Ethics in the Field: Balancing Security and Humanity in the Israeli Defense Forces

An Inside Look at the IDF's Commitment to Ethics and Security
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While the stated mission of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is “to defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state of Israel; to protect the inhabitants of Israel and to combat all forms of terrorism which threaten the daily life,” it values human life and human dignity and only uses force when necessary.

“When we make decisions in the field, we have to follow certain guidelines, explained Bentzi Gruber, IDF Brigadier General (Res.), speaking on the topic “Ethics in the Field” at a Jewish National Fund (JNF) event at Congregation B;nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley. “We set the bar so high. The things you hear (in the media and in countries hostile to Israel), and the things that actually go on are so far from each other.’’

Brigadier General Gruber discussed the challenging issues facing Israeli soldiers in combat when it comes to the values of security, humanity and responsibility. “Ethics in the Field” related the critical daily decisions made by IDF officers, commanders and soldiers to avoid collateral damage. It shattered the myths and presented the facts missing in today’s discussion of the IDF and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by taking an inside look at the IDF’s daily struggle to provide security for Israel, balanced with upholding the most rigorous military code of ethics in the free world — the IDF Code of Ethics.

The code, as explained by Gruber, asks the following questions:

Is force used only to accomplish the mission?

Is force used to target the innocent or neutralize the enemy?

Is a potential combatant innocent or a terrorist?

Is the collateral damage proportional to the immediate threat?

A soldier sometimes has 8 seconds to decide whether to shoot or not to shoot, Gruber said. “We don’t want to hit civilians,” he added. “We have to win the war – every war – and remain human beings.”

When IDF units attack urban areas, they leaflet the area 4 days ahead of time, then phone and text people to tell them to leave. A new procedure is to “knock on the roof” – to see where people are on the roof and shoot elsewhere until people leave. The IDF also uses dogs to detect booby traps from 300 meters away.

In Gaza there are about 30,000 terrorists out of 2 million people. “Those are the enemy,” Gruber said, emphasizing that the IDF works hard to keep from hurting anyone else.

“We do everything to avoid killing civilians,” he concluded. “It is our job to remain as sensitive to the crying of a baby after the war as before.”

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