The conviction of two IDF soldiers who used a Palestinian boy as a human shield in Operation Cast Lead, along with the other 150 complaints being examined by committees established by the IDF and most of the accusations that surfaced during the Second Intifada, are the result of reports and complaints lodged by external parties. These include UN agencies, the Defense for Children International-Israel, B'Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Goldstone Report.

The prospect that this pattern of pressure applied by external agencies will prevent irregular occurrences from happening in the future is slim. Even the Shin Bet's legal counsel's view, espoused during discussions about the proposed new anti-terror law, regarding the security service's internal review apparatus, and limitations imposed on it by the Knesset, are not sufficient. Branches of Israel's defense system would do well to develop an organizational atmosphere that would stifle such phenomena, continually warn about them and oppose them. Should these branches inculcate an ethos of internal review and self-criticism, they will avoid the sting of public and world criticism, which is liable to threaten them more severely.

In general, military activity in a conquered area where a civilian population resides is a complicated and sensitive matter, as American forces stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq have learned. Compounded to the already sensitive circumstances in Judea and Samaria is the existence of settlements, and the view of a portion of Israel's public that these regions are not occupied territories. In light of the unique complexity of Israeli reality, and since the IDF does not choose its missions, government ministers responsible for guaranteeing symmetry between laws and military assignments, as well as the branches of the defenses establishment, have to deal in a thorough, penetrating way with irregular occurrences.

Internal review mechanisms in the defense system, such as the IDF's military police and military advocate general, are among the components that should organize themselves for dealing with such issues. The defense minister and IDF chief of staff should publicize these mechanisms' guidelines, as well as practical steps taken to enforce them.

Yet the bulk of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of officers, who exert the most influence on soldiers; IDF officers bear the burden of fashioning military behavioral norms and ethics. They have to enforce sanctions against soldiers who act improperly, and refrain from the "winking" culture that we have witnessed in several instances in which the behavior of forces in the field differed from what is required in written orders. Officers should ensure that the military's official codes of ethical conduct are clear, consistent and suited to their units' organizational culture. Such consistency protects soldiers from the negative influences exerted by elements outside the military, and also, as in recent cases, irregularities within the IDF.

Negligence in the fulfillment of this obligation can serve as an explanation of the response of friends of the soldiers who were convicted of harming the Palestinian boy. These comrades criticized the brigade's officers for not supporting the soldiers, and not turning up in court to help them. It can explain statements such as "these soldiers served their state," and therefore "putting them on trial means stabbing them in the back." Such statements derive from the fact that the soldiers' prosecution was perceived as the result of external pressure, and not the consequences of the soldiers' own actions - the slogan on their T-shirts, "We are Goldstone's Victims," says it all.

 

The author served as an IDF brigade commander in the Gaza Strip.