I was far too old to join the army when I made aliyah some 13 years ago, but this does not lessen the profound respect and enthusiasm I have for this principled army. In my own little way I serve Israel by serving WIZO (as all WIZO chaverot do), so when I visit WIZO day care centres and see the adorable toddlers at play, I always remember that one day these wide-eyed innocent cherubs will be drafted into the IDF (Israel Defense Force) and their mothers will weep in pride and trepidation as they become Israeli soldiers, charged with the responsibility of defending the country.
While the fundamental goal of the IDF is ‘to defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state of Israel. To protect the inhabitants of Israel and to combat terrorism which threaten the daily life,’ there are certain humanitarian preconditions written into its code of conduct. Whilst IDF soldiers have a responsibility to fight, to dedicate all their strength and even sacrifice their lives in the defense of the State, they must operate according to the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Credibility, personal example, respect for human life, purity of arms, professionalism, discipline, comradeship and a sense of mission all form the basis of the ‘Spirit of the IDF’.
This is the spirit that demands that they carry out their duties with initiative, involvement and diligence within the framework of their authority. As role models, they will demand of themselves as they demand of others. They may 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.
The IDF, called ‘the most moral army in the world’ by British Army Colonel Richard Kemp, is an army dedicated to humanitarian principles in tandem with the State of Israel. Unfortunately, on the world’s media stage, the IDF is often portrayed as a Goliath, a guerilla force, even, heaven forbid, a terrorist regime. Nothing could be further than the truth. The IDF is Israel’s pride. Its code of ethics, known as the ‘Spirit of the IDF’ encompasses democratic principles, universal moral values and the dignity of human life totally in sync with Jewish values. Furthermore, military action can be taken only against military targets; the use of force must be proportional.
Soldiers may only use weaponry they were issued by the IDF. Anyone who surrenders cannot be attacked. Only those who are properly trained can interrogate prisoners. Soldiers must accord dignity and respect to the Palestinian population and those arrested. Soldiers must give appropriate medical care, when conditions allow, to themselves and to enemies. Pillaging is absolutely and totally illegal. Soldiers must show proper respect for religious and cultural sites and artifacts and soldiers must protect international aid workers, including their property and vehicles and soldiers must report all violations of this code. The IDF is an army that marches on these principles and woe betide any soldier who does not adhere. Of course, individuals make mistakes with tragic consequences.
For anyone, let alone teenagers at the tender age of 18, it’s a heavy burden to bear but conscription in Israel is compulsory and totally necessary, given the volatility of the region, the sensitivity of the situation and the cunning of an enemy that hides behind its own children. As Golda Meir said, “When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our children, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”
I get upset, no – I get angry, when I see the IDF portrayed as the aggressor. I know it not to be true. The reality is that Israel’s children have the unenviable task of defending me and mine, you and yours – and all of Israel. The Jewish State, that sits so precariously in the centre of a geographical mine field, cannot afford to lose one battle, cannot afford to lose one soldier and its heart breaks at the collateral damage of any life lost, Muslim, Jewish, black or white.
Just like every mother in Israel whose child dons the uniform, picks up his kitbag and goes off to the army base, I see that the ‘tough guy in khaki’ is just the little toddler who clung to the nursery nurse on his first day at a WIZO day care centre not so many years ago. My heart, and I know yours too, goes with him on his mission. God bless the IDF.