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Extreme Measures

September 16, 2019

by: Jo Sarah Stanford, BFP Staff Writer

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Riots in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority (PA) capital, just north of Jerusalem. Palestinians are throwing rocks and explosives. A 21-year-old Israeli captain and his soldiers must calm the violence. The situation could turn deadly in an instant.

Someone hands a Molotov cocktail to a six-year-old boy.

Despite warnings shouted in Arabic, the boy inches toward the Israeli soldiers. The captain has seconds to act. Under the rules of engagement, he can order his soldier to shoot, but he does not. In his mind it is simply not an option, despite the risk to himself and his men. The boy throws the flaming explosive, but fortunately, no one is injured.

The Spirit of the IDF

Ruach Tzahal: The Spirit of the IDF is the official code of conduct for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), outlining how its soldiers must act—on and off duty. One of its three fundamental values is “Human Dignity,” stating that “The IDF and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status or position.” This document is given to every new IDF recruit, who is expected to study and uphold its principles. Its 10 fundamental values focus heavily on the value of human life—both that of one’s fellow soldiers and that of the enemy.

Purity of arms and the ethics of combat comprise a large part of basic training. Soldiers are given scenarios where they have to make ethical decisions. These include terrorists hiding in hospitals and mosques—both protected as “neutral sites”—to evade capture; the use of children and “pregnant” women to smuggle bombs across checkpoints and civilians acting as spies or lookouts for enemy combatants. Played out in real life, these complex scenarios often require a split-second decision that may not only endanger the lives of innocent civilians, but also have the potential to cause an international incident.

A War of Propaganda

The morality of warfare is a complex and controversial issue for any nation, but for Israel it is infinitely more so. Surrounded by nations and terror organizations who constantly and publically threaten its destruction, the Jewish state must be prepared for battle at any moment. However, they also wage another war on a daily basis: one in which the enemy attempts to paint Israel as the constant aggressor, guilty of war crimes and terrible violence against innocents.

Hamas, the terror organization controlling the Gaza Strip, sends women and children to violent riots along the border to act as human shields. They know the IDF will not shoot for risk of hitting a child. At the same time, the terrorists celebrate if the child is injured or killed—sometimes by their own side—and blame the IDF. The higher the death toll, the greater the international outrage against Israel.

In May 2019, terrorists in Gaza fired nearly 700 rockets on Israeli civilians in just 48 hours. Regardless of the barrage, the major news headline that ran across the world was that a retaliatory Israeli airstrike on Gaza killed a pregnant woman and a 14-month-old baby. Outrage ensued. However, days later, the second largest terror group in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), admitted that the mother and baby were, in fact, killed by a Gazan rocket that misfired. The terror group had been using the family’s home as a launching pad for their strikes on Israeli civilians.

Fighting an Immoral Enemy

As terror groups hide behind human shields, using civilian homes to launch attacks or store dangerous weapons, the IDF has developed a system to warn Gazan civilians of coming airstrikes. Known as “roof-knocking,” an Israeli plane will drop a non-explosive on the roof of a building before a targeted strike, warning its occupants to leave. The IDF has also used pamphlet drops or contacts within Gaza to warn of impending strikes.

Although this also alerts the terrorists, potentially leading to a failed operation or increased risk to Israeli soldiers, the IDF still chooses to warn civilians.

To Save One Life

“If you save one life, it’s as if you saved an entire world,” reads a Jewish tradition from the Talmud (rabbinic commentary on Jewish tradition and the Hebrew Scriptures). It ties closely with the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, meaning “repairing the world.” Following this tradition, the IDF not only defends life, but actively tries to save it.

In its short history, the IDF has embarked on over 29 large-scale humanitarian missions worldwide. They went to Haiti after a major earthquake in 2010, where they treated over 1,100 people, performed 319 surgeries and delivered 16 babies. After a typhoon struck the Philippines in 2013, affecting seven million people, Israel set up a field hospital, sending hundreds of tons of medical and humanitarian supplies. They also sent teams when earthquakes hit Turkey (2011), Nepal (2015) and Mexico (2017).

From 2016–2018, the IDF embarked on Operation Good Neighbor, helping Syrian civilians caught in the crossfire of the civil war. Over the course of two years, 10,000 people were given medical treatment and hundreds of tons of food, clothing and medical supplies were freely provided.

A View of the Future

A YouTube video by Palestinian Media Watch shows a Palestinian boy of about five approaching a group of Israeli soldiers. The father encourages the child to throw rocks while he screams at the soldiers to shoot his son. The boy reaches the soldiers. A soldier holds out his hand, the boy holds out his. They shake.

Here lies the difference between the Israeli and Palestinian youth. The former is taught to value life above all, while the latter is taught to hate. As former Prime Minister Golda Meir said, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

Excerpts from the Fundamental Core Values in the IDF Code of Conduct:

 Human Life

The IDF servicemen and women will act in a judicious and safe manner in all they do, out of recognition of the supreme value of human life.

 Purity of Arms

The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.

 Personal Example

The IDF servicemen and women will comport themselves as required of them, and will demand of themselves as they demand of others, out of recognition of their ability and responsibility within the military and without to serve as a deserving role model.


IDF soldiers will be meticulous in giving only lawful orders, and shall refrain from obeying blatantly illegal orders.

Photo Credit: idf.il

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