Last night I led a packed session at Limmud Oz in Sydney on the subject of the morality and ethics of the IDF. As I had been invited to Australia to lead Israel and Zionism education workshops in the day schools and the community at this time, I was asked by the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) and Limmud Oz to be a featured presenter (from Israel) and lead some sessions at the Limmud Oz conference.
The conference started after Shabbat as many Sydneysiders from across the religious spectrum gathered for a rousing spiritual Havdalah celebration. There was an abundance of music, food, singing and dancing. Jews from all the denominations participated. In the words of the Havdalah ceremony: “The Jews had light and joy.” This in essence is what Limmud is about. To remind us Jews what we have in common: Our love of Israel, our community and our traditions. If only we could spread the spirit of this magic conference throughout the Jewish world we might be that much closer to full redemption.
My session on the morality and ethics of the IDF was on the one institution in the Jewish state that unifies all Zionists. Once one dons the IDF uniform, it no longer matters if one is a veteran Israeli or a “Lone Soldier” from abroad volunteering, or secular or religious, or left-wing or right-wing, or rich or poor, all that matters is that one is volunteering the best years of ones’ life in a defense force of a liberal democracy to ensure that the hope (Hatikvah) of two thousand years to,”be a free people in our land” remains a reality. That is why it is so painful when the NGO “Breaking the Silence” (BTS), who visited Australia last year, spread their malicious lies and distort and misrepresent the reality of one of the most ethical and moral armies in the world.
My session was to aimed to counter the lies of BTS. I started with my own story. I served in Lebanon, in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria. I was a soldier in a front line combat unit. I served for many years in miluim (reserve duty). I went through rigorous training and took many courses in the army. I participated in numerous military operations in all areas of our state and beyond her borders, and I have to declare that I never received an “illegal order.” I never took part in any activity that deliberately harmed innocent civilians. Every briefing I participated in before going out on a mission, no matter how small or large, stressed the importance of guarding the values of the IDF. I am extremely proud of my own service and of all those who served with me. I was privileged to be with the best of the best of the people of Israel.
I am proud of our state; of its open democracy. I think that there is a way and space to speak and have an opinion on what happens in the state and in the IDF. The way is not through lies or financial support of foreign countries and organisations and dragging the name of the State of Israel, its army and its citizens through the mud. There is room to criticise the IDF, but the criticism should be made fairly and honestly. Namely, to provide all known information and sources to the IDF’s investigative bodies, who do their job, honestly and faithfully, of investigating every case that oversteps the boundaries of the commands and spirit of the IDF. There were parents in my session at Limmud Oz whose children serve in the IDF legal corps who write these laws.
I explained that BTS, which receives financial support from international organisations, some of whom openly deny Israel’s right to exist, does not work that way. A large part of its claims are anonymous, with no identifying information, nor are they delivered to the IDF’s investigative bodies, rather transferred directly to international bodies hostile to Israel and the IDF. The organisation does not cooperate in investigating its claims, preferring to spread these malicious stories unchecked abroad.
I screened clips from the Jerusalem U film “Beneath the Helmet” introducing the audience to some of the young men and women of the IDF, I also showed a clip of Colonel Richard Kemp, CBE, a preeminent British military expert, who was the Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan who noted that:
The Israeli army have taken greater steps then any other army in the history of warfare to minimise the harm to innocent civilians in a combat zone.
The conclusion of the session emphasised that the reality of the IDF is the mirror opposite of the image that is projected by the “Breaking the Silence” NGO and we should be proud of the people’s army of the IDF.
Dr. Tuvia Book is the author of “For the Sake of Zion, A Curriculum of Israel Education” (Koren, 2017). His forthcoming book on the Second Temple Period, will be published by Koren later this year.