Why zealotry always leads to the slaughter of the innocents
God damn you if you show mercy to Palestinians. That was the message to members of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) from Rabbi Avichai Rontzki last week.
Rontzki isn't a fringe figure from a far-out group. He is the government-appointed head of the Military Rabbinate - authorised to lay down the religious law to recruits and explain to soldiers going into battle what their God expects of them. The post holds an IDF rank of brigadier.
At a passing-out ceremony, Rontzki heaped praise on the Israeli soldiers involved in the assault on Gaza last January.
He made no effort to downplay the devastating nature of the 22-day attack, Operation Cast Lead, which killed 100 Palestinians for every Israeli who perished. Nor was he fazed by the fact that the majority of the Palestinian dead were civilians while the majority of the Israeli dead were soldiers.
"In times of war, whoever doesn't fight with all his heart and soul is damned - if he keeps his sword from bloodshed, if he shows mercy toward his enemy when no mercy should be shown."
He quoted from the Book of Jeremiah: "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord with a slack hand and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood."
The ceremony was held in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron - an illegal development built on Palestinian land from which the inhabitants had been expelled.
It came a few days after the UN had debated the report of the Goldstone Commission, which found that both sides had committed war crimes in Gaza. Neither did Goldstone dodge the fact that the scale of Israel's crimes had been overwhelmingly greater than the scale of the crimes of Hamas.
Of course, Israel was overwhelmingly the stronger side. The IDF had overwhelmingly more opportunities. The point is, they took them.
Responding directly to criticism of Israel in the Western media in the wake of Goldstone's report, Rabbi Rontzki declared: "Apropos all that we've heard in the media of late, thank God that the people of Israel has united recently around the simple understanding of how it must fight. One of the major innovations of that offensive was the conduct of war - not as some kind of mission or detention.
"We all remember the beginning of the war, with a major attack of 80 planes bombing various places and then artillery, mortar and tank fire and so forth, as in war. Everyone fought with all their heart and soul, and that includes bravery of course, but also fighting with all the resources one has - to fight as if to truly determine the mission.
"In Israel's wars, warriors are God-fearing people, righteous people, people who don't have sins on their hands. One needs to fight with an understanding of what one is fighting for."
Any who die smiting Palestinians will be rewarded in heaven . .
Rontzki was wrong in claiming that "the people of Israel has united" in support of the military excesses in Gaza. (Two groups of people routinely associate all Jews with the crimes of Zionism - Zionists and anti-semites.)
The Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, reports that Rontzki's Rabbinate, at the outset of the Gaza attack, distributed a pamphlet to soldiers labelling the Palestinians 'murderers' and warning against any temptation to show them mercy.
The publication, says Yesh Din, likened modern-day Palestinians to the Philistines of the Bible. (Gaza, with Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath, is listed in the Bible as one of the five Philistine cities.)
As Yesh Din observes, the assumption of divine approval of indiscriminate unlimited violence is clear.
"Therefore David inquired of the Lord, saying shall I go and smite the Philistines? And the Lord said unto David, Go and smite the Philistines." (1 Samuel 23:2.)
What is all this, but a variation on the teaching of Islamic jihadist scholars that those who die in the act of killing God's enemy will be instantly transported to paradise.
And what is that, in turn, but a version of the ideology which fuelled the First Crusade - a Christian army of awesome size, having swathed its way across Europe and Asia Minor, finally, on July 15, 1099, heady with a fervid sense of religious certainty, put the entire population of the Muslim city of Jerusalem, children, women and men, to the sword, in a slaughter which still can churn the stomach.
But the Crusaders for Christ will have gone to their work in Jerusalem with a will and an easy conscience, Urban II having guaranteed any Christian killer killed in action a plenary indulgence at the point of death, a guaranteed ticket to eternal bliss.
All the Abrahamic religions preach this demented cruelty. Israel is built on it.