IDF Moral Code Explains Those Photos of Dead Civilians

IDF soldiers are given strict orders in terms of combat procedures as per IDF moral code; the IDF tells them when it is appropriate risk their lives, to save others, and to shoot. The details are numerous, but the basic … Read More

By / January 30, 2009

IDF soldiers are given strict orders in terms of combat procedures as per IDF moral code; the IDF tells them when it is appropriate risk their lives, to save others, and to shoot. The details are numerous, but the basic outline is as follows: IDF soldiers have three priorities in combat, and they are listed here in order of priority (all quotes in italics are taken directly from the IDF Moral Code): 1. Accomplish the mission "The IDF soldiers view their service in the IDF as a mission; They will be ready to give their all in order to defend the state, its citizens and residents." 2. Protect oneself and comrades "The IDF servicemen and women will act out of fraternity and devotion to their comrades, and will always go to their assistance when they need their help or depend on them, despite any danger or difficulty, even to the point of risking their lives." "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. During combat they will endanger themselves and their comrades only to the extent required to carry out their mission." 3. Avoid collateral damage (damage to civilians and their property) "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."
Among other things, implicit in the IDF moral code is the fact that soldiers risk their own lives in two cases: in order to accomplish a mission and in order to save the lives of their comrades. Individual soldiers are not permitted to risk their own lives in order to avoid collateral damage or to save civilians, and there is nothing peculiar or immoral about this in terms of military protocol. The United States Army, along with most standing armies, have the same principle. The IDF warns civilians about incursions and goes through leaps and bounds to plan missions, on a strategic level, that are designed to keep civilians in mind. During Operation Cast Lead, the IDF even went as far as to reroute missiles already on their way to targets in Gaza, due to the fact that too many civilians ‘gathered’ (they were most likely being used as human shields by Hamas) near the original targets. Individual soldiers, however, must first accomplish their missions and protect themselves and their comrades– these are the rules of war, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a military that does not follow the same protocol. Naturally, in this case, there are civilian casualties. Even though the IDF’s moral code is listed on its official website and is written in various publications for all to see, the IDF’s PR front doesn’t exactly advertise the fact that combat soldiers have a defined list of priorities that does not call for sparing the lives of civilians in all cases. Given the indisputable fact that this moral code is lawful, it should be advertised. During Operation Cast Lead, those speaking for the IDF repeatedly said that the IDF does ‘everything that it can’ to prevent civilian casualties. This is overwhelmingly true when it comes to senior officials planning missions, but the IDF failed to make it clear that there are situations in which it views civilian deaths as unfortunate, but justified. The obvious example is one in which civilians are killed because they were used as human shields by Hamas, who wouldn’t allow them to vacate buildings, homes, schools, and other areas that Hamas used as military targets, despite having been warned before attacks by the IDF; the IDF considers these deaths to have been caused by Hamas, and rightfully so. The other example of civilian deaths that the IDF considers within the bounds of morality and legality is less obvious, and those are the deaths that happen due to a soldier’s adherence to the IDF moral code and its list of priorities. Why should the IDF make this clear in the press? The fact that IDF Moral Code is not made clear worldwide is a major part of the reason that much of the media call the IDF a bunch of liars, though not always in so many words. We say that we do everything possible to avoid civilian deaths, and next to these quotes from senior military officials, you’ll find photos of dead Palestinian civilians. The truth is that, like any other military at war, we have a list of priorities. Contrary to popular belief, the principle of proportionality within the realm of international law does not relate to the number of civilians that are killed during war. Rather, it demands that the civilian casualties and property damage must be in proportion to the significance of the military target as it directly relates to the completion of military objectives. If the IDF kills 15 civilians when bombing a house that a Hamas operative once visited for a cup of tea, that is disproportionate. If , during a war whose objective is to decrease the ability for Hamas to carry out attacks against Israel, 15 civilians are killed when the IAF bombs the Hamas Government Complex, from which the planning of terror attacks occurs, this is not disproportionate. In addition, a soldier’s life comes before a civilian in enemy territory, and even those that ideologically massacre principles of war in the name of ‘international law’ specifically when talking about the IDF, can’t argue that this principle is illegal. As such, it would be to the IDF’s benefit if it were forthcoming about its moral code. Those tragic photographs of dead civilians may be tragic, but why make it easy for the media to call us liars? Our moral code doesn’t state that we protect civilians in all cases, and we need to explain that to the world. Israel would have much less of an image problem if its PR front had the strength of the IDF’s convictions.

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