Purity of Arms

The Israeli military doctrine ‘Purity of Arms” is just one short paragraph in the IDF Code of Ethics but it plays an outsize role in the training of soldiers in the IDF. When my son served in the IDF (tanks), four or five hours of his training were devoted to understanding the implications of this doctrine. It reads:

Purity of Arms – 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. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are non-combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.

We have reprinted the IDF Code of Ethics from IDFblog.com in the complete version of this newsletter. It is an admirable document well worth reading and publicizing.

Why bring it up now? The Jerusalem Post of March 24 reports, ‘The Military Police on Thursday arrested a soldier who was seen firing a shot to the head of an already wounded Palestinian terrorist, as he lay on his back in a Hebron street, near the Jewish Tel Rumeida neighborhood. A volunteer for the NGO B’Tselem who lives near the scene of the incident filmed the shooting from the window of his home. It was posted online and immediately went viral, fueling condemnations from the left and right.’

Asa Kasher, who wrote the IDF Code of Ethics, writes in Haaretz of April 6, ‘The first thing to note is that the incident was immediately reported to the relevant IDF commanders, who at once conducted their routine debriefings. The professional military investigation was repeated several times along the chain of command, from the platoon and battalion level, through the brigade and division level, to the chief of staff. They all reached the conclusion that what the soldier had done was utterly wrong, in stark violation of commands, Rules of Engagement and the values specified in the “Spirit of the IDF,” the code of ethics that requires respect for human dignity (and especially human life) and restraint of force (or “purity of arms,” as it’s called in Hebrew).’

Everything was done according to procedure, The facts of the case are straight forward. The soldier has been indicted for manslaughter, not for murder. There are some ambiguities in the interpretation of those facts which a trial will clarify – as it should. Public statements made by both the detractors and the defenders of this soldier are troubling — they interfere with a fair trial. Having Baruch Marzel (a notorious right wing extremist) as a defender is more damaging than statements made by the IDF chain of command.

Kasher goes on to write, ‘First, most of the Israeli public became aware of the Hebron incident by watching a video produced by a Palestinian photographer working with the radical left organization B’Tselem. This immediately created a wrong impression: that the soldier had been condemned by the IDF chief of staff and the minister of defense solely on the grounds of a piece of radical left propaganda. The mistaken idea that an NGO that has often cooperated with enemies of Israel in international campaigns against the IDF could play a role in forming the views of the head of the IDF and minister of defense enraged many Israelis, not just those on the extreme right.’

But it is just those on the crazy right that are reacting in a totally unacceptable way — inciting the murder of the Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. The April 11 Times of Israel article states, ‘Ya’alon has subsequently reiterated his critique of those who back the soldier, declaring on Tuesday that the IDF top brass and not “gang leaders” would determine how the IDF operates. Ya’alon has faced a backlash for his comments and criticism against him took an extreme turn in recent days, when images of the defense minister in the cross-hairs began circulating on a WhatsApp group for Likud activists. The images, according to Haaretz, were accompanied by text declaring him “politically eliminated!” The text also reportedly said that since Ya’alon had criticized the soldier’s supporters, the Likud Central Committee would “assassinate” him in the party’s next internal elections. ‘

It’s no longer a game when images of Defense Minister Ya’alon in the cross-hairs of a rifle begin circulating. The caption may read ‘Politically Eliminated’ but the picture says ‘Assassinate’.

Yaalon’s response to these threats echoes the message of ‘Purity of Arms’. He states, “I have no intention of yielding in the battle for the image of the State of Israel and Israeli society. I will fight and I will continue to fight for a just, sane and moral State of Israel. We must unequivocally safeguard a sane and progressive society, which sanctifies life, adheres to the rule of law and the supremacy of the law, and that fights violence and racism and the exclusion of the other simply because he is other. This is not a matter of right or left — this is our future and that of our children. This is the question of what kind of country we aspire to live in: a country that is part of the family of nations, Jewish and democratic, modern and tolerant, or a country that is descending into dangerous and destructive areas.”

Changing the subject, without a segue. Many people are advocating taking strong action against Iran for its missile testing in violation of a UN resolution. That would be a serious mistake. The missile program is run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who are hoping to draw new sanctions. If sanctions are invoked now, it would help the Revolutionary Guard and its allies gain seats in the runoff elections for the Maijlis (Iranian Parliament) scheduled for April 29. A sensible approach is to discuss sanctions after the runoff elections.

We are extremely critical of Bernie Sanders for stating in his Salt Lake City speech of March 21, ‘However, let me be very clear: I – along with many supporters of Israel – spoke out strongly against the Israeli counter attacks that killed nearly 1,500 civilians, and wounded far more. I condemned the bombing of hospitals, schools and refugee camps.’ As we wrote in our last newsletter, Sanders knows very well that Israel did not intentionally bomb ‘hospitals, schools and refugee camps’. It did bomb the rocket launching sites that Hamas intentionally placed next to or in ‘hospitals, schools and refugee camps’. Note, however, that Sanders wrote that nearly 1500 civilians were killed. This is a reasonable estimate and the criticism of Sanders for giving a much larger number of casualties in a live interview is misplaced. He just did not have the correct number at his fingertips.

Chag Kasher v’Sameach!

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.