Website of Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Haaretz Editorial, May 1, 2002
Dishonorable conduct in war
While the government is conducting a difficult campaign to guarantee that the IDF's good name will not be besmirched by a UN investigation of the events at the Jenin refugee camp, it turns out that some IDF soldiers brought shame on themselves, and the army, through acts of vandalism and, in some cases, looting during Operation Defensive Shield. By doing so, they cast a shadow over the many soldiers who made an effort to behave properly and with humanitarian sensitivity during the campaign.
Reports about destruction of property by soldiers, which allegedly took place outside the course of the fighting itself, have unfortunately now been confirmed by the army. There were more than a few occasions in which private property owned by Palestinian families was vandalized indiscriminately, and without any visible purpose other than vandalism for its own sake. Apparently, there were also cases where soldiers purloined money and electronic equipment from homes and offices.
Particularly in Ramallah, the acting capital of the Palestinian Authority, soldiers vented their rage on computers found in PA offices and in offices of various civilian agencies. The damage to the computers, monitors, keyboards, office equipment and furniture went far beyond the original mission of a specific intelligence unit assigned to find and recover computer hard disks that might contain valuable intelligence information. To achieve that end, there was no need, as senior IDF officers admitted to Ha'aretz correspondent Amos Harel, to break and smash computer systems, damaging the fabric of knowledge that forms the foundations of civic society.
According to those same officers - and judging by any moral and logical criteria - there was no command or guidance for soldiers to carry out such acts of destruction, and certainly not to loot.
There is no justification for relaxing military discipline, even during combat, nor is there any room for turning a blind eye to criminal behavior. And there surely can be no tolerance for it after the fighting has ended. Nor does the bitter emotional atmosphere in the country, a result of the chain of suicide bombings preceding the operation, justify or excuse any of those phenomena.
Thus, the awkward question must be asked: Where were the commanders, both senior and junior, when these intolerable acts were committed? The Palestinians, and many others around the world, deduced from the scenes of vandalism that even without an explicit command, the soldiers understood they were required to sow complete destruction in the PA's offices, in banks and in other public institutions, in order to fundamentally undermine the authority's government infrastructure.
Both army commanders and government officials outrightly reject that interpretation, noting that criminal procedures have been begun against some soldiers suspected of looting.
But to buttress the official explanation, and, even more importantly, to reinforce proper norms of purity of arms in the IDF, a much more vigorous and wide-scale investigation is required. Trials must be conducted and heavy sentences imposed to deter those who vandalized and looted, and by doing so, trod under foot both the good name of the army and the honor of the state.