07/10/2010 03:19 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Israeli Victimhood: A Threat to the Jewish State

The headline excited me.

"Analysis: Trying one soldier for Gaza war crime doesn't solve root of problem," it read. Finally, a discussion of the Israeli army's culture of impunity, I thought. Or perhaps some reflections on a state that behaves as though neither the international community nor its own Supreme Court exist.

Imagine my disappointment when I read the article.

According to Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, the "real problem" is "that it is impossible to fight terrorist organizations embedded in a civilian population without civilian casualties." It also seems to trouble Harel that "the international community has evinced zero understanding for the impossible environment in which the IDF operates."

Rather than a call for accountability, the article was an exercise in Israeli victimhood.

The siege mentality. It's dangerous line of thinking that dismisses others' suffering and, simultaneously, breeds a culture of impunity. We're under attack, the thinking goes, so we must use any means necessary to defend ourselves--from violently boarding the Freedom Flotilla to the brutally executed Operation Cast Lead to the ongoing siege on Gaza.

Intended to weaken Hamas, all of these moves have, arguably, had the opposite effect. As the blockade continues, the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is picking up. Operation Cast Lead brought international condemnation. Now, in the wake of the flotilla, the political tide continues to turn against Israel.

But Israel must do more than overhaul its policies regarding Gaza. It must look inside itself and acknowledge that the roots of the culture of impunity, now proving to be a threat to Israel's well-being, run deep. The first seeds were sown in 1948, with the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Arabs. It sprouted with the settlements, which threaten both the establishment of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state and the prospect of peace. And the military occupation looms over Israeli society.

The culture of impunity is most clearly--and quantifiably--manifested in the army. Using figures obtained from the IDF, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din reports that from 2000-2009, soldiers were indicted in less than six percent of the cases opened by the Military Police Criminal Investigations Department (MPCID). All of the soldiers were accused of serious offenses, including looting, property damage, bribe-taking, assault, and unlawful shooting which, in some instances, led to injury or death.

89 percent of those indicted "were convicted," Yesh Din reports, "many of them as part of plea bargains that reduced the crimes they were charged with and mitigated their punishments." The other eleven percent of defendants walked as they were acquitted or the charges against them were dropped.

Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself. Soldiers, when faced with a mortal threat, also have the right to protect their lives. But neither Israel nor its army have the right to do so at others' expense. Nor do the state and its soldiers have the right to operate as though they are unaccountable for their actions.

Jews and Israelis, we must ask ourselves: where has wallowing in victimhood gotten us?

Together, the siege mentality and culture of impunity only conspire to keep us locked in a vicious cycle. Israel behaves as though the world is an enemy that it needn't answer to. When the international community responds, we use that as proof positive that we're under attack--conveniently forgetting that the attack is, in part, of our own making.

Our victimhood may yet prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And because we--"a stiff-necked people"--have spent more than 60 years ignoring the cries of others, ours might fall on deaf ears.