Is this the world’s most ethical army?

In the last several days the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has published testimony from IDF soldiers who served in the Gaza offensive. The words of the IDF combatants are not only disturbing but point to damning evidence of war crimes that the Israeli establishment has been trying to distance itself from. Further to this, it seems, upon reading some testimonials, that an ugly and deeply entrenched sentiment of racism towards Palestinians is the underlying logic that drives such heinous acts.

Amos Harel reports that a

squad leader . . . told of an incident where the company commander ordered that an elderly Palestinian woman be shot and killed; she was walking on a road about 100 meters from a house the company had commandeered.

The squad leader said he argued with his commander over the permissive rules of engagement that allowed the clearing out of houses by shooting without warning the residents beforehand. After the orders were changed, the squad leader’s soldiers complained that ‘we should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.’

The squad leader said: ‘You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won’t say anything. To write ‘death to the Arabs’ on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It’s what I’ll remember the most.’

These testimonials have already received a fair amount of international attention. You can read further commentary here:

Israeli soldiers admit shooting dead civilians during Gaza war

Israeli soldiers say army rabbis framed

Israeli military to probe Gaza campaign allegations

Did Israeli soldiers kill unarmed civilians?

War crimes in Gaza: Israel told to investigate

Israel’s dirty secrets in Gaza

23 Responses to Is this the world’s most ethical army?

  1. llwynn says:

    And of course see this Haaretz article describing the t-shirts ordered by IDF platoons:
    One, ordered by the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion, portrays a pregnant Arab woman in a gun’s crosshairs, with the English slogan below, “1 shot 2 kills.” Others reference the killing of small children. What it points to is a military culture of endemic racism and disrespect for life.

  2. raffegold says:


    Yes the IDF is the world’s most ethical army. No other nation has attempted to avoid collateral damage and civilian deaths. Was the war fought perfectly? Of course not. Were there mistakes and civilian deaths? Of course and any attempts to deny or gloss over those would be criminal.

    It’s very easy to condemn soldiers months after they return home however to be in a war zone is a very different situation. You are under constant stress, paranoid and in many cases you overreact to a situation. This is not confined to Israel but is a trait of every soldier in the world.

    Did soldiers kill civilians? Of course. Was it murder or an accident? That will be decided by a subsequent investigation by the military police.

    Much of what the world is doing now is looking at Israel’s actions with a magnifying glass. That’s a good thing; criticism and debate can only improve the IDF. However this entire military action must be put into context. The crimes of the Hamas government must be considered when assigning blame; this includes the use of human shields which cynically raises the death toll.

    Before you reply to this post please do some research on how different army’s respond to urban warfare. I believe that Israel’s use of leaflet drops and telephone calls to civilians show that it tried to avoid civilian casualties which compared to Hamas, and their deliberate missile attacks against Israeli towns and suicide bombings, who dance and sing at the deaths of Israeli’s.


    Those shirts are disgusting and any soldier seen wearing, producing or promoting them should be disciplined.

  3. llwynn says:

    Raffe, I struggle to understand on what basis you continue to claim that the IDF is the worlds “most ethical army” — particularly when you make spurious comparisons that are not backed up by any evidence. Most armies attempt to reduce civilian casualties. It is part of the Geneva Convention. Thus the claim that “No other nation has attempted to avoid collateral damage and civilian deaths” is patently absurd. Yet I believe the point that Jumana was making is that this “avoidance” of civilian deaths operates alongside grotesque violence (aka “kinetic operations” as the U.S. military calls deadly violence) and “collateral damage.” What is this slipperiness that allows a language of intent to justify carnage and call it ethical? I am not God nor a psychologist so perhaps I cannot judge anyone’s intent. What I can do is judge outcomes, and on those measures, the IDF clearly operates with disregard for Palestinian life.

    And as long as you are urging a comparison with other armies, I might point out that the U.S., for example, has a whole charade of using the “Human Terrain System” (anthropologists and other social scientists deployed with troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan) to identify the needs and culture of local populations, with the aim of reducing “kinetic operations” and hence reducing casualties on both sides. They flaunt the Human Terrain System as part of their PR campaign in the U.S., dedicated to showing just how ethical and peace-loving the U.S. Army is. They produce brochure after brochure that show soldiers interacting cheerfully with local populations and bringing in humanitarian supplies. Yet these soldiers also kill, and they kill in large quantities. The U.S. persists in using unmanned jets to bomb in the mountains Afghanistan and Pakistan and has repeatedly hit wedding parties, killing scores of civilians. The number of Iraqis who have died as a result of the U.S. invasion is now estimated at over one million, three hundred thousand. 1,320,110. These arguments about “winning the hearts and minds” and about ethical conduct in war and about good intentions in avoiding civilian casualties should not distract our attention away from massacre. But they do.

    Perhaps because I am American, I am wholly willing to believe in the good intentions of American soldiers. Yes, I believe that they all want to end the war and only the psychopaths amongst the soldiers desires killing. Yes, the soldiers return from battle with terrible wounds, physical and mental. Yes, as in Vietnam, many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I recognize all of that and my heart goes out to those soldiers and their families who are suffering. My heart also goes out to those Iraqis and Afghanis who have lost loved ones in war, who have been terrorized by the occupying army, who are maimed, physically and mentally. I have no doubt that Israeli soldiers are just as human and just as traumatized.

    So in talking about the carnage caused by the U.S. imperialism in its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, or in talking about the grim testimonials of returning IDF forces, I do not think that Jumana is condemning individual Israeli soldiers. I think she’s giving space for them to voice their experiences of the brutality of war, experiences which traumatize Israelis just as they kill Palestinians, and she is arguing that there is nothing ethical about a military occupation that creates structures that allow this kind of violence to occur. It destroys lives and it also destroys souls.

    If you want to talk about ethical armies, let’s talk about the Swiss army. Like Israel, it has mandatory enlistment for male citizens. (Unlike Israel, it is sexist in only requiring men to serve and not women.) Yet Switzerland refuses to participate in the military occupation of other countries. I’m not exactly sure how you are defining ethical, but I think that refusing to engage in combat and to only deploy as part of peacekeeping operations makes the Swiss Army far more “ethical” than the Israeli or U.S. armies which occupy foreign countries and massacre their populations.

  4. raffegold says:


    Lets take a look at some of the nations who have signed on to the Fourth Geneva Convention:

    Syria: Well looking at their military record, most famously in Hama where they killed upwards of 25,000 civilians over the course of a month, we can see that they obviously broke the rules.

    Russia: Well they signed it in 1949 so they should be up to date with the requirements….oh wait…i’m pretty sure they killed more than 1500 civilians during their invasion of South Osettia not to mention their slaughter of more than a million Afghani civilians during their invasion in the 1980s.

    Serbia: Hundreds of thousands of dead civilians during their invasion of Bosnia

    I can continue with a range of countries on that list. Just because they have signed a document does not mean that they will try to reduce causalities. The Fourth Geneva Convention is an outstanding document but it needs to be revised. It does not take into account terrorist organisations hiding behind human shields.

    Whether or not you agree with the occupation (I don’t) you can’t possibly compare the IDF to the Swiss Army. Attempting to compare the threats that both countries face is farcical. Israel has been attacked, and almost destroyed, on several occasions over the last sixty years, has faced terrorist homicide bombers detonating themselves in cafes and dance clubs and not to mention the upcoming existential threat from an Iranian nuclear weapon.

    The last time the Swiss faced an army that could possibly do them any kind of damage, they put down their weapons, took the Nazi’s gold and sent their Jews to the gas chambers. Their have been referendums to abolish the army in Switzerland…all well and good for the Swiss but if the IDF was disbanded there would be Israeli blood running through the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

    Find an army that has faced COMPARABLE threats including having to deploy troops to a heavily urban neighbourhood and then we’ll see who’s more ethical!

  5. mustafa ramadan says:

    Wed 25-3-09
    Israel on Another Planet

    Raffe/Raffegold “the greatest” hasn’t changed and won’t change. He insists on producing the very same ill reasoning and the very same philosophizing and rationalization of the crimes of the IOF !!!
    As Lisa said, what counts is the outcome of the alien savage army occupation, occupation and occupation of another weak people who the superpowers shamelessly plotted against and are still deceiving and lying to.
    Sixty years of bloodshed and atrocities in Palestine is enough. Humanity is tired and has been suffering from the Zionist state for decades.
    Since the Israelis consider themselves different from all other nations on earth, why don’t they make a new state on another planet and rid us of this chronic headache ??? !!!

  6. Rosalyn says:

    For those of us who actually care to think critically and refuse to succumb to the mantra “Israel has the world’s most moral army” we can read these two excellent articles by Levy and Hass. Even in Israel, Raffe, these issues are being discussed but lets shut down the debate outside the state’s contours. We wouldn’t want the Israel’s allies to know the lies it spreads now would we? So while the powers that be are busy revising the Geneva Convention to suit Israel’s horrible circumstances lets all read the mounting evidence against the IDF and its probable war crimes in Gaza.

    Gideon Levy “IDF ceased long ago being ‘most moral army in the world’ ”
    ‘What shock, what consternation. Haaretz revealed grave accounts by officers and soldiers describing the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians during the war in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman was quick to respond that the IDF had no prior or supporting information about the events in question, the defense minister was quick to respond that “the IDF is the most moral army in the world,” and the military advocate general said the IDF would investigate.

    All these propagandistic and ridiculous responses are meant not only to deceive the public, but also to offer shameless lies. The IDF knew very well what its soldiers did in Gaza. It has long ceased to be the most moral army in the world. Far from it – it will not seriously investigate anything.

    The testimonies from the graduates of the Oranim pre-military course were a bolt from the blue – accounts of soldiers butchering a woman and two of her children, shooting and killing an elderly Palestinian woman, how they felt when they murdered in cold blood, how they destroyed property and how there was not even fighting in this war that was not a war.’


    Amira Hass “Time to believe Gaza war crimes allegations”
    ‘Ashkenazi [the Israeli Chief of Staff] reacted like most Israelis [when he heard IDF soldiers’ testimonies] – as though the reports, including those in Haaretz and Maariv, were the first about the Gaza offensive that were issued by someone other than the military spokesman or the military reporters, who rely on him for their information. But ample information was available from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, based on statements collected from hundreds of people in the Gaza Strip in January and February.’

  7. raffegold says:


    I’d love to know how i’m ‘shutting down debate’ by presenting an alternate view. If anything i’m increasing the debate.

  8. Frederick says:

    Interesting that Raffegold keeps mentioning human shields. Maybe he’s thinking of stories like this:

  9. Peter H says:

    No s**t Israel is more moral than Serbia or Syria, Raffegold. That’s a pretty low moral bar to set. A more relevant comparison would be to compare the IDF to the British in Northern Ireland or to United States in Iraq or Afghanistan.

  10. john says:

    I wonder if this blog will ever acknowledge that there should be a full investigation before we should come to any conclusions.

    Interestingly, there is little said when Palestinians murder Palestinians such as the recent violence between Hamas and alleged “Jewish pig collaborators”.

    Furthermore, I’d love to see something said about the recent news that Israel destroyed a weapons convoy intended for Hamas from Iran, coming through SUDAN.

  11. john says:

    The authors of this blog, particularly jbayeh, should look at the link I posted above.

    This illustrates why it is important to know FACTS before coming to conclusions. Not doing so would lead to an ACADEMIC FAIL!

  12. jbayeh says:

    Let it go down on record that ‘jbayeh’ has indeed looked at much information on on the actions of the IDF in Gaza. As the war in Gaza is relevantly recent, the number of media reports continue to grow. I, of course, do not see/read EVERYTHING as that would be virtually impossible. However, I had seen the article you posted John before you alerted the board to it. So while I don’t read everything, I do strive to get a good sample of the diverse range of literature or articles being disseminated.

    I think my original post and subsequent comments were made in a spirit of the need for investigations into these matters rather than simply relying on the cliché “Israel’s army is world’s most ethical or moral”.

    John, the article you have posted hardly proves anything vis-à-vis the nature of the IDF’s conduct in Gaza. On its own the article does not reduce the need for an in-depth inquiry.

  13. mustafa ramadan says:


    Murderers of People are Murderers of Truth

    So, all the foreign reports on IOF’s atrocities in Gaza are lies or allegations. The UN Secretary General is a liar and the free Jews are liars. The only truthful party is the top bloody Israeli military commanders and the other blind Zionist propagandists. Are we in the 21st century or in the stone age ???!!!


  14. raffegold says:

    “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” – Winston Churchill

    It appears that after investigation the Gaza testimonies were based on hearsay and rumour.

  15. llwynn says:

    Raffe, that link you provided just returns the result “Content Server error” when I go to it. Want to check again and repost?

  16. raffegold says:


    It seems to work fine for me.

    Here’s the article:

    IDF: Case closed on Gaza testimonies

    Judge Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit exonerated the IDF on Monday and closed a Military Police investigation into accounts of alleged serious human rights violations during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.

    Mandelblit launched the investigation last week after “testimonies” from soldiers, leaked to the media by head of the Rabin Pre-Military Academy, Danny Zamir, claimed that soldiers had deliberately shot and killed innocent Palestinians during the operation.

    On Monday, the IDF said that the so-called testimonies offered at an academy conference were rumors and had been deliberately exaggerated to make a point to the participants at the conference.

    The “testimonies” were reported widely in the international media – appearing, for example, on the front page of The New York Times.

    In particular, the results of the investigation referred to a testimony from a soldier named Aviv, who claimed to have known of a soldier who had been given orders to fire at an elderly Palestinian woman. During his interrogation, the IDF said, Aviv admitted he had never witnessed such an incident and that he’d based his statement on a rumor he had heard.

    In an unrelated investigation, it was found that in a similar incident, a woman suspected of being a suicide bomber approached IDF troops, who opened fired at her after repeatedly trying to stop her from advancing.

    Aviv admitted that he had not witnessed additional incidents he had described during the conference.

    A claim made by a different soldier, Ram, who had supposedly been ordered to open fire at a woman and two children, was also found by the probe to be false.

    After checking the claim, it was found that IDF troops had opened fire in a different direction, toward two suspicious men who were unrelated to the civilians in question.

    The army also stressed that soldiers at the academy conference admitted to basing their claims relating to the use of phosphorous munitions during the operation on what they had heard in the media, and not from personal experience or knowledge.

    Mandelblit said it was “unfortunate” that none of the speakers at the conference had been careful to be accurate in their claims.

    “It seems that it will be difficult to evaluate the damage done to the image and morals of the IDF and its soldiers who participated in Operation Cast Lead,” he concluded.

    Israeli human rights organizations protested the closure of the probe.

    In a statement, groups including B’tselem, Adalah, Yesh Din and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said, “The speedy closing of the investigation immediately raises suspicions that the very opening of the investigation was merely the army’s attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity during Operation Cast Lead.”

    The groups said that the investigation ignored evidence and failed to recognize the illegal nature of some of the orders given during the operation.

    They called on the attorney-general to allow for an independent non-partisan investigative body to be established to examine IDF activity in Gaza during the offensive.

  17. Rosalyn says:
    IDF ends Gaza probe, says misconduct claims are ‘rumors’
    by Amos Harel and Anshel Pfeffer
    ” . . . Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Physicians for Human Rights and others issued a statement Monday saying ‘the speedy closing of the investigation immediately raises suspicions that [it] was merely the army’s attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity…’

    The groups said the allegations should be investigated by a non-partisan body.”

    Gaza probe / Either troops are liars, or the IDF is pure as snow
    By Amos Harel
    “The investigation is based solely on one side of the equation – the Israeli side. An Associated Press reporter who was in Gaza last week interviewed Palestinians about the incidents in question. Their recollections to some extent corroborate the descriptions of the alleged shootings as initially recalled by the soldiers.”

  18. llwynn says:

    and, Rosalyn, you don’t even have to go to Haaretz to reach that conclusion — that’s how the Jerusalem Post article ends as well:

    ‘In a statement, groups including B’tselem, Adalah, Yesh Din and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said, “The speedy closing of the investigation immediately raises suspicions that the very opening of the investigation was merely the army’s attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity during Operation Cast Lead.”

    ‘The groups said that the investigation ignored evidence and failed to recognize the illegal nature of some of the orders given during the operation.

    ‘They called on the attorney-general to allow for an independent non-partisan investigative body to be established to examine IDF activity in Gaza during the offensive. ‘

  19. llwynn says:

    Oh I’d like to note also that the investigation was completed in record time, hardly the hallmark of a proper investigation.

  20. raffegold says:

    The investigations were opened to probe those complaints brought about by the leaked soldier’s testimony. If the majority of testimonies were based on hearsay and rumour then there’s little to investigate. The fact that this investigation is closed does not mean that the IDF’s investigation into the entire conflict is finished. We’ll wait a few years for that. Remember that the Winograd Report took almost 2 years till it was completed.

    If Palestinians want to bring a suit against the IDF then they are welcome to do so in front of the Israeli Supreme Court. In many cases the Court finds in favour of the Palestinians and against the IDF. Does anyone know if Israeli’s who live in Sderot who have been the victims of thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets over the past 8 years can bring a suit against Hamas?

  21. Belinda says:

    I’m not quite sure how a website that claims honest reporting, and in fact goes so far as to say that it’s reason for existence is Anti-Israeli bias, then proceeds to use a Zionist blog as a source…could be called FACTS, John.

    Presenting a different bias does not lead to a conclusion that concerns itself with facts. It’s simply another side of the argument…i didn’t know people posting on this blog were being assessed, but that’s just as likely an academic fail.

    I’m in agreement with the other voices of reason on this thread, way too speedy an “investigation” to warrant truth.

    What is perhaps highly more likely is that pressure was delicately applied to those soldiers of the IDF who made the courageous decision to reverse the cycle of evil, and speak out. And then of course, they stopped speaking. Or they are liars? Whatever the conclusion, it begs the question of some serious discord in the ranks of the IDF, and that in itself does not bode well for any army that markets itself as a polished, humane messenger of the “democratic ideal”.

    What is interesting however, is that the Palestinian experience and recollection of the Gaza massacre has not changed.

  22. raffegold says:

    In todays Jerusalem Post appeared an op-ed by Danny Zamir, the person who interviewed the soldiers who have been reported about in the world’s press. He believes that there is no ‘entrenched racism in the IDF, it is not an army that commits war crimes, there is no decline in the morals of the IDF and that Cast Lead was a justified operation.


    Personal code of IDF soldier: ‘May our camp be pure’

    A number of articles published recently in The New York Times quoted or were based on words spoken by myself and by graduates of the pre-army leadership development program which I head (the “Rabin Mechina”) – graduates who participated as combat soldiers in Operation Cast Lead and who met recently to process personal experiences from the battlefield.

    Both explicitly and by insinuation, the articles claim a decline in the IDF’s commitment to its moral code of conduct in combat, and moreover, that this decline stems from a specific increase in the prominence of religious soldiers and commanders in the IDF in general, and from the strengthening of the position of IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky in particular.

    It was as if the media were altogether so eager to find reason to criticize the IDF that they pounced on one discussion by nine soldiers who met after returning from the battlefield to share their experiences and subjective feelings with each other, using that one episode to draw conclusions that felt more like an indictment. Dogma replaced balance and led to a dangerous misunderstanding of the depth and complexity of Israeli reality. The individual accounts were never intended to serve as a basis for broad generalizations and summary conclusions by the media; they were published internally, intended for program graduates and their parents as a tool to be used in the process of educating and guiding the next generation.

    I chose as well to submit the soldiers’ accounts to the highest levels of the IDF, directly to the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, out of my deep faith in the solid moral foundations of IDF policy and in complete confidence that the accounts would receive serious and thorough attention, including both investigation and corrective measures, if and when necessary. This faith was and is based on my personal experience of more than two decades – as a combat solider, a major in the IDF and as mentor for hundreds of the Rabin Mechina’s graduates who are soldiers serving in combat units (active and reserve).

    There are, to be sure, important political differences between myself as a social-democratic Zionist and Zionists of other political opinions. But there exists among us a very broad consensus regarding the moral character of combat – a moral character to which the IDF is committed and educates its soldiers, a character positively influenced by religious mechinot and by the special personal qualities of my colleague Rabbi Ronsky.

    THE GUIDING principle that directs IDF combat soldiers, both in their planning and conduct in combat, encompasses a balance between two needs: to defend soldiers’ lives and to minimize harm to the civilians behind whom terrorists try to hide. This is expressed in the tension between the necessity of opening fire when the soldiers’ security and battle conditions require, even when there’s a danger to civilians (providing advance warning to the extent possible), and the absolute obligation to hold fire and to act with due compassion toward civilians when it appears that they have no evil intent. In addition, basic respect toward civilians’ belongings and their religious and spiritual property is part of this moral code.

    These guidelines and the obligation to uphold them are an inseparable part of the Jewish-Zionist world of IDF soldiers, and deeply anchored in generations of Jewish heritage, particularly in the doctrine of military conduct renewed by the early socialist-Zionists a century ago. They called this principle by a name that’s unlikely to have been given by any other nationalist movement fighting for its independence: “Purity of Arms” – that is, preventing harm to those not involved in or supporting the combat.

    This moral commandment remains a central motto of the IDF; it is the complete opposite of the code of conduct of Islamist terror organizations such as Hamas, whose judgment on every Israeli and Jew is death. “Purity of arms” is not part of their world, not even in theory.

    The outsider may not understand this, but we – the Jews of the State of Israel – live this every day, every hour.

    In order to appreciate this moral code, one must note the context in which it operates. The State of Israel is under a prolonged attack by the Hamas movement – a fundamentalist Islamic terror movement, based on a racist and ultra-nationalist ideology that seeks the killing of Jews for being Jews and the actual elimination of the State of Israel as its declared aspiration, and formally part of its foundation platform. And bear in mind that Hamas is not a marginal extremist underground, but a movement freely chosen by the Palestinians to head their elected government.

    Our war against an unrestrained terror organization that uses civilian populations as human shields in various ways, such as hospitals and masquerading as women and children, presents the IDF – an army obligated to an ethical code of combat based on humanism and international law – with almost impossible complexities. The nature of combat in complex conditions (such as in Gaza) brings with it difficulties and failures. The greatness of an army fighting under such conditions lies in its aspiring to “zero errors” and in its openness to examining its failures – finding them and fixing them.

    IF IT’S possible to learn something from the real Israel – and not that which the media (including Israeli media) makes such efforts to portray – it would be from the uproar of emotions and the frank discussions that have taken place within Israeli society in the wake of the soldiers’ accounts. It is out of their commitment to the moral code that the soldiers spoke and their accounts were submitted; purity of arms requires continuous examination of our actions and intentions.

    “May our camp be pure.” This is the watchword borne by my soldiers in the IDF, not only because this is how they’ve been educated by their commanders and their officers, but because this is the essence of their belief and their national heritage, a belief and heritage shared by and uniting us all: secular and religious, right and left, in the IDF and outside it. It is a source of pride and of confidence in our way, even in times of venomous attacks from every quarter – such as transforming a sensitive, personal discussion among combat soldiers back from the battlefield to mendacious claims of policies that involve so-called war crimes.

    And so may it be.

    Atty. Danny Zamir (Major, IDF reserves) Director, Yitzhak Rabin Pre-army Leadership Development Program.

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