Is the Israel Defense Forces a Moral Army?

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) website describes its official doctrine of ethics, “The Spirit of the IDF,” as the army’s moral compass, which includes their three core values:

  • The defense of the state, its citizens, and residents;
  • Patriotism and loyalty to the state;
  • And human dignity regardless of race, faith, nationality, gender, or status.

While the Israel Defense Force’s stated ethos implies that it is a moral army, their actions offer contradictory evidence. The International Criminal Court has found that Israel commits war crimes against civilians using the power of its army. Haaretz and other reputable news sources have reported that the IDF does not intervene and even destroys evidence when Israeli settlers attack Palestinian civilians.

The following two cases of violence against civilians highlight how the IDF’s actions contradict its doctrine of ethics.

IDF Soldiers Destroy Video Evidence of Execution

In April 2019, 23-year-old Palestinian Muhammad ‘Abd Al Fatah stoned several Israeli-registered cars. Jewish settler Yehoshua Sherman fired his gun at ‘Abd Al Fatah from his vehicle. When unarmed ‘Abd Al Fatah took cover, Sherman and another Israeli moved closer to him and continued firing, first wounding him and then killing him as he lay on the ground bleeding.

Mondoweiss reported that IDF soldiers reacted to this murder by raiding two nearby businesses, confiscating their security cameras, and deleting footage of the crime. Meanwhile, the Israeli media falsely reported the murder as self-defense against a knife attack.

“The Spirit of the IDF” claims to value human dignity regardless of nationality or religion. However, a moral army would have intervened by breaking up the fighting and preserving human life instead of covering up an execution.

Children Hurt When Soldiers Hide Explosives

In August of 2020, on a Thursday afternoon, a seven-year-old boy was walking in the village with his family when he spotted an orange box covered in wires. “I wanted to pick it up and play with it,” he later told reporters. His relative picked up the box and shook it to inspect it, and the box exploded, wounding his face and hand.

Haaretz reported that the young Palestinian child had found one of many boxes of explosives and stun grenades planted by the IDF on open lands and hidden under stones, cloths, and weapons crates. The IDF claims it planted these boxes as a deterrence in areas “in which violent riots have regularly occurred for years.”

The boy and his family found three of these boxes along his village road. A relative said, “People live there, and children wander around. It’s lucky nothing worse happened.” The IDF planted explosives in a residential area to deter protests, without consideration for the civilians who would be injured.

Israel Defense Forces: A Moral Army or an Armed Gang?

B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, commented on the IDF planting explosives: “This is how armed gangs operate, not a regular army. But the action reflects the spirit of the army’s commanders and the government, both of which send the message that Palestinian lives and limbs are fair game.”

Human rights organization Amnesty International made a public statement in May 2022 which declared that “Israeli authorities must end unlawful killings, willful injury, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other ill-treatment, persecution and collective punishment against Palestinians.”

Do these actions support an ethics of “universal moral values”?

Israeli Defense Forces

Israeli Veterans Break the Silence

Israeli soldiers are speaking out against the injustice military policies and actions they witnessed and enforced, including abuse toward Palestinians and the looting and destruction of property. Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran soldiers who served in the Israeli military, have collected the testimonies of over 1,000 soldiers since 2004 who served in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem with the intention of exposing the public to the grim daily realities of the occupation. 

One testimony from a Major in the Artillery Corps around 2015 referenced the way the Israeli educational system teaches students that Palestinians are enemies and should be feared. The soldier says: “I think that the argument about the most moral army in the world is a fig leaf, hiding what’s really happening.”

For example, the soldier describes the way a soldier will receive more punishment for eating lunch without notifying the army than a soldier who beats a Palestinian at a check point.

Can You Be the Moral Soldier?

Joel Carmel was raised in London, but his passion for defending Israel led him to join the IDF at 18 and become second lieutenant. He described growing up in a Zionist community that believed everyone was against the Jewish people of Israel, and it was his duty to defend Israel at all costs.

“I wanted to be the moral soldier. I believed I could be that soldier who gives the Palestinians good service — service with a smile,” he said. “Later I realized you could be as smiley as you like. You could give Palestinian children sweets, but ultimately, you control their lives with military power.”

His experience in the IDF exposed him to the daily abuses toward Palestinians, from the trampling of sacred holy sites to the firing of rubber bullets and live ammunition at unarmed civilians. Carmel added: “We are punishing people who haven’t done anything. Yes, there is terror, and some people are very threatening to us. But the occupation is a system of constant violence.”

A Response to “The Most Moral Army”

In 2018, the former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post Jeff Barak published a response to the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s statement that the IDF is “the most moral army in the world” calling for IDF sympathizers to get a reality check.

“Why is ‘the most moral army in the world’ automatically resorting to the use of live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators to quell such protests?” he asked, referencing the hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators wounded by live fire over less than one month. “We should show the maturity to honestly examine ourselves in the mirror.”

Do you think the “World’s Most Moral Army” acts immorally?

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