The IDF ground troops revolt may end with them turning into gangs

What’s more worrying is the collapse of the Israeli military hierarchy. The General Staff hears the voices of vengeance, sees the violations of discipline, the dismissive treatment of the rules of engagement, and does almost nothing.

By Yagil Levy Translated by Sol Salbe

The Palestine Project


Those videos of the troopers shown in The Hague can be treated as anecdotes and the Right can be blamed for distributing them. But the truth is that this is a precedent-setting phenomenon: The grunts are using social media to challenge senior command and even the political leadership, which the Hard Right considers too restrained.

The challenge is direct, with messages of opposition to the ceasefire, attacks on High Court rulings, opposition to supplying food to Gazans, criticism of the air force’s restraint and the assertion that there are no innocent people in Gaza. It is also indirect, in a variety of expressions that contradict the army’s declared values: banners of return to Gush Katif, religious ceremonies such as bringing in Torah scrolls and affixing of a mezuzah [indicating a Jewish home] in Gazan homes, displaying enthusiasm for demolishing homes (for example, a jubilant woman soldier in a destroyed children’s room), ritual-religious attacks on mosques, calls for revenge alongside reports of it being carried out, such as the boast of a company commander in the reserves, “Battalion 2908 entered Beit Hanoun and did what Shimon and Levi did in Biblical Shechem [modern day Nablus].”

It’s not just soldiers expressing emotions. The field commanders collaborate and convey messages of revenge, such as the order of the day of the commander of the 36th Division, David Bar Kalifa (“And doth render vengeance to His adversaries “), or the battalion commander in Officer School 1, which calls not to repeat the mistake of King Saul, who had compassion for Amalek. At its peak, 90 reserve battalion commanders signed a petition calling on the Chief of Staff not to halt the fighting in Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank until victory. There is no previous record of such a public challenge by reservists to what they perceive as a restraining approach by the political echelon.

Nor is this trend confined to mere rhetoric, it is also reflected in behaviour on the ground. Suffice it is to say that the shooting of the three abductees could not have taken place had the rules of engagement not been a dead letter, which in practice means viewing every adult Gaza male as a legitimate target. And that’s without mentioning the violent conduct in the West Bank, which in practice seeks to ignite an armed uprising in that region.

These phenomena should be seen as an escalation of 20-year-old processes, cantered on the Zionist-Ultra-Orthodox challenge and the uprising of blue-collar troopers (following the Elor Azaria affair) over the IDF’s alleged restraint. This is an attempt to reshape the image of the army in a pincer movement of an uprising from below and backing from the Right-wing leadership, which was expressed, for example, in the taunt against the chief of staff for daring to suspend soldiers who desecrated a mosque in Jenin.

But more worrying is the collapse of the military hierarchy. The General Staff hears the voices of vengeance, sees the violations of discipline, the dismissive treatment of the rules of engagement, and does almost nothing. The fear of the Right fell upon them. The military did not even heed the warnings that were heard about the phenomenon and the potential impact on lawsuits against Israel. It only called out to stop the phenomenon of looting that is developing, but was content with the call being issued by the chief education officer, not a clear command order, and it also presents the looting as an doing harm to the army and not as a violation of the moral rule “thou shalt not steal”.

So it is possible that the IDF leverages the instincts of soldiers and their commanders to excite the spirit of battle, but after the war it will take a great deal of effort to rehabilitate the ground army before certain segments of it turn into gangs.