War and God

At the start of the ground operation in Gaza, commander of the IDF Givati infantry brigade, Colonel Ofer Winter, issued an official letter to his soldiers in which he declared an “holy war” on Palestinians. He wrote to his officers and soldiers: “History has chosen us to spearhead the fight against the terrorist ‘Gazan’ enemy which abuses, blasphemes and curses the God of Israel’s defense forces“. Winter came under criticism for using religious terminology in an official military document.

Colonel Ofer Winter

Last week, an Israeli magazine interviewed the Colonel during the fighting in Gaza. He was quoted as saying that his troops were protected by divine intervention. He recounted one incident in which this intervention came in the form of “clouds of glory”, a biblical reference to the clouds that protected the Children of Israel in the desert. Just as his soldiers were about to be discovered by the enemy, a mysterious fog descended over them, shielding them from the terrorists and thus saving their lives.

As a religious person I too believe in divine intervention. But what I do not believe in is our ability to determine when such intervention occurs. Prophecy has been absent from our lives for about 2,500 years now and, as far as I know, no human has been able to establish a direct line to God. So we cannot know when and how God intervenes in our lives. Any claim to have experienced the Hand of God first hand is nothing but a personal belief and, strong as personal emotions can be, there can be no proof they are true. Quite the contrary, they are easily disproved.

In fact, a few days after the “miracle of the fog” described by Winter, his own Givati troops suffered a terrible and tragic loss. Two soldiers were killed by Palestinian terrorists in Southern Gaza and a third was kidnapped, later pronounced as dead by the IDF. Where was divine protection for these soldiers? Why was there no fog this time? Will Colonel Winter now say that God decided not to protect these three soldiers? Of course he won’t. Therefore, just as he cannot explain the lack of divine intervention in this case, so he cannot claim to have witnessed such intervention in the previous incident.

I have great admiration for the IDF and the sacrifices made by people like Winter and his soldiers, who protect all of us. But I cannot accept Voodoo Judaism as a modus operandi in the IDF. The Colonel must keep his religious beliefs to himself.

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