Former Israeli Defense Forces General Moshe Ya’alon spoke of the challenges facing Israel’s security in a speech before a packed crowd in the Jack Morton Auditorium on Wednesday. Ya’alon, the former chief of staff of the IDF, was invited to campus by GW’s chapter of the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Zach Cutler, a freshman and president of Friends of IDF, called Ya’alon “my hero” during his introduction of the general.
“He is a man who has saved countless Jewish lives,” Cutler said.
Ya’alon began with a brief history of both Israel’s relations with its neighbors as well as his own experiences growing up under the constant threat of war. In 1967, at the age of 17, he saw his father go off to fight in the Six Day War and was optimistic when Israel was victorious.
“I believed it would be the last war with our neighbors,” he recalled. “I really thought there was a chance for peace.”
Much of Ya’alon’s remarks focused on the difficulties of fighting a war against terrorist organizations that do not use conventional methods of combat.
“The IDF has faced a deliberate effort by Palestinian terrorists to spread fear and death,” he said. “The terrorists are using their own society as a human shield.”
He was also quick to defend Israeli tactics in fighting terror. Claiming the IDF “avoids collateral damage,” he specifically mentioned the incursion into the Palestinian town of Jenin in 2003, an urban battle in which a disputed number of Palestinian civilians were killed.
“We fought the battle surgically,” he said. “We went house-to-house instead of using air strikes that would have caused higher civilian casualties.”
Pro-Palestinian students protested Ya’alon’s appearance. They labeled him a war criminal. Following the cessation of his remarks, a dozen Palestinian activists unveiled a large banner with the words, “Moshe Ya’alon, The Blood of the Qana Massacre is on your hands.” The students were quickly escorted out of the building by campus police while shouting “End apartheid now.” In Qana, Israeli forces killed several civilians during an invasion into Lebanon in the 1990s.
Ya’alon briefly mentioned the protestors after they had left.
“We’ve been flooded with stories that avoid the facts,” he said.
The students continued their protest outside the building after Ya’alon had finished his speech and left.
“We want people to be aware of what happened at Qana,” said Nadia Alan, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.
The general also touched upon the recent Palestinian elections that put Hamas into power.
“It was a tremendous mistake to let them participate in the election. Political parties need to meet the conditions of democratic values before the election,” he said, adding, “We need to isolate the Hamas government. They should not be supported or financed by the West.”
Despite the seeming futility of the current situation, Ya’alon spoke of his hope for the future of peace in the region.
“I’m a great believer in peace,” he said near the end of the question-and-answer session that followed his speech. “We have a formidable challenge to deal with. But we shouldn’t give up.”