Arab-Israeli lawmaker calls Israeli soldiers ‘murderers,’ spurring impeachment inquiry

An Arab-Israeli lawmaker called Israeli soldiers “murderers” on the floor of the Knesset, spurring talk of impeachment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The lawmaker, Hanin Zoabi, also demanded in her remarks Wednesday afternoon that the Knesset apologize for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade. Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for the incident.

Zoabi, who made the “murderers” remark as visiting soldiers were observing the parliament from the visitors’ gallery, also demanded Knesset lawmakers apologize to her. She has been censured by the Knesset, including when she participated in the Mavi Marmara flotilla and recently after she met with Palestinian terrorists’ families and stood for a moment of silence in their memories.

“I demand an apology for all the political activists on the Marmara and an apology to MK Hanin Zoabi for inciting against her for six years and hounding her. You all need to apologize, all of the members of Knesset here,” Zoabi said. “Those who murdered need to apologize, you need to apologize.”

After she was shouted down by fellow Knesset members, some of whom rushed the podium in order to remove her by force, Zoabi asked to return to the microphone to apologize. But instead, she said: “As long as there is a blockade [on Gaza], I will object to the blockade, and there’s a need to organize more flotillas.”

Knesset members responded by calling Zoabi “liar” and “filth,” and saying “You belong in Gaza.”

Zoabi’s statements came a day after Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation deal restoring ties that had been severed following the Mavi Marmara episode.

Lawmakers Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union party and Amir Ohana of Likud filed complaints against Zoabi with the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, which is expected to meet and discuss the incident.

On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said he contacted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblot to discuss starting the process of impeaching Zoabi from the Knesset.

“She has crossed the line in her deeds and her lies, and has no place in the Knesset,” he said in a statement that was posted on Facebook.

Netanyahu apologized for the deaths in a 2013 phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The apology was a Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Israeli soldiers punished for WhatsApp leaks of dead comrades’ names

The Israeli military said it had detained several soldiers and a civilian on suspicion of leaking Gaza casualty figures over social media before families of the dead or wounded could be formally informed.

A week into ground fighting with Hamas that has killed at least 32 soldiers, some Israelis complain of first learning their relatives were dead through WhatsApp, or of being misled by erroneous messages into believing they were among the toll.

The phenomenon has led to front-page calls by Israeli commentators to stop the relaying of unauthorized casualty updates. Hoping to control the information, the army has confiscated the cellphones of troops sent into combat.

“Notifying a family of a soldier or officer who was killed in action is one of the most sensitive and well-planned procedures that exists in the military, as befits such a serious moment,” the military said in a statement announcing the arrests following an investigation that it described has having employed “both open-source and undercover means”.

“The unauthorized WhatsApp messages were irresponsible and spread quickly across social networks,” the statement said, referring to Facebook’s WhatsApps mobile messaging app.

The army has revised its own official information regarding a soldier it initially reported as killed in Gaza on Sunday, but later designated as missing in action. Hamas said it had seized the soldier but did not issue photographs of him in captivity.

Discovering that Israeli troops aren’t made of Teflon

My children have been following the Gaza operation since it began 15 days ago.

They really have no choice, our television is turned to news reports of the operation during all of my waking hours, which are longer than theirs. My son staring at his iPod this evening complained that he wishes that there was more on his WhatsApp feed and Facebook page than the operation in Gaza. What else would you like to see, I asked him. Anything else, he replied.

The real wake-up moment for my sons, ages 12 and 15, however, came yesterday morning when the Israel Defense Forces announced 13 soldiers killed in Gaza overnight and then in the evening when another seven soldier deaths were confirmed.

Because all of the coverage we are watching is designed for an Israeli audience, we see rockets fired from Gaza getting shot out of the sky by Iron Dome missile batteries, and Israeli streets clearing in 30 seconds when the rise and fall of the warning siren begins. When we do see the aftermath of a rocket crashing through a house or a school building in Israel we are told that no one was home or the building was not occupied at the time of the rocket strike.

Why would my kids believe that our soldiers going into Gaza would suffer a worse fate?

From their incredulous expressions when they learned of the soldiers’ deaths, I could see that they thought our soldiers are covered in personal Teflon, kind of like Bruce Willis in any number of his action movies, when hundreds of bullets are shot at him yet none actually hit him.

My children have been carried away with the wave of vocal Israelis, many of them our friends and neighbors, who had been calling for our troops to enter Gaza ever since the start of Operation Protective Edge. But they didn’t realize that it meant that our soldiers would die.

Hope for injured IDF veterans

An officer in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Paratrooper Brigade, Arale Wattenstein was injured during a 2005 operation in the West Bank. The vehicle he was traveling in was going about 50 mph when it was struck by a Molotov cocktail. Wattenstein jumped out when the vehicle caught fire, breaking his spine in three places.

Wattenstein, 29, told his story to a crowd gathered at a Brentwood home on Nov. 14. When he got to the part about his injury, the crowd gasped.

“No, it’s OK,” he said. “I’m great now.”

Wattenstein said he owes much of his recovery to Hope for Heroism (HFH), an Israel-based nonprofit that provides care for Israeli soldiers wounded in combat. Wattenstein spoke as part of an HFH-sponsored visit.

Wounded Israeli soldiers, like wounded soldiers everywhere, have difficulty re-entering society, and HFH encourages soldiers to help other soldiers. By participating in HFH programs, injured soldiers become inspirational leaders, who in turn help other soldiers with recent injuries.

Since its inception in 2008, the organization has served more than 300 soldiers.

HFH’s goals include providing financial aid to wounded soldiers, mentoring, a vocational program to help soldiers start businesses and outreach to the Diaspora.

Ten Israeli soldiers visited Los Angeles Nov. 11-19. Trips like this one allow the soldiers to bond with one another, to form relationships with their Jewish-American host families and to sightsee. Since 2007, delegations have visited New York, New Jersey, Seattle, London, Cape Town and Paris.

“The main purpose is for the soldiers to get a chance to get away from their daily routine of rehabilitation and bond with each other and these families,” said Rabbi Chaim Levine, executive director and co-founder of HFH. 

HFH members visit newly injured soldiers while they’re still recuperating in the hospital; they also visit with them in cities when they are trying to reintegrate. 

In addition, HFH provides a sports program, a music project, English tutoring, and a support group for soldiers’ spouses and fiancés.

Playing together in sports and collaborating on soldier-initiated arts projects often helps soldiers open up to each other, which aids in the healing process. The soldiers have been through traumatic experiences and often feel that they can only relate to other wounded soldiers.

“No one around me understood me. Not even my closest friends, my family,” said Barak Miron, a former combat medic who was injured during a rescue mission in Lebanon in 1999 and joined HFH only nine months ago.

HFH initially held events in living rooms, at the beach and in rented facilities, but opened its own center, Beit Achim (Hebrew for “House of Brothers”), in Hod HaSharon in 2010. Run by HFH members, the house is a cooperative that features group and individual therapy, tutoring and soldier-initiated projects.

Roy Grylak, another of the soldiers in the L.A. delegation, was shot fives times during the second Lebanon War — in his right leg, right arm, jaw and back. Grilak continues to suffer from nerve damage in his leg. He drops by the HFH center for meals, to rest, to watch TV, swim and even to get massages.

“When I have free time from my studies, I come,” Grylak, 27, said.

HFH was inspired by a trip Levine took to Israel in 2006, during the second Lebanon War. Formerly a director of Jewish organizations in Boston, Toronto and Seattle, Levine traveled to Israel to see how he could help. There, he met Gil Ganonyan, a former team commander in the IDF, who had been wounded in 2004 during operational activity in Bethlehem. As a member of an elite unit, Ganonyan was shot in the neck when he was sent to catch a senior Hamas terrorist. 

Visiting Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, Levine watched as Ganonyan, who had been injured only two years earlier, went from hospital bed to hospital bed, reaching out to newly injured soldiers.

A bond developed between Levine and Ganonyan. In 2007, a delegation of soldiers wounded during the second Lebanon War traveled to Seattle, where Levine was living. When the soldiers returned to Israel, Ganonyan and an additional injured IDF officer, Yaniv Leidner, continued reaching out to injured soldiers. This became the two-fold model of the organization: delegations of injured soldiers sent abroad for brief rehabilitative vacations and soldier-to-soldier mentoring back in Israel. The organization registered as a nonprofit in 2008.

Whether their injuries are physical or emotional, any wounded soldier is eligible to join HFH. Currently, the organization is growing at a rate of approximately five soldiers per month, said Levine, who help runs the organization from Seattle. He also officiates many HFH members’ weddings.

Shlomo Lev, one of the participants in the L.A. delegation, didn’t want to discuss how he was injured. Tall, lanky and wearing glasses, Lev said he prefers not to think about it.

But Lev, 31, is happy to talk about how HFH has changed his life. After his injury, he thought life was over and that he wouldn’t make it to the age of 30. HFH gave him the tools to believe in himself. Today, he is studying for a law degree at an Israeli university.

On Nov. 13, the Los Angeles delegation of wounded soldiers gathered at the Malibu Pier. Standing on boulders that overlooked the beach, they took photographs while they chanted the melody of “Seven Nation Army,” a popular song by American band the White Stripes.

Afterward, they headed to the ocean for a surfing lesson under the instruction of Operation Surf, a surfing clinic for wounded and activity-duty military personnel. Members of Shalhevet High School’s surfing club also showed up with snacks and water and cheered the soldiers on.

Between a Lakers game, Universal Studios, Hollywood nightclubs, Venice Beach and Herzog Winery, the group’s week in Los Angeles was jam-packed with some of the best the city has to offer.

But the highlight was the car rides with the other soldiers, Lev said. The time spent traveling with the soldiers and getting to know everyone was his favorite part. Everything else was “a bonus,” he said.

One of five L.A. families to host the delegation — each family hosted two soldiers — the Glaser family was interested in seeing how their adopted soldiers would interact with their own children, particularly their 14-year-old son, whose exposure to war is limited to the “Call of Duty” video game, said Jon Glaser, his father.

“I wanted my kids to get an understanding of what the realities of war are about and also have an understanding, a better understanding, of Israel and the sacrifices that are required by service by all Israelis to the military,” said Glaser, a Brentwood resident who works at an investment management firm.

The host families’ children and the soldiers appeared to hit it off. At the Glasers’ home on the night of Nov. 14, where a reception took place that was attended by all of the soldiers, the host families and friends of the host families, the soldiers were horsing around with several of the American-Jewish children as if they were their own younger brothers.

After dinner at the Glasers’ home, the group of Israeli soldiers came together for a photograph. They called the sons of the host families to come over and join the picture. As had been their habit throughout the trip, the soldiers started chanting the White Stripes song. One of the host family’s sons took out his iPhone and began playing the song.

And as “Seven Nation Army” played, the soldiers and sons sang together.

Israel requests reservists after rockets target cities

Israeli ministers were on Friday asked to endorse the call-up of up to 75,000 reservists after Palestinian militants nearly hit Jerusalem with a rocket for the first time in decades and fired at Tel Aviv for a second day.

The rocket attacks were a challenge to Israel's Gaza offensive and came just hours after Egypt's prime minister, denouncing what he described as Israeli aggression, visited the enclave and said Cairo was prepared to mediate.

Israel's armed forces announced that a highway leading to the Gaza Strip and two roads bordering the enclave would be off-limits to civilian traffic until further notice.

Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the border area on Friday, and the military said it had already called 16,000 reservists to active duty.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened senior cabinet ministers in Tel Aviv after the rockets struck to decide on widening the Gaza campaign.

Political sources said ministers were asked to approve the mobilisation of up to 75,000 reservists, in what could be preparation for a possible ground operation.

No decision was immediately announced and some commentators speculated in the Israeli media the move could be psychological warfare against Gaza's Hamas rulers. A quota of 30,000 reservists had been set earlier.

Israel had endured months of incoming rocket fire from Gaza wehn the violence escaleted on Wednesday with the killing of Hamas's military chief, and targeting longer-range rocket caches in Gaza.   Hamas stepped up rocket attacks in response.

Israeli police said a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the Jerusalem area, outside the city, on Friday.

It was the first Palestinian rocket since 1970 to reach the vicinity of the holy city, which Israel claims as its capital, and was likely to spur an escalation in its three-day old air war against militants in Gaza.

Rockets nearly hit Tel Aviv on Thursday for the first time since Saddam Hussein's Iraq fired them during the 1991 Gulf War. An air raid siren rang out on Friday when the commercial centre was targeted again. Motorists crouched next to cars, many with their hands protecting their heads, while pedestrians scurried for cover in building stairwells.

The Jerusalem and Tel Aviv strikes have so far caused no casualties or damage, but could be political poison for Netanyahu, a conservative favoured to win re-election in January on the strength of his ability to guarantee security.

“The Israel Defence Forces will continue to hit Hamas hard and are prepared to broaden the action inside Gaza,” Netanyahu said before the rocket attacks on the two cities.

Asked about Israel massing forces for a possible Gaza invasion, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “The Israelis should be aware of the grave results of such a raid and they should bring their body bags.”

Officials in Gaza said 28 Palestinians had been killed in the enclave since Israel began the air offensive with the declared aim of stemming surges of rocket strikes that have disrupted life in southern Israeli towns.

The Palestinian dead include 12 militants and 16 civilians, among them eight children and a pregnant woman. Three Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday. A Hamas source said the Israeli air force launched an attack on the house of Hamas's commander for southern Gaza which resulted in the death of two civilians, one a child.


A solidarity visit to Gaza by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, whose Islamist government is allied with Hamas but also party to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, had appeared to open a tiny window to emergency peace diplomacy.

Kandil said: “Egypt will spare no effort … to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce.”

But a three-hour truce that Israel declared for the duration of Kandil's visit never took hold. Israel said 66 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip hit its territory on Friday and a further 99 were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Israel denied Palestinian assertions that its aircraft struck while Kandil was in the enclave.

Israel Radio's military affairs correspondent said the army's Homefront Command had told municipal officials to make civil defence preparations for the possibility that fighting could drag on for seven weeks. An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

The Gaza conflagration has stoked the flames of a Middle East already ablaze with two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to leap across borders.

It is the biggest test yet for Egypt's new President Mohamed Mursi, a veteran Islamist politician from the Muslim Brotherhood who was elected this year after last year's protests ousted military autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood are spiritual mentors of Hamas, yet Mursi has also pledged to respect Cairo's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, seen in the West as the cornerstone of regional security. Egypt and Israel both receive billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to underwrite their treaty.

Mursi has vocally denounced the Israeli military action while promoting Egypt as a mediator, a mission that his prime minister's visit was intended to further.

A Palestinian official close to Egypt's mediators told Reuters Kandil's visit “was the beginning of a process to explore the possibility of reaching a truce. It is early to speak of any details or of how things will evolve”.

Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-2009, killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis died.

Tunisia's foreign minister was due to visit Gaza on Saturday “to provide all political support for Gaza” the spokesman for the Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, said in a statement.

The United States asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its rocket attacks.

Hamas refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist. By contrast, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in the nearby West Bank, does recognise Israel, but peace talks between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.

Abbas's supporters say they will push ahead with a plan to have Palestine declared an “observer state” rather than a mere “entity” at the United Nations later this month.

Mishap leaves Israeli brigade with seder meal of matzah and salami

Israeli soldiers in the Kfir Brigade ate salami and matzah for their seder meal after a base chef heated up the real seder food inappropriately, rendering it unkosher.

The infantry brigade returned to base from a mission at the start of Passover expecting a festive holiday meal, but the base chef had begun to heat up the food after the start of the holiday, which also fell on the Jewish Sabbath, and is prohibited by Jewish law and army rules, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. The station cited Israel Radio’s military affairs reporter Carmela Menashe, who was contacted by the parents of some of the soldiers.

The chef, a warrant officer, has been court-martialed for violating a standing military order, according to Channel 2.

The food that was heated up incorrectly was thrown away on the order of the kitchen’s kashrut supervisor, according to reports.

IDF chief: Formal ceremonies mandatory for religous soldiers

Orthodox Israeli soldiers must attend formal military gatherings at which women sing, but can be excused from informal social gatherings, the head of the military said.

Israel Defense Forces Benny Gantz said Tuesday that female soldiers have equality in the military and that there is no ban on women’s singing in the IDF. He made the statements during an interview on Army Radio.

Religious cadets walked out of an official ceremony earlier this year at which female soldiers were singing. The cadets were removed from the officer training program.

“The IDF has room for the service of women wherever they can contribute,” Gantz said in the interview. Women can “contribute operationally, they can deal with situations, they can sing, the Hebrew singer is part of our culture,” he said.

Israeli soldiers held in ‘price tag’ incidents

Three Israeli soldiers are under arrest in connection with the vandalism of military and Palestinian property in what is being called a price-tag attack.

The suspects, described by the media as conscripts including an infantryman and a resident of an illegal West Bank settler outpost, were taken into custody Tuesday.

The military said they were accused of involvement in so-called “price tag” incidents, referring to the strategy that extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians and Arabs in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions, or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

There was no immediate word on whether the soldiers would be indicted or how they might plead.

Three IDF soldiers attacked in Hebron

Three unarmed Israeli soldiers who accidentally entered the Arab-controlled area of Hebron were attacked and wounded.

The soldiers, stationed near Hebron, lost their way Thursday during a physical training exercise.

When they realized they were lost, the soldiers asked a local Palestinian for directions to the Jewish town of Kiryat Arba. They were directed into the heart of Arab Hebron, where they were attacked, Haaretz reported.

All of the soldiers required medical attention; one remained hospitalized Thursday night.

IDF support ensures bright future for Jews worldwide

The future of world Jewry and that of the State of Israel are inextricably bound. Today, this notion no longer enjoys the luxury of residing in the intellectual domains of the ideological or the philosophical. It reflects a sobering realism to which Jews worldwide ought to awaken hastily and with conviction, and it merits a call to action on behalf of Israel’s security, both for Israel’s sake and for our own, for reasons that are both obvious and otherwise.

Whether to strengthen Israel’s defense, to help maintain its ability to protect or rescue Jews at risk beyond Israel, to support the vitality and success of Israel’s next generations or to promote Jewish identity among our own youth and young adults, it is imperative that our efforts to ensure Israel’s future and our own include an essential commitment on our part, as Jews who live outside of Israel, to the welfare of the young men and women who serve as soldiers in the IDF — Israel’s Defense Forces.

Why so? Consider some of the major challenges and vulnerabilities that Jews living in Israel and elsewhere must face together today and for the foreseeable future.

Friends of the IDF Special SectionIn our era, Israel’s Jewish population has become the world’s largest, and it is the only one in the world with a positive birthrate. As North America’s Jewish population grows older on average and decreases in number, Israel’s continues to grow younger and increases in number.

Jews throughout the world will experience Israel evermore in the generations to come as the center place of the Jewish experience, due to this population shift alone. Therefore, our investment in Israel’s next generation becomes, more so than ever, one of our most important investments in the Jewish future. Moreover, if our own youth and young adults connect to Israel, they will be more likely to connect to the more vibrant expressions of Judaism in the decades to come.

I do not at all mean to suggest that anyone should give up on Jews and Judaism outside of Israel. But we would be wise to ensure that the IDF remains capable not only of defending Israel, but of fostering and encouraging healthy generations to come of the largest Jewish population in the world.

After all, by sheer necessity, due to the large number of young adults and reservists required for Israel’s protection at any given moment, the IDF is one of Israel’s largest social service agencies, it is one of Israel’s most important educational agencies for the purposes of teaching Jewish history and the history of the State of Israel to Israeli youth, and it is often the training ground for technical or professional careers for Israeli men and women who contribute after their IDF service to one of the world’s most advanced workforces and economies or go on to study in some of the world’s finest universities.

In supporting the humanitarian welfare of the IDF, we can help to ensure that Israel’s future is a bright one and that our own children and grandchildren will have meaningful partners in Israel with whom they can collaborate for decades to come in the development of every facet of Jewish life and otherwise.

However, as vulnerable as we are in North America to the population challenge, Israel has its vulnerabilities, as well — some of them equally existential in nature. Iran’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons is a cause for serious alarm; its training and arming of Hezbollah and Hamas with rockets and missiles enables each alone to threaten the normalcy of daily life throughout all of Israel.

Add to these the challenges posed by a conventionally re-armed and nuclear-aspiring Syria and the lack of any reasonable signs of the emergence of a sincere partner for peace among even the “moderate” Palestinian Authority, and it is clear that Israel lives in a neighborhood at least as rough as it has always been.

Israel’s vulnerability to a nuclear-armed foe is compounded by the fact that two-thirds of Israel’s roughly 5.5 million Jews live within a 3,500-square-mile area on the Mediterranean coastline. Iran’s ruler, the Ayatollah Khameini, has therefore posited quite publicly that one nuclear weapon dropped on Tel Aviv would, for all practical purposes, destroy the State of Israel.

Israel’s need to ensure its military superiority is a foregone necessity, given all of the above. Israel cannot afford to spend one dime less than it must spend on its defense, for a mistake worth even a dime could cost the entire country.

Given what the IDF must spend on training, planning, arming and maintaining its personnel, it relies heavily upon the generosity of individuals, foundations and corporate sponsors — both in Israel and beyond — to fund the humanitarian welfare of its soldiers. A great many of Israel’s young men and women serve not only in defense of Israel but with an ever-present awareness that they are serving on behalf of every Jew everywhere in the world.

Their strength gives us strength. Their courage inspires our own courage. Not only are they a source of enormous Jewish pride for so many of us in their decency, humanity and dedication, but they deserve our own support for that which they extend to us every day.

I have met and spoken with literally thousands of Israeli soldiers, ages 18-21, over the years, and I have yet to encounter even one of them unready or unwilling to protect or rescue a Jew in distress anywhere in the world and at a moment’s notice. Our support for their humanitarian welfare is the least that we can do for those who embody and exhibit such extraordinary commitment to the Jewish people and to our homeland.

There are yet other existential threats, some of them growing and deepening, to which Jews in Israel and all of us elsewhere are increasingly susceptible. Advocates for Israel’s demise urge the world toward a normative view that Zionism is an imperialist, colonialist and racist ideology. The campaign to discredit Israel and challenge its very right to exist is organized and energized.

The vast majority of those involved in perpetrating this big lie cloak their anti-Semitism with the veil of anti-Zionism. They manipulate public opinion to affect the foreign policies of countries that have enjoyed cooperative relationships with Israel, including our own, suggesting the “Zionists” dominate the press or unduly influence legislators.

Similarly, they work to isolate Israel, to ban its scholars and products and to tie its hands when attacked by terrorists. Increasingly, Israelis and other Jewish academicians and diplomats are challenged to prove their lack of bias in favor of Israel by repudiating their Zionism and even renouncing their Israeli citizenship.

Of course, we were just reminded by the gruesome attack on the Chabad house in Mumbai by Islamic terrorists that the treachery of anti-Semitism does not differentiate between Israeli Jews and Jews of other nationalities. When it comes to anti-Semitism, all Jews sail in the same boat, and we are seaworthy only to the extent that we remain united.

When the world perceives Israel to be strong and willing to act as it needs to do so, either in its own defense or to deter aggression against itself or Jews anywhere else, and when it is clear that Jews worldwide stand likewise behind Israel’s soldiers both in spirit and otherwise, Jews throughout the world are the safer for it.

Our strong support for the humanitarian welfare of Israel’s young men and women serving in the IDF is an absolute necessity toward this end, as it allows the IDF to focus on its daunting but surmountable job in defense of Israel and the Jewish people, while it supports and boosts the morale of troops who give so much of themselves, knowing they may be called upon to give even more.

Israel’s security rests upon the shoulders of the men and women of the IDF. As do Jews from other countries today, our children will need Israel and Israelis as primary partners for their development and deepening of their Jewish identities. As well, existential threats shared by Jews in Israel and around the world will be addressed in partnership by both together.

However, let’s remember who the young men and women of the IDF are: They are our children, too. They are our sons and daughters, our boys and girls. They are family. They need us. And, they know, at least as much as we do, that we need them.

Both our present and our future are indeed inextricably bound by a sacred trust, and it is up to us to ensure that this trust is never broken.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes. Among his various communal involvements, he serves currently as the chair of the National Rabbinic Cabinet of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), as the vice president of the L.A. chapter of FIDF and as a member of FIDF’s national board.

VIDEO: Girls of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)

Girls of the IDF—Israel Defense Forces.  Video photo montage plus music lovingly crafted by YouTube member , a Floridian named Pilman.

The IDF and Civilians: A Personal Account

To all those who feel that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers have no regard for civilians, and that they “do what they need to do” without regard for potential
civilian casualties, I offer no opinions on this matter.

Instead, I offer this personal experience for your consideration.

It was July 12, 1984, my first day on the Ketziot basic training base, my new “home” as an IDF soldier in the Givati Infantry Brigade. One by one, we were issued what was then the standard IDF infantry weapon, the Israeli-made Galil rifle. Here we were, 18-year-old kids who barely knew anything about life, suddenly holding in our hands a weapon that had the potential to save lives or to take lives.

Upon receiving these weapons, we were gathered into a large mess hall, where an officer was waiting to address us. We expected a lesson on the mechanics of the Galil rifle. Instead, the officer had come to speak to us about Tohar Ha-Neshek — the “Purity of the Weapon.”

He spoke at length about the moral use of the weapon vs. the immoral use of the weapon, and of the responsibility we had to uphold the value of Tohar Ha-Neshek no matter what the circumstances. He concluded his remarks by saying, “I am not a particularly religious person, but remember that to uphold the purity of your weapon is a Kiddush ha-Shem (sanctification of God’s name), and to violate it is a Chilul ha-Shem (desecration of God’s name).”

Six months later, my unit found itself in Southern Lebanon, fighting the same Hezbollah that the IDF fights today. The Galil that we were issued six months earlier had unfortunately gotten its fair share of real-life wear and tear, but it was not until Feb. 5, 1985, that we learned a real-life lesson in “Purity of the Weapon.”

Late in the afternoon that day, as our convoy was leaving our post in Borj el Jimali (two miles east of Tyre), a Hezbollah suicide bomber drove his car straight into our convoy, triggering a massive explosion in our faces. We responded like we were taught — jump out of the vehicle, take cover and return fire. In typical Hezbollah fashion, they carried out this attack in an area filled with civilians, which means that we were faced with the awful prospect of firing into the homes of civilian men, women and children caught in the crossfire.

After our initial barrage of fire, our officer instructed us to regroup into small teams that would enter buildings to search for any terrorists cooperating with the suicide bomber. His instructions still ring clearly in my ear, and took me back to the lecture I heard about “Purity of Weapons” just six months earlier: “This area is filled with civilians, and there is no need to injure or kill them. In our search for terrorists, please try to minimize any civilian casualties.”

These instructions came from an officer who, just a few minutes earlier, had 100 kilos of dynamite explode into his face and that of his troops, yet he was still able to keep a clear mind and remember that the IDF was in Lebanon to fight Hezbollah terrorists, not Lebanese civilians.

It was true then, and it is still true today.

Daniel Bouskila is rabbi at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.

(Rob Eshman’s column will return next week.)