soldiers sunset good 298.
(photo credit: IDF)
Two infantry sergeants from the IDF’s Givati infantry brigade face up to a
three-year prison sentence for using a Palestinian boy as a human
On January 15, 2009, in the middle of Operation Cast Lead, the
two soldiers were searching a building in the Gaza City suburb of Tel al-Hawa
while facing gunfire from Hamas militants, when they came across bags and
suitcases suspected of being booby-trapped.
The two soldiers ordered a
boy, who had gathered with family and neighbors in a bomb shelter, to open the
bags. Apparently the two soldiers were motivated by the desire to protect
themselves from a possible explosion.
“The boy, who feared for his fate
and was under duress, wet his pants,” wrote the three-judge military court that
convicted the two IDF soldiers. “The option of using a civilian, especially a
child, was not among the legitimate options at the defendants’ disposal,” the
judges wrote. “Combat is no excuse for applying improper force.”
JUDGES’ ruling is commendable. IDF soldiers are and should be held to the
highest moral standards even when Hamas and other enemies of Israel are not. The
IDF’s scrupulous adherence to war ethics gives Israel the incalculable advantage
of justness of purpose. This is true even when terrorists cynically exploit
Israeli morality to gain the upper hand on the battlefield. Hamas systematically
uses Gaza’s civilian population as human shields and purposefully blurs
distinctions between militants and non-combatants. The bags discovered by the
soldiers could very well have been booby-trapped.
Hamas has no qualms
about killing its own people along with IDF soldiers.
Within this context
the two soldiers’ behavior, forbidden by both international war conventions and
the IDF’s own rules of engagement, can at least be understood, if not condoned,
as a failed attempt to meet the nearly insurmountable challenges of fighting
asymmetric, unconventional warfare in densely populated residential
Judging from recent reports of purported “boredom killings”
carried out by US forces in Afghanistan and documented revenge killings by
allied troops in Iraq, other western armies fare no better, and sometimes much
worse, than the IDF in such combat settings.
And if we are brutally
honest with ourselves – especially those of us with children, relatives or loved
ones serving in IDF combat units – we would have a hard time blaming a soldier,
faced with a life threatening situation, who chooses to endanger the civilian
population of the enemy rather than himself.
In the specific case of the
two Givati soldiers, there were other options besides endangering themselves or
Palestinians – options such as evacuating the entire building or blowing up the
suspicious bags from a distance.
While the two soldiers should be
disciplined, they should not be used as an example “so that others will see and
be instilled with fear” as the IDF prosecutor’s office argued after the
conviction was handed down.
Education, not scare tactics, should be used
with soldiers who are courageous and selfless enough to risk their lives in
combat to protect their country. Nor should the soldiers be obligated to serve a
A suspended sentence that could be enacted in the case
of future infractions is ample enough.
THE CASE of the two Givati
soldiers should be used as an opportunity to restate the IDF’s high ethical
level and its capacity for self-criticism.
In recent years the IDF has
augmented the ranks of the Military Police Investigative Department and has
drafted more civilian attorneys into reserve duty to serve as military
prosecutors. Judicial officers are consulted before and during the planning
stage of counter-insurgency strikes. More emphasis has been placed on war ethics
education, including the inculcation of the Spirit of the IDF [ruah tzahal
among troops, which includes an injunction not “to employ their weapons and
power in order to harm non-combatants.”
There is always room for
improvement. And the handling of the case of the two Givati soldiers underlines
that the IDF is committed to precisely that improvement.