ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Army chief: No support for soldiers who break conduct code

Commanders will back up a soldier who errs ‘in the heat of battle,’ but not one who intentionally violates Israel’s values, IDF head says in response to Hebron shooting

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends a graduation ceremony for IDF officers on February 24, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends a graduation ceremony for IDF officers on February 24, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot promised full support for soldiers who make mistakes “in the heat of battle,” but warned that swift justice would be exacted against those who violate the army’s codes of conduct, in a specially written message Wednesday in light of the ongoing investigation into a soldier who was filmed shooting a disarmed Palestinian in the head last week.

Eisenkot, who almost immediately condemned the shooting, has come under fierce criticism since by citizens and politicians for “abandoning” the soldier.

In response, the chief of staff released a message to soldiers to clarify the army’s position in the case.

Soldiers who make mistakes on the battlefield will be defended by the IDF, while those who intentionally violate army rules and values will not, Eisenkot said.

“The IDF puts in your hands the responsibility to fulfill our mission — defend the nation. Your commanders, and myself at the top, will continue to give support to any soldier who makes a mistake in the heat of battle, against a dangerous enemy threatening lives of civilians and soldiers,” the chief of staff said.

“However, we will not hesitate to exact justice on soldiers and officers who deviate from operational standards and the values we operate by,” he wrote.

IDF ethicist Asa Kasher, who helped write the army’s code of conduct, made a similar statement on Monday, in a Facebook post.

“If a soldier did not behave properly, his commander will not be at his side to say the soldier behaved properly, whether he acted maliciously or made a mistake during an operation,” Kasher wrote.

“He will still be his commander, and therefore take care of him and possibly his family, but he will not defend him. Backup is a defense, a justification. A soldier does not always deserve that,” he said.

Israeli soldiers remove the body of a Palestinian man who stabbed a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016. The Palestinian was shot at the scene after stabbing and wounding an Israeli soldier. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers remove the body of a Palestinian man who stabbed a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016. The Palestinian was shot at the scene after stabbing and wounding an Israeli soldier. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

On Thursday morning, two Palestinian men attacked an IDF officer and one of his soldiers in Hebron, stabbing the soldier in the shoulder and arm and moderately injuring him before the officer managed to shoot the two attackers, seriously wounding one and killing another.

More than 10 minutes later, as the injured soldier was being loaded onto the ambulance, another soldier — whose name is under gag order — shot the wounded, supine assailant in the head, as can be seen in a video filmed at the scene.

The soldier who shot the Palestinian is now being investigated by Military Police. Initially it appeared that the army prosecutor would pursue a murder charge against him, but the indictment may become intentional manslaughter, a slightly lesser charge.

An IDF soldier who was filmed shooting a disarmed Palestinian assailant in the head attends a hearing in his case at a military court near Kiryat Malachi on March 29, 2016 (POOL/Flash90)
An IDF soldier who was filmed shooting a disarmed Palestinian assailant in the head attends a hearing in his case at a military court near Kiryat Malachi on March 29, 2016 (POOL/Flash90)

“Following the IDF’s code is not a right but a requirement in order to maintain the IDF’s status as the national army of a Jewish and democratic state,” Eisenkot said.

In his missive, the army chief said he was “proud” of the IDF’s soldiers for their willingness to make sacrifices in order to “defend the homeland.”

“The fate of Israel is dependent upon two things: its strength and its righteousness,” the army chief quotes Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion as saying.

Therefore the IDF dedicated itself to both dedication to carrying out its mission, but also to “respect for human beings,” Eisenkot said.

“These values rest on a long Jewish tradition of being a nation that values life,” he said.

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