By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
JERUSALEM, March 20 -- A soldier involved in Israel's recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip said in published reports Friday that the military's rabbinical staff distributed material characterizing the operation as a religious mission to "get rid of the gentiles who disturb us from conquering the holy land."
In the second day of published accounts from soldiers critical of the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza, the daily Maariv ran excerpts of an interview with a squad commander in Israel's Givati Brigade. He was identified only by his first name, given as Rahm.
The daily quoted him as saying that the Gaza operation from the beginning had "the feeling of almost a religious mission."
While military rabbis provided routine services -- such as distributing books of psalms and leading prayers at the start of the operation -- some religious materials veered in a political direction, he said.
"The military rabbinate brought many magazines and articles with a very clear message: 'We are the Jewish people, a miracle brought us to the land of Israel, God returned us to the land, and now we have to struggle so as to get rid of the gentiles who disturb us from conquering the holy land.' All the feeling throughout all this operation of many of the soldiers was of a war of religions," he said. "As a commander, I tried to explain that the war is not a war of Kiddush Hashem [the sanctification of God's name, including through martyrdom] but over the stopping of the launching of the Qassam rockets."
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