Tuvia Book
Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

The IDF’s ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls.’ Fact vs. fiction

Once again millions of Israeli citizens are in bomb shelters being bombarded with thousands of missiles from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza.  Once again there seem to be two narratives, what one hears on most of the world mass media and the reality.  When Jews are killed in terror attacks, or bombarded by thousands of missiles by terrorists sworn to our destruction in our homeland, there is a strange media silence.  The only time the world is not silent, it seems, is when the Jews dare to defend their hearth and home.  Then the baying pack, shouts “how dare those Jews defend themselves?” We Jews heard the silence of world just over seventy years ago, when one third of the Jewish people was murdered for the “crime” of being Jewish.  The big difference is that today we can and will defend ourselves and we no longer need to rely on the pity of our host nations, but rather are able to be in charge of our own destiny. Strong Jews really seem to bother the world media and trendy social media personalities.   The reality of the IDF is the mirror opposite of the image that is projected by many in the mass media.  Let us examine three terms that have been thrown around a lot in the current conflict; “Morality,” “War Crimes” and “Disproportionate Response.”

Morality:

I served in the Israel Defense Forces 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.

Israel is a decent country, with Jewish and western values, run on democratic principles. Yet, world leaders say Israel should do more, be more moral, be more “proportionate.” What more should Israel do?  No other army is more moral.  These types of statements are endorsing and encouraging Hamas’s policy of using human shields, and therefore culpable in causing many more deaths.

Hamas use human shields for two reasons:

  • To protect their munitions and fighters
  • Hamas want Israel to kill their civilians for the propaganda value. This is inconceivable to a civilized mind.  They want the opprobrium of the world heaped on Israel, to attempt to bring Israel to its knees, and to stymie its ability to defend itself.

The IDF policy is not to deliberately target civilian populations.  The IDF have gone a lot further than they are required to do under the Geneva Convention to prevent this scenario.  As Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of the UK forces in Afghanistan stated:

The Israeli army have taken greater steps than any other army in the history of warfare to minimize the harm to innocent civilians in a combat zone.

An army is not required to warn an enemy, yet the IDF does exactly that.  In-fact they go much further:

  • Dropping thousands of leaflets
  • Broadcasting radio messages
  • Sending SMS texts
  • Making thousands of phone calls
  • Using harmless, IDF developed, warning “roof knocking” munitions.

Never in the history of warfare has an enemy been warned by so many means and told exactly where the bombs are going to be dropped, and thus both have the opportunity to evacuate non-combatants and loose the element of surprise, increasing the risk to Israeli citizens and soldiers .  In fact, the IDF has aborted many missions that could have taken out Hamas and Islamic jihad military capabilities to prevent civilian casualties.

War Crimes:

Israel has not started any of the Middle Eastern wars, including the current conflict. If ever there is a purely defensive war, this is it.  The missile attacks were started by the Iranian-backed Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both US State Department designated terror organizations, who run the Gaza Strip.  Hamas commit war crimes as official government policy.  These include:

  • Targeting an international civilian airport.
  • Tunneling into a foreign country’s territory in order to attempt to attack civilians (and plan to kidnap them).
  • Using protected sites, such as schools, hospitals or mosques, to store munitions or attack from.
  • Breaching internationally agreed ceasefires.
  • Using child soldiers.
  • Using civilian shields.
  • Firing non-guided rockets at civilian populations.

The IDF doesn’t just have the right but the obligation to protect the citizens of Israel, as that is its reason d’etre.  The lines get blurred when the munitions and terrorists are embedded in a civilian population.  Nevertheless, the IDF has to make decisions, and are indeed obligated and entitled to protect the citizens of Israel.  Despite all of Israel attempts to minimize civilian casualties, more than any other military on the globe, mistakes do happen.  But mistakes are not war crimes.

The major test as to whether one can hit a military target is whether there are civilians around it.  However, just because there are civilians around it, it doesn’t mean that one cannot attack it according to the Geneva Convention and international military law.  As Colonel Richard Kemp stated:

Legally, if the IDF believed a school was being used to store munitions or as a sniper point.  Then that school or mosque ceases to have its protection under the Geneva Convention and is a legal lawful target.

In other words, According to the laws of armed conflict, a civilian object (including a dwelling place) will lose its immunity if it is used for military purposes.  Military attacks should always distinguish between combatants and civilians, and between military targets and civilian objects. It is absolutely prohibited to deliberately target civilians or civilian objects, as does the Iranian-backed terror regime in the Gaza Strip.  There is also a test of proportionality.

Proportionality:

Quite often one reads the words “disproportionate response.” Proportionality means the force and actions used in each individual attack must be proportionate to the intended objective of that attack. In other words, use the minimum force required to achieve your objective. Moreover, an individual attack that is expected to result in civilian injuries or civilian property damage “which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated” is prohibited. Just because there are more people (including scores of terrorists) being killed in Gaza than Israel, this does not mean that this is a “disproportionate war.”  Proportionality does not refer to the numbers on each side, nor does the accidental killing of civilians automatically render an attack disproportionate.  What proportionality actually means is this:

  • If there is a military target and there are civilians nearby, the military has to make a decision. Is that military weapon capable of harming my soldiers/civilians?   Even if there are civilians close by, the army, under the laws of the Geneva Convention,  can hit it.
  • Example: If there is a missile launcher with five civilians close by, the IDF needs to decide what to do. Does it hit the missile launcher, which means those five civilians may die, or does it leave it alone and what would be the consequences be if that missile is fired?   It has to assume that that rocket will get through and kill civilians.  It’s not a 1:1 direct numerical equivalent.   That is proportionality.

Notwithstanding the legalities, it’s true that the death toll in Gaza is higher, and the physical destruction is worse. This is due to a number of factors

  • Iron Dome: Israel’s anti-rocket system tracks rockets as they are fired, determines whether they will land in a civilian area and, if they will, shoots them out of the sky. Every single Iron Dome interceptor costs tens of thousands of dollars. Thousands have been used in the past few days. Iron Dome has intercepted 90 percent of its targets, which has saved dozens of Israeli lives and much physical destruction
  • Bomb shelters: Because of the constant threat of rockets, Israeli homes and public spaces have bomb shelters and/or reinforced rooms, and a siren system that provides locals with as much time as possible to find shelter. Depending on how far they are from Gaza, locals have from 10 seconds warning to up to a minute. This investment in physical security has saved countless lives. (Source Zionist Federation of Australia)

Israel should not be lectured by the world; Israel is the only liberal democracy in Middle East. The “concern” is not because of Palestinians being killed, but rather the anti-Israel agenda.

 Conclusion:

This is a war between brutal terror organizations who intentionally put their own civilians in harm’s way, exploit them for their terrorist missions and deliberately target non-combatant Israeli civilians, and a state army that abides by international laws, regulations and standards.  Always on the front of my mind during my service, as it is with IDF high command, was not harming innocent civilians.  The reality of the IDF is the mirror opposite of the image that is projected by many in the mass media.  No other army takes such risks to protect civilians as the Israeli army does.  The culture of Judaism underlines the laws the morality of sanctity of life.  At the end of the day, the truth is simple, the IDF use weapons to defend civilians. Hamas use civilians to defend weapons.

IDF Iron Dome missile battery. Photo (c) 2021, courtesy IDF.
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 is a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. 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," will be published by Koren this year.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments