Wednesday, November 28, 2007

28-Nov-07: Some observations on a theft

A report in the news today deals with an act of looting carried out by Israeli forces. We want to share a few lessons it taught us.

First the basic details as carried by Ynet:

IDF soldier arrested for stealing 200 shekels from Palestinian car
Hanan Greenberg - Published: 11.28.07, 00:11 | Military Police officials have confirmed the arrest of a soldier from the Givati Brigade after the latter confessed to stealing a 200 shekel bill ($50) from a Palestinian vehicle after searching it as it passed through an Israeli checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus several weeks ago. A military policewoman who was also manning the checkpoint spotted him pocketing the money but apparently chose not to report it. Several days after the incident occurred the soldier approached his commanders and confessed to the crime. Because the nature of the transgression had involved an offense against Palestinian civilians, the military launched a criminal investigation into the matter and took the soldier into custody last week. The Southern Command's military court extended the soldier's remand until Wednesday – when military prosecutors are scheduled to file an indictment against him. The Military Advocate General's office reportedly plans to charge the soldier with looting, which if convicted on carries a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment...
The rest of the article is here. Now some thoughts:
  1. The soldier gave himself up, evidently driven by conscience pangs. Having soldiers with a conscience in your armed forces is a blessing.
  2. The entire middle east is caught up with 'peace' discussions in Maryland but this act of petty theft made national headlines in Israel. It may be only $50 but Israelis understand the moral price of stealing and what it does to your society. They also identify with the victim, and understand that $50 is real money for a working person.
  3. Theft is a grossly overused concept in this part of the world because of the shallowness of Israel's critics who, for the most part, fail to understand our connection to this land and our thousands of years of ownership and connection here. But theft does mean something and you need to be morally clear about how to (a) deal with it and (b) know when an action is not theft.
  4. The police saw the offense but ignored it. In a decent society, police are indispensable but not sufficient.
  5. The soldier acted out of a desire to repay a debt. $50 debts, even in a prosperous society like Israel's, are a daily part of the anxieties that sit on the collective consciousness. You might wish your defence forces to be pre-occupied with larger or different issues. But a citizen-army is based on all kinds of people, and dealing with personal debts is among the things on their minds.
  6. The largest newspaper in this country carried the story. In an open, democratic society like Israel, the media play a constructive and revealing role even when what they're reporting is embarrassing.
  7. After years of tension, fighting and conflict with the Arabs, your average Israeli remains sensitive to the need to be polite and decent to them to the extent possible.
  8. The activities of the Machsom Watch activists (obnoxious self-righteous political extremists who place themselves near Israeli on-duty service personnel manning the security checkpoints, interfering with their essential work and generally making politically-inspired trouble in the course of demonizing and delegitimizing what soldiers and armies have to do in times of conflict) make sense only if you believe we need guardians of a politicized form of morality waving their fingers and sticking their noses into Israeli life.
  9. As critically important as national security is for a country under attack from all directions, in Israel it's always tempered by concerns over whether it's being done by appropriate rules.
  10. Israelis are neither better nor worse than people in other societies. People's nature doesn't vary that much from society to society. But the way a society and its institutions responds to anti-social behaviour in their midst is the real measure of that society. Relative to the appalling alternatives here in the Middle East, it's good to know we live in a place where people and institutions get agitated - to the point of national headlines - over a $50 theft by a soldier.

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