IDF Spokesman Presents: Closeout Sale

Israel is considered one of the world's leading arms exporters, but now it turns out that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has found a new export market: the sale of videos. Gil Yeshua, the owner of a production company representing foreign television companies, recently discovered this industry's existence while preparing a report for one of the large TV stations in Japan. He approached the IDF Spokesman's Office with a routine request for a collection of 12 minutes of archival footage of fighter jets and armored vehicles in action. The veteran producer assumed that the IDF would gladly jump at the offer; after all, members of the IDF Spokesman's film and photography unit are sent to the battlefields, and sometimes even risk their lives, so that television viewers and newspaper readers around the world can see their pictures.

The head of the IDF Spokesman's archive department, Inbar Reich, reviewed the request and approved the provision of the material. To receive the goods, however, Yeshua was asked to go to the billing department at the Defense Ministry's publishing house and drop off a check for NIS 13,302. The actual cost noted on the form for the "acquisition of archival footage from the IDF Spokesman's film unit" was NIS 22,170, but on the same form, penciled in by hand, there appeared an instruction from "Avital" granting him a 30 percent discount. The director of the budget department, Second Lieutenant Or Eisenstart, added an additional 10 percent discount. The guys at the IDF Spokesman's Office are really nice.

I asked the IDF Spokesman if this is an original way of financing the operations of the film unit. The response I received, free of charge, was: "The IDF Spokesman's Office is not a profit-making entity, and the money it collects is transferred to the Defense Ministry. Charging a fee for IDF archival footage, including also footage from the IDF Spokesman, is done in accordance with ministry guidelines and IDF regulations."

"The reason for the existence of the IDF spokesman, and this includes also the film unit, is to build a positive image of the army and its commanders," says Yeshua. "Apart from photos it produces itself, the unit prides itself on the dozens of video cameras it supplies to IDF soldiers, so that it can edit and distribute up-to-date material to the media in Israel and the world."

He notes that to that end, the IDF Spokesman's Office possesses a veritable monopoly of information and unique visual information. What television station, commercial or public, holds footage of the bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, or of an Israel Air Force flyover above the site of the Auschwitz death camp?

The IDF Spokesman's Office says in response that Yeshua's production received vast assistance, which included, among other things, a taped interview with a senior air force commander and the arranging of a day of filming with an air force operational squadron. "In addition, the assistance also included an offer to receive one minute of film footage from the archive for free, and a 40 percent discount on the remaining archival material. The rate charged by the IDF is lower than what is charged by the Defense Ministry and lower than what is charged by the archives of other commercial entities."

"Other commercial entities"? Did you hear that, Minister Peretz? Maybe now's the time to consider charging a fee for an interview with the defense minister. In the meantime, the Defense Ministry has not responded to the complaints.

Tartman is not alone

Without infringing on the public's right to know the truth about the education of its elected representatives, and without diminishing the severity of Esterina Tartman's actions, the minister-designate had whom to learn from about the padding of academic achievements. From two incidents that have been publicized, she could have learned that deceiving the public with regard to a public servant's education need not necessarily affect that individual's career.

For years, the title of "professor" was attached to Moshe Arens' name, until it became known that he completed only a master's degree in engineering. The discovery did not stop him on his way to the office of defense minister. The president of the National Labor Court, Steve Adler, for years signed decisions with the title "doctor," even though he holds only a master's degree (juris doctor), which every law school graduate in the U.S. entitled to a master's degree receives. Even after the discovery, Adler continued to head the panel that deals occasionally with deceivers who present fictitious academic degrees in order to increase their salary. "I don't know why I changed to Dr.," Adler said in a Haaretz interview with Benny Citrin, who disclosed the story in May 2001. "Maybe I wanted to emphasize something in a ruling." The High Court of Justice accepted Adler's explanation that this move was done in good faith and rejected a petition to dismiss him. And the court administration did not even take any disciplinary action against him.

In June 2004, Yoav Yitzhak's Internet site reported that the committee to select judges received false information regarding the education of Edna Arbel. The committee members who were discussing her candidacy for a position on the Supreme Court received a false report, according to which Arbel holds a master's degree in law (L.L.M.), while in actually she holds only an undergraduate degree (L.L.B.) in law. The false report, according to which "Arbel completed law studies at Bar-Ilan University in 1979," was also sent to the press at the time of her swearing-in ceremony at the President's Residence. It was later also publicized on the Supreme Court's Internet site. The Courts Administration's spokesman said in response at the time that the forms filled out by Arbel, and submitted to the committee for the selection of judges, noted only that she studied for a master's degree and did not specify that she completed her studies. He argued that the information that she holds a master's degree stemmed from "an error in the committee's office."

The Council for Higher Education Law stipulates that "someone posing as the holder of a recognized degree legally granted to him, when such a degree was not awarded to him, shall be sentenced to one year in jail." Plain and simple.

'Homeless neighbor' policy

Early Tuesday morning, during the operation to capture "wanted suspects," Israeli soldiers surrounded the home of Muna Zbeida, in the Mahseiya neighborhood of Nablus. The loudspeakers called on the residents of the house to come outside immediately so as to avoid any harm to them. Zbeida approached the commander of the force and offered herself to lead the soldiers from apartment to apartment so that they would see that no terrorist was hiding in the building. The commander rejected her offer and instructed the soldiers to open fire on the house. Zbeida's apartment and all of its contents went up in flames. Since then, she and her 9-year-old son have been staying with relatives. The wanted suspect, or his remains, was not found in the apartment.

The IDF Spokesman's response would suggest that human rights organizations that opposed the "neighbor policy" have received in exchange a "homeless neighbor" policy. It stated, "because a High Court of Justice ruling bars the use of an advance warning procedure, such as the neighbor policy, the IDF has no other possibility of convincing wanted suspects to step outside of a building they are in, apart from exerting pressure. This, without endangering our forces by having them enter a building, where according to precise intelligence, wanted suspects are present. In the case mentioned, the IDF used different means to approach the apartment where a wanted suspect was being concealed and as a result a fire broke out." A military official argues that the wanted suspect was indeed in the apartment, but managed to get past the siege around the house and the whole neighborhood and escape.

What do the young soldiers who harm a helpless woman for the sake of the "security" of Israel's citizens feel? Dr. Shaul Kimhi, a clinical psychologist from the Tel Hai Academic College's department of psychology, tried to clarify the answer to this question in a study conducted among demobilized soldiers who served at checkpoints across the West Bank for at least one month during the intifada. Here is a selection of responses he received from a cross-section of 170 soldiers:

Of those questioned, 24.2 percent stated that serving at checkpoints entailed great or very great emotional difficulty. Another 37.1 percent said they experienced moderate difficulty and 38.8 percent felt little difficulty or none at all. Only some 10 percent had the impression that soldiers at the checkpoints treated the Palestinian population unfairly. A third of those questioned said that Jewish settlers impeded or very much impeded the soldiers' work at the checkpoints.

The survey further revealed that the percentage of soldiers who support an Israeli departure from the territories increased after service at the checkpoints. In response to the question of what was their political position prior to their service with regarding to staying or leaving the territories, 17.2 percent said they unequivocally supported a departure. On the other hand, 28.4 percent noted that this is now their position.

Just over half of those questioned agreed to a large or very large extent that serving at the checkpoints made them less sensitive to the Palestinians' rights. 24.7 percent selected the option "agree to a moderate degree." Almost 45 percent noted that serving at the checkpoints confronted them with moral dilemmas. However, 83.4 percent believe that the checkpoints are achieving their military objective. An even larger majority (87.6 percent) agreed, from a moderate-to-very-large extent with the statement that military service taught them that, "all in all, the IDF is an ethical army."

The survey findings, Kimhi writes, confirm that a soldier's adjustment is in direct proportion to the degree of justification for the checkpoints, and that is in direct proportion to the duration of time served at the checkpoint. It is also possible to learn from the survey that the more religious soldiers' high school background is, the greater justification they feel there is for the use of checkpoints. The non-religious soldiers' lower sense of justification was accompanied by a lower level of cognitive and emotional adjustment to serving at the checkpoints and more aggressive behavior toward the Palestinian population.