When the Ends Don't Justify the Means: Israeli Army's Use of Dogs Is Cruel

A society without respect for human dignity, that is willing to use animals against human beings, is an unfit society.

Emanuel Gross
Emanuel Gross
A Palestinian protester attacked by an IDF dog during a protest in the West Bank, 2012.
A Palestinian protester attacked by an IDF dog during a protest in the West Bank, 2012.Credit: Lazar Simeonov
Emanuel Gross
Emanuel Gross

A video clip that right-wing activist and former Knesset member Michael Ben Ari posted on his Twitter account shows soldiers in the army’s elite canine unit using two dogs to capture a teenage boy who looks to be around 16. The Oketz Unit troops were pursuing Palestinians who were thought to have thrown fire bombs at the West Bank settlement of Karmei Tzur. In the clip, the dogs pull at the boy’s pants as the soldiers taunt him, saying, “Who’s a coward?” The boy screams, whether out of pain or fear. It is difficult to watch.

It is known that the Israel Defense Forces uses dogs for various purposes, some of them appropriate and justified, such as searching for survivors of a rock slide or sniffing out explosives or contraband. Dogs are also trained to guard military bases, and in all these ways they are a boon to the army.

The use of animals for such purposes raises other kinds of ethical questions, such as the extent to which it is permissible for us, as a society, to jeopardize a dog’s life in order to save a human life. It’s a tough question, but at the moment I am troubled by a different sort of behavior: the use of dogs to apprehend and scare individuals, for example to prevent the escape of a criminal suspect or to make a criminal think twice about returning to crime.

The army is permitted, even required, to prevent acts of terror and it is right to arrest the perpetrators of terror – but not all means are permitted. The IDF has procedures to follow when arresting a suspect. Soldiers are trained in using firearms to effect an arrest, and if they do it properly there is no reason they won’t capture the suspect. Siccing dogs on human beings, in contrast, is a cruel and inappropriate method of arrest.

This does not apply in situations where soldiers’ lives are in danger and they have no other way of removing the immediate threat. There was no immediate danger to the soldiers in the video, who also had arrest and crowd-control means at their disposal. In such a circumstance, there is no legal or humanitarian justification for setting dogs onto human beings. Such behavior belongs to dark regimes of the past.

To my mind, the IDF’s statement, according to which the soldiers’ actions were authorized and the main problem was their behavior after they ordered the dogs to stop the suspect, is confounding. It would seem that the army believes that using dogs to apprehend a suspect is correct and proportionate, and less dangerous than using firearms.

In my opinion, dogs should never be used in arrests or in crowd dispersal; it is cruel, disproportionate and inappropriate. The same is true for the police’s use of horses to disperse illegal gatherings or demonstrations. It is dangerous, brutal and inappropriate.

A society without respect for human dignity, that is willing to use animals against human beings, is an unfit society that is losing its compass and its conscience. Both the army and the police would do well to revise their protocols regarding the use of animals to effect arrests and disperse crowds, and without delay.

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