Israeli Military Chief Tells Soldiers: Maintaining IDF Values Is a Duty, Not Privilege

In letter to all soldiers, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot writes that those ‘deviating’ from army’s values will face legal action; move follows arrest of IDF soldier for shooting Palestinian attacker last week.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot at a ceremony on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, April 19, 2015.
Emil Salman

“Maintaining the spirit of the Israel Defense Forces and its values is not a privilege, it is a duty,” Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot wrote in a letter to all soldiers on Wednesday, following last week’s shooting of a wounded Palestinian attacker by an IDF soldier in Hebron.

The letter, which was distributed to all soldiers, notes that alongside their defensive and offensive operations, soldiers are also required to preserve human dignity and the code of “purity of arms” – one of the values set forth in the army’s official ethics doctrine, The Spirit of the IDF.

“In every action and every situation, we must behave professionally, utilizing the focused, measured and considered force needed to fulfill the mission and be faithful to our values,” Eisenkot wrote in the letter, which was titled “Protecting the home, preserving the purity of arms.”

“The IDF places the responsibility for fulfilling the mission in your hands – to protect the country. The commanders, with myself at their lead, shall continue to support every soldier who errs during the heat of battle against an enemy endangering the lives of civilians and soldiers,” Eisenkot wrote. “However, we shall not hesitate to exercise the law with soldiers and commanders who deviate from the operational and ethical criteria according to which we operate.”

The eyes of the nation are upon the IDF, Eisenkot added, not only to provide security, but to maintain its image. “Preserving the spirit of the IDF and its values is not a privilege, it is a duty, in order to maintain the IDF as the people’s army in a Jewish democratic state,” he wrote. The strength of the IDF lies in fulfilling its function while maintaining those values, he noted.

On Tuesday, the courts again extended the detention of the soldier who was filmed shooting Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21, in the head while the Palestinian was lying seemingly subdued on the ground. It was the second extension of the soldier, whose personal details are subject to a gag order.

The incident has caused uproar across the political spectrum, with some arguing that the IDF is failing to stand by its man. The chief of staff’s missive is intended to spell out his position on the subject, which is that the army cannot cover for soldiers who violate the rules and values of the IDF.

Last week, fliers denouncing Eisenkot were distributed around the Kirya (IDF central command in Tel Aviv) and elsewhere, calling for him to resign. Discussing the fliers, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said a campaign was being waged against the army and Eisenkot. It was being led by certain cabinet ministers, who shouldn’t be surprised to get the same treatment themselves one day, Ya’alon added.