IDF’s top lawyer warns against ‘cases of unacceptable conduct’ by troops in Gaza

Military advocate general to evaluate incidents, some of which ‘cross the criminal threshold,’ including unjustified use of force, looting, destruction of civilian property

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

IDF Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )
IDF Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

The Israel Defense Forces’ top lawyer, Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, issued a warning Wednesday to commanders against illegal actions carried out by troops in the Gaza Strip.

“We have encountered cases of unacceptable conduct that deviate from IDF values and protocols,” the IDF’s military advocate general wrote in a missive.

Tomer-Yerushalmi said they included “inappropriate statements that encourage unacceptable phenomena; unjustified use of force, including against detainees; looting, which include the use or removal of private property for non-operational purposes; and destruction of civilian property contrary to protocols.”

“Some incidents go beyond the disciplinary domain, and cross the criminal threshold,” she warned.

“These acts and statements, on the part of individuals who do not represent the collective, are contrary to the IDF as a professional, moral, and dignified army, and they have no place in the IDF,” Tomer-Yerushalmi said.

She said the acts also “cause the State of Israel and the IDF strategic damage in the international arena, the seriousness of which is difficult to overstate.”

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, in an image published by the IDF on February 11, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Tomer-Yerushalmi said cases were being investigated, after which the Military Advocate General Corps would decide if criminal or disciplinary measures need to be taken.

Her comments came a day after IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi sent a missive to troops telling them that the army is “not on a killing spree,” not acting out of revenge nor carrying out genocide in Gaza, with the war against Hamas in its fifth month.

“We act like human beings and, unlike our enemy, maintain our humanity. We must be careful not to use force where it is not required, to distinguish between a terrorist and those who are not, not to take anything that is not ours — a souvenir or weapons — and not to film revenge videos,” Halevi said.

Halevi’s and Tomer-Yerushalmi’s comments come weeks after The New York Times published an article titled “What Israeli Soldiers’ Videos Reveal: Cheering Destruction and Mocking Gazans,” which showed photos and videos of Israeli soldiers making derogatory comments about Palestinians, vandalizing civilian property and smiling for the cameras while driving bulldozers and using explosives.

The report cited an IDF statement condemning the soldiers’ posts as “deplorable.”

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi gives a statement to the media at an army base in southern Israel, December 26, 2023. (Flash90)

“We are not on a killing spree, revenge, or genocide. We have come to win and defeat a cruel enemy, who deserves a bitter loss,” Halevi wrote in his Tuesday missive, also alluding to the accusations of genocide and apartheid that Israel is facing at the world’s top court.

War erupted in Gaza with Hamas’s October 7 attack, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians, amid horrific acts of brutality.

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a wide-scale air and ground campaign in Gaza aimed at destroying the terror group’s military and governance capabilities and returning the hostages, 130 of whom remain in captivity.

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