US rabbis urge change in IDF war code

'It's not right to risk the lives of soldiers to minimize civilian deaths on the other side.'

By MATTHEW WAGNER
August 21, 2006 02:45
2 minute read.

 
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The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has called on Israel to reevaluate its military rules of war in light of Hizbullah's "unconscionable use of civilians, hospitals, ambulances, mosques and the like as human shields, cannon fodder and weapons of asymmetric warfare." The RCA made the statement at the end of a three-day solidarity mission last week in conjunction with Emunah, the modern Orthodox women's organization, during which a contingent of RCA rabbis toured the North and South, visiting the injured and gathering impressions of the extent of the damage caused by the warfare. Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA, said the statement was not a halachic decision but rather "our understanding of traditional Jewish values." Herring said that from reports and talks with injured soldiers and doctors, it appeared the IDF may have unnecessarily endangered its forces out of moral considerations. "Like Jews everywhere, we as members of the RCA have always admired the unparalleled moral standards of Israel's armed forces in their military engagements, including sensitivity to the suffering of civilians and other innocents who find themselves caught up in the entanglements of war," said the RCA statement. "Today, however, there is at the very least a need to discuss the response to an enemy such as Hizbullah." According to Herring, the new combat realities of fighting an enemy that uses its own civilians as human shields dictate a rethinking of IDF military ethics. "Our traditional sensibilities tell us that it is not right to risk the lives of our soldiers to minimize civilian deaths on the other side," he said. During their trip, the RCA delegation contributed tens of thousands of dollars to soup kitchens and hospitals. The rabbis on the delegation said they planned to go back to the US and raise additional funds for Israelis hurt by the warfare. The RCA's delicate criticism of IDF morality was echoed by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed and Rabbi Tzefania Drori of Kiryat Shmona. But the two rabbis had none of the inhibitions felt by rabbis from the US who, as Diaspora Jews, were uncomfortable criticizing Israel's policies. "Our corrupt military morality, which tells us that our soldiers must endanger their lives to protect enemy civilians, is the reason we lost the war," said Eliyahu. "Anti-Semites demand that we use Christian morality while our enemies act like barbarians," said Drori, accusing the IDF of adopting "Christian morality" as its own. Three weeks ago, Rabbi Dov Lior announced in the name of the Yesha Council of Rabbis that "when our enemies hold a baby in one hand and shoot at us with the other, or when missiles are purposely aimed at civilian populations in the Land of Israel in blatant disregard for moral criteria, we are obligated to act according to Jewish morality, which dictates that 'he who gets up to kill you, get up yourself and kill him first.'" "There are no innocent parties in a time of war," he continued. "Rather, one must battle a bellicose city until it is captured. All types of Christian morality weaken the spirit of our army and our nation and cost us the lives of our soldiers and citizens."

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