How could it be otherwise? Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and withdrew from Gaza only in 2005, to invade it again in 2008. Its external control over Gaza remains so complete that many international lawyers argue that it is still in occupation of it. With a similar history, soldiers of an occupying army of any nation in the world would have similar stories to tell. No one should be surprised by the contents of Our Harsh Logic.
One of the most important lessons of the Holocaust, we have repeatedly and justifiably been told, is that ordinary people can do morally terrible things -- things so terrible, indeed, that they can add up to the greatest evil in our recorded history. Why then should anyone be surprised that ordinary young Israelis should commit deeds such as are described in this book? They range from deeds that are obviously criminal according to international law -- wrongful killings of various kinds and the use of human shields, for example -- to deeds that are not criminal according to law, but which express disdain for the humanity of the Palestinians of the kind to be expected from an occupying army of long standing, often compounded by racist hostility to the Palestinians as Arabs.
Our Harsh Logic is therefore a depressing book, but it is also an inspiring one. It testifies to dehumanisation and worse, but it testifies also to courage: firstly to the courage of the soldiers who faced what they had done and witnessed, who in many cases faced truthfully their own dehumanisation and wrong doing; and secondly to the courage of members of Breaking the Silence. Anyone who knows Israel will understand that it requires courage to publish such a book into a public made up of citizen soldiers that venerates its defence forces, a public in which most families must know in their hearts that many of their friends and family members could tell the same stories.
The book is also admirable because its editors wisely avoided political comment except insofar as it follows unavoidably from what the soldiers said they did and witnessed. That ensures the book’s integrity as a book of testimony.
Our Harsh Logic is divided into four sections. The last section â€“ Law Enforcement: A Dual Regime – has probably the most direct political implications because it makes undeniable to anyone who accepts that the testimonies are for the most part truthful, that the IDF has long been complicit in the settlement programme pursued by successive Israeli governments. Because there are now over 350,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank, many people on the left and the right believe the two-state solution is unrealistic. No Israeli government, they think, would be prepared to dismantle as many settlements as would be necessary for a two-state solution that is acceptable to the Palestinians as even a minimal fulfilment of their national aspirations. But because this conclusion concerning IDF complicity is inescapable if the testimony is truthful, it is not the conclusion drawn in the pursuit of a controversial political agenda. It is quite absurd to say, as some of its critics have, that Our Harsh Logic is a book of propaganda.
The distinction between conclusions that follow inevitably from the testimonies in this book and those, which though they may be reasonable, do not and are therefore controversial, is very important. If Our Harsh Logic expressed conclusions of the latter kind -- conclusions that are reasonable but which, because they do not strictly follow from the testimony, can also be reasonably contested -- it would have undermined its integrity as a book of witness because it would have undermined trust in it. It would have given people legitimate reason to wonder whether the testimonies had been selected, perhaps even manipulated, to serve a political agenda.
Perhaps I lack imagination, but I cannot think of any political opinion about the options in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that need deny, if they are brutally honest, the testimonies in this book. Even radical settlers could accept them and then say that the deeds they record are the price they are prepared to pay for the success of their struggle for a Greater Israel (assuming they object to those deeds). The testimonies are consistent with a two-state solution and with the left- and right-wing varieties of a one-state solution. They are consistent with Zionism, post-Zionism, and anti-Zionism.
That, I believe, is true of the book considered only as a book of testimonies. The editorial position, however, appears to require that Jews retain an Israeli identity in any solution to the conflict, even if there is no Jewish state. That, indeed, is suggested in the book's title – Our Harsh Logic, rather than the impersonal, 'The Harsh Logic of the IDF' or some variation on that. The explicit use of the first person plural indicates identification -- regretful, sorrowful, ashamed identification, but identification nonetheless. It therefore expresses the only form of patriotism that is worth anything -- truthful patriotism that desires to live a national life without the shame that would be the only honest and lucid response if the nation's leaders and soldiers committed crimes that would justifiably bring them before an international criminal court. From the perspective of such patriotism -- patriotism distinguished from the counterfeit of it that we call jingoism -- even severe criticism of one’s country can be amongst the highest form of loyalty to it and an expression of the most serious concern for its welfare. In publishing Our Harsh Logic, Breaking the Silence expresses just such concern for the country to which its members belong.
Who should read this book? Everyone who is seriously concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- Israelis, Palestinians, and most diaspora Jews, obviously. But also everyone who is not a pacifist. As I said at the beginning, no one should be surprised by the testimonies in this book, which, of course, is one reason why no one has any reason to doubt that they are on the whole truthful. If we are not pacifists, then we rely on our armed forces to protect what we cherish most deeply in our national lives. Yet hardly ever do we think seriously about how we might reduce the vulnerability of our soldiers to the dehumanising consequences of protracted war and the likelihood that they will do morally terrible things. If there is to be even a slight chance of this, we all need to acknowledge truths of the kind recounted in Our Harsh Logic, not only in our heads, but also deeply in our bones.'
-- Raimond Gaita, 2012
Raimond Gaita is Professorial Fellow in the Melbourne Law School and The Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, and Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy at King’s College London. Gaita’s books, which have been widely translated, include: Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception, Romulus, My Father; A Common Humanity: Thinking About Love & Truth & Justice, The Philosopher's Dog, Breach of Trust: Truth, Morality and Politics and, as editor and contributor, Gaza: Morality Law and Politics. His most recent book is After Romulus.