Last summer, Reform Judaism Magazine published a puff piece on the IDF's Code of Ethics, with just the right number of quotes from B'Tselem to give it an air of fairness. The IDF veterans' group "Breaking the Silence" was not interviewed for the article, and the editor refused to publish any statement beyond a letter. Of course, the magazine gave the last word to one of the co-authors of the code, Prof. Asa Kasher of Tel-Aviv, who functions as the IDF's House Ethicist. Yes, there are violations of the code, he wrote; yes, they are significant, no, he has no idea how many.
Kasher, though, believes that, on the whole, the ethics code is working. "Our soldiers continually patrol Palestinian streets amid the local population, the magazines of their weapons full of bullets," he says. "If they were trigger-happy, there would be thousands of casualties daily."
That piece of reasoning shows how good a philosopher Kasher is. Maybe the fact that Israel soldiers are not trigger-happy has absolutely nothing to do with the Code of Ethics. Most well-trained armies, even without Codes of Ethics, don't have their soldiers walking around killing civilians.
But Kasher's claim not to know how many is startling and shocking. What's the point of a Code of Ethics if you cannot test whether it is working or not?
Kasher authored eleven principles of conduct in asymmetrical warfare situations, which ultimately can be reduced to one.
1. Do what the IDF tells you, and you will be all right..
Kasher almost never criticizes the IDF for failing to live up to its codle. Rather he justifies the IDF's morality in all cases. When the IDF cautioned restraint last summer, Kasher said that this was legitimate, and got blasted by the right wing. And when the IDF threw much of the restraint to the winds in December, Kasher was right there defending it again.
It may be an interesting exercise to see how many of the eleven principles the IDF has violated recently.
- Military action can only be taken against military targets.
Broken on day one, when police cadets and their families were blown to smithereens. If that was legitimate, then certainly the suicide bombing of the IDF soldiers at Beit Leed was legitimate. (Neither was legitimate.)
- The use of force must be proportional.
Ha! Ha! Apparently, Ehud Olmert was given't this one, when he threatened in public not to be proportional.
- Soldiers may only use weaponry they were issued by the IDF.
Is there any other? It is the settlers' weapon of choice.
- Anyone who surrenders cannot be attacked.
There are testimonies of Palestinian prisoners being shot.
- Only those who are properly trained can interrogate prisoners.
Let's hope this was observed.
- Soldiers must accord dignity and respect to the Palestinian population and those arrested.
From a recent letter from a lawyer visiting Gaza: "In the course of that endeavor (which lasted about 2 hours) we visited homes that Israeli soldiers occupied during the attacks. Without exception the houses were trashed internally: furniture broken, windows smashed, clothes and appliances destroyed. A favorite tactic of the occupying force is to defecate in unusual places; cooking pots and pans seem to be preferred targets. Bottles of urine are left around to greet the returning owners, and often Hebrew graffiti and stars of David are on the walls. Almost all of the rooms are shot up, in some cases by tank shells but more commonly by gunfire and shrapnel. In several cases it was clear that the gunfire was from within and, because the house had been abandoned before the troops arrived, it appeared to be wholly gratuitous."
This tallies somewhat with the article in the New York Times, that I cited two weeks ago here
- Soldiers must give appropriate medical care, when conditions allow, to oneself and one's enemy.
From the same letter: "Returning from Zeitoun we spoke with a human rights NGO and then went to the Quds hospital, where we interviewed ambulance drivers to follow up on reports that the Israelis prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded. We again broke into four groups to conduct the interviews of drivers regarding their experiences; we believe that the case has been made."
- Pillaging is absolutely and totally illegal.
There is testimony of "souvenirs" being taken.
- Soldiers must show proper respect for religious and cultural sites and artifacts.
Yeah, especially after they have been bombed.
- Soldiers must protect international aid workers, including their property and vehicles.
See answer to no. 9.
- Soldiers must report all violations of this code.
In a long NY Times article a few weeks ago, Kasher said that the Israeli Army's ethical and legal standards were high and that he believed they were conscientiously taught to its military. But as for what happens on the ground, he said, "I have a general confidence in their attitudes and decency, but who knows?"
Who knows, indeed, Asa? What's the good is a code if you can't know?