What Would You Do If You Were An Israeli Soldier?
Can you imagine the split second, life and death decisions that you would have to make and some of the ethical dilemmas you would face if you were a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces?
It is not easy to put yourself in the shoes of an 18-year-old Israeli who has a job to do, often a dangerous and unpleasant one. Put aside for a moment the political issues of whether Israeli policy is right or wrong. As a soldier, you have a job to do independent of the decisions of the government or your own personal beliefs.
First, and foremost, the job of an Israeli soldier is to defend the citizens of the State of Israel.
The Spirit Of The IDF
How do you accomplish this goal in a way that is consistent with international law, Israeli law and the ethical code of the military? The IDF has developed a code of conduct – “the spirit of the IDF” to help guide you. Memorize these 11 rules:
1. Military action can only be taken against military targets.
2. The use of force must be proportional.
3. Soldiers may only use weaponry they were issued by the IDF.
4. Anyone who surrenders cannot be attacked.
5. Only those who are properly trained can interrogate prisoners.
6. Soldiers must accord dignity and respect to the Palestinian population and those arrested.
7. Soldiers must give appropriate medical care, when conditions allow, to oneself and one's enemy.
8. Pillaging is absolutely and totally illegal.
9. Soldiers must show proper respect for religious and cultural sites and artifacts.
10. Soldiers must protect international aid workers, including their property and vehicles.
11. Soldiers must report all violations of this code.
This is a helpful guide, but you are fighting an enemy that does not play by any rules. Terrorists, for example, may hide behind civilians rather than defend them. They may dress the same way you do, so it is impossible to distinguish people who are dangerous from those who are innocent. These decisions often must be made in a split second.
As a soldier, you are taught to kill or be killed. You have little time to decide friend from foe – hesitation could be fatal. If a suicide bomber approaches, for example, a soldier has eight seconds to decide whether or not to shoot. But you must think before acting. A mistake can have catastrophic consequences. Instead of killing the enemy, an innocent person might be harmed as when a UN outpost was accidentally bombed in Lebanon and a mortar round was inaccurately fired into a home in Gaza that killed many innocent people. Mistakes are also often magnified by press coverage so they can have international political repercussions.
A Military Solution
Some people say that you cannot defeat terrorism militarily. It is not true. It is possible if you are willing to employ extreme measures. In Syria, Islamic fundamentalists threatened the regime of Hafez Assad. His response was to send the army to the town where his opponents were based and destroy the entire city. An estimated 20,000 people were killed in Hama in 1982 and no television cameras recorded the event, no UN condemnations were issued, no Arab spokespeople decried the massacre. The operation did successfully end the threat to Assad’s power. Similarly, King Hussein faced a threat from the PLO, which had established a state within a state in Jordan. When the danger to his throne became acute in 1970, he sent his army to drive Yasser Arafat and his fellow “freedom fighters” out of Jordan in what became known among Palestinians as Black September. More Palestinians were killed in that month of fighting than in all the conflicts with Israel over the last 58 years.
Even the United States has not hesitated to use overwhelming force to destroy its enemies. And it too has occasionally made tragic mistakes, as when faulty intelligence led to an airstrike on an Afghan wedding party rather than the group of terrorists it expected. The Allies fire bombed Dresden and the U.S. used nuclear weapons against Japan in World War II.
If Israel had no moral code, and did not care how many people died, or how many innocents fell along with the terrorists, it could also put an end to the violence. But Israel does have an ethical code that requires every effort to be made to spare the lives of noncombatants.
Israel makes a deliberate effort to target only the people who pose a threat. But who do you choose to strike:
A) The person carrying a bomb?
B) The person who drives the bomber to his destination?
C) The engineer who builds the bomb?
D) The person who provides money for the bomber or the explosives?
E) The Muslim cleric who calls on his followers to kill Jews?
F) The person who watches the preacher on TV?
Once the decision is made to strike, the ethical code of the IDF says that you must provide a warning to prevent civilian casualties. So, for example, in Lebanon, Israel dropped leaflets in villages warning that it intended to bomb them. What other army would give away the element of surprise and announce to their enemies, We’re coming to get you, run away now, or prepare to fight us?
In 2002, Israel learned that the head of the military arm of Hamas was going to be in his apartment and the decision was made to drop a two ton bomb on the building. He was killed, but the intelligence about the surrounding buildings was wrong and many innocent people were also killed, prompting international criticism.
A month later, the entire leadership of Hamas was in one room and the IDF knew it would again need a two ton bomb to destroy the building and eliminate all the terrorists. It was akin to the United States learning bin Laden and all his top commanders were in one place. Because of the earlier experience, however, and fear of harming innocents, the army was forced to use a smaller bomb and it did not destroy the building, and all of the terrorists escaped.
Sometimes Israel actually places its soldiers in greater danger by adopting strategies to save civilians. In one case, for example, before an attack, soldiers were clearing an area in the Gaza Strip of noncombatants. Two soldiers were helping an old Palestinian woman get some water and were shot by a sniper.
In one of the most tragic cases, Israel decided to send troops into the refugee camp in Jenin in 2002 to root out terrorists known to be operating from inside. Israel could have simply dropped a bomb on the area and would have eliminated all the terrorists, but many innocent Palestinians would have been killed. Instead, the decision was made to go house to house and engage the terrorists, who had set up booby-traps and ambushes. In the end, the soldiers successfully completed the operation, but 13 soldiers were killed and 75 were wounded.
Standing in an Israeli Soldier's Shoes
Now that you have some background on what Israel is up against, it is time to take your place on the front lines and make decisions about what you would do if faced with the type of dilemmas Israeli soldiers face every day.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Please answer these questions in the link beneath:
The Spirit of the IDF - Part 2