Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

The colonel came to Gaza for Hanukkah

Lighting the IDF bullet menorah with Colonel Kemp.  Photo (c) T. Book
Lighting the IDF bullet menorah with Colonel Kemp. Photo (c) T. Book

On the seventh night of Hanukkah my IDF unit was honored to have Colonel Richard Kemp CBE as our special guest on the Gaza border. The former head of the British military in Afghanistan and member of COBRA, who is neither Jewish or Israeli, Kemp is an outspoken, eloquent and effective defender of the IDF and the Jewish state.  He was deeply moved by his meeting with the men and women of my unit.

My IDF unit is a reserve medical unit of composed of doctors, paramedics, combat medics and combat troops. Our mission is to provide rapid medical response, stabilization, and evacuation for our soldiers. Everyone has come here voluntarily from all over Israel and indeed, all over the globe. They are men and women who represent the entire spectrum of society, religious, and political beliefs. United by one desire — to destroy the evil forces who sowed terror and death upon Israel on the black Saturday of October 7.

Captain Meir, Colonel Kemp and Tuvia on the Gaza border. Photo (c) T. Book, 2023

The colonel watched as I lit my special menorah, made up of IDF cartridge cases, together with my fellow IDF brothers-and-sisters-in-arms from all different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and mentioned that the Al Hanisim (“for the miracles”) prayer we recite on Hanukkah, which contains the words, “The few against the many…in those days and at this time,” has extra significance and meaning at this time in our history. I mentioned how the IDF are the “modern Maccabees” fighting against the darkness of radical Islamic terror, not just for Israel, but for the entire free world.

Colonel Kemp responded by reminding us that the British forces symbolically entered Jerusalem on the third day of Hanukkah in 1917 (a month after the issue of the Balfour Declaration). He told us how General Allenby dismounted from his horse outside the Jaffa Gate and entered the Holy City on foot, desiring to enter as a pilgrim. He contended that the ousting of the Ottoman forces, after 400 years in this land, and replacement by the British mandate, was part of a process that culminated in the independence of Israel in 1948. Finally, he reminded us that the Jewish Legion (fighting under the symbol of a menorah, with the word “Kadima” (forward)) was the first organized Jewish fighting force since the time of the Maccabees. The Force was the brainchild of Ze’ev Vladimir Jabotinsky, who served as an officer in the unit, and that a certain private David Ben Gurion was one of the soldiers.

Lighting the IDF bullet menorah with Colonel Kemp. Photo (c) T. Book

After the ceremonial singing and lighting of the menorah with the unit, I asked Colonel Kemp why he is such an outspoken, eloquent, and effective defender of the IDF and the Jewish state? He began his answer with this statement:

I was taught when I was a child to know right from wrong. And when I hear some of the lies, the propaganda and the malice that’s churned out in the international media, in universities, in high schools and so-called ‘human rights’ groups, I know it’s wrong. I know it’s wrong what’s being said in relation to the IDF.

Colonel Kemp then went on to explain that he served as the commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and was a veteran of 30 years of service. He had fought in combat zones around the world, including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Iraq, and that he has been present throughout the conflicts in Gaza, from 2014 to the current “Swords of Iron” war.

He added that based on his experience and on his personal observations: the IDF does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare. He gave three main reasons for this.

  1. Firstly, Israel is a decent country with Western values, run on democratic principles. Israel has no more interest in war than Belgium does. In fact, Israel has never started a war. The only reason it ever goes to war is to defend itself. And it has to defend itself because, unlike Belgium, it is surrounded by countries and armed groups that want to destroy it.
  2. Secondly, Judaism, with its unsurpassed moral standards, remains a major influence on the citizens of Israel. “I say this as a non-Jew.”
  3. Thirdly, the army is composed overwhelmingly of citizen soldiers. Israel is a small country with a small professional army. He went on to express admiration for “lone soldiers” from abroad and the work done by the Michael Levin Base in Jerusalem.

Referring the IDF in another interview, Colonel Kemp mentioned that in fighting a war, a country depends on its conscripts and its reservists. The reservists are ordinary citizens, from professors to plumbers, called upon to defend their homes. They don’t want to be fighting and they don’t want to harm others. Nowhere, he said, was the essential morality and decency of the IDF more evident than in the current 2023 war. If ever there was a purely defensive war, this was it. The war was started by Hamas, the terror organization, designated as such by the US State Department, the UK, and the EU, that runs the Gaza Strip.

Colonel Kemp observed that the IDF takes extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping millions of leaflets, broadcasting radio messages, sending texts and making tens of thousands of phone calls. The Israelis called Gazans on their cell phones and told them to leave their residences and move to safety. Never in the history of warfare has an army phoned its enemy and told them where they are going to drop their bombs!

Many IDF missions that could have taken out Hamas military capabilities were aborted to prevent civilian casualties, increasing the risk to Israeli citizens and soldiers. Despite all of this, of course, innocent civilians have been killed. Every war is chaotic and confusing, and mistakes are frequent. But mistakes are not war crimes.

Hamas, Kemp said, on the other hand, committed war crimes as official government policy. Hamas deliberately positioned its military assets among the civilian population — hiding weapons in schools and hospitals and placing rocket launchers alongside apartment buildings — and then forced those civilians to stay in areas they knew would be attacked. They also instructed their people to report the lie that every Gazan killed (sometimes by their own rockets) was a civilian, even if they were terrorists/fighters. Kemp concluded our interview by stating:

No army takes such risks to protect civilians as the Israeli army does. I say this as a professional soldier. I say it because it’s true and people who care about truth should know it. The final thing I would say is that the IDF are our friends and allies, and they are fighting the same war we are to protect Western civilization. How could any civilized and right-thinking Westerner not support that fight? I one-hundred percent, unequivocally, and completely support the IDF and all the soldiers in it.

We salute you Colonel Kemp for all that you do for our country and military.  You are a great friend of the Jewish people, the IDF and state of Israel.  Thank you for consistently and eloquently standing up against the haters and emphasizing the morality and ethics of the IDF. Happy Festival of Lights!

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order:
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