Israel Defence Force
The Israel Defence Forces ( צבא הגנה לישראל), usually referred to as the IDF, was founded on May 26, 1948 following the establishment of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. Its objective is "to protect the inhabitants of Israel and to combat all forms of terrorism which threaten daily life".
The IDF is made up primarily of youths between the ages of 18 and 25, as conscription is mandatory following graduation from high school for both men and women, unless physically or mentally unfit for service. A major exception to this are youths from very religious families, who are allowed to continue their studies in a Yeshiva so that they can pray for the safety of Israel, and Arab youths, since forcing them to fight other Arabs would be a recipe for disaster (although they may join voluntarily and a number of them do, most of them Bedouin). Also exempt from conscription are women who are married, pregnant or mothers, or are from religious families who don't think women should be fighting.
They have really cool up-armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers, which they use to demolish buildings that are harboring terrorists, as well as the homes of families of suicide bombers, the homes of those Palestinians who happen to live in the same building as or adjacent to such targets, or for "military/security needs" (e.g. living in Gaza). However the IDF has also used military force to evict Jewish settlers from the Sinai peninsula in the 1980s and from Gaza in 2005, when their presence there became contrary to the political will of the Israeli government. As a whole the IDF is a rather efficient fighting force that has never outright lost a war (losing a war may very well result in the end of the existence of the state of Israel) but has from time to time struggled, especially on the "PR-front".
Human rights abuses
The IDF have repeatedly been criticized by international groups, such as Amnesty International, for regularly ignoring basic human rights. Below, for example, is a small selection of recent reports from Human Rights Watch outlining questionable actions on the part of the IDF. The IDF's response to these concerns is largely along the lines of "everyone around us wants us dead, so fuck off."
- "The Israeli army should immediately cease deliberately endangering Palestinian civilians by forcing them to assist military operations."
- "Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups continue to endanger children and should immediately halt practices risking children’s lives."
- "Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes, not Hezbollah’s shielding as claimed by Israeli officials, caused most of the approximately 900 civilian deaths in Lebanon during the July-August 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah."
- "The human devastation inflicted on Lebanon by Israel’s illegal use of cluster munitions highlights the urgent need for an international treaty banning the weapon."
- "The Israeli government should go beyond a military “field investigation” and conduct an impartial and thorough probe into the tank shelling that killed a Reuters cameraman and three other civilians in Gaza on April 16."
Purity of arms?
Apologists, even of the pseudo-liberal variety, often argue that killings by the IDF are inadvertent, accidental, unintended, lacked willful intent, or were in legitimate self-defense. Even a skeptical cursory view of the findings of human rights organizations paint a very different picture offered by such apologists. Consider the Second Intifada where violence among Palestinians was more prevalent and heavily cited as reasons for enhanced security.
- “The organization found a pattern of repeated Israeli use of excessive lethal force during clashes between its security forces and Palestinian demonstrators in situations where demonstrators were unarmed and posed no threat of death or serious injury to the security forces or to others. In cases that HRW investigated where gunﬁre by Palestinian security forces or armed protesters was a factor, use of lethal force by the IDF was indiscriminate and not directed at the source of the threat, in violation of international law enforcement standards” (p. 1). - Human Rights Watch, Investigation into the Unlawful Use of Force in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Northern Israel (New York, 2000).
- "[T]he majority of people killed were taking part in demonstrations where stones were the only weapon used [. . .] A large proportion of those injured and killed included children usually present and often among those throwing stones during demonstrations. Bystanders, people within their homes and ambulance personnel were also killed. Many persons were apparently killed by poorly targeted lethal ﬁre; others [. . .] appear, on many occasions, to have been deliberately targeted. In many of the locations where children were killed there was no imminent danger to life nor reasonable expectation of future danger” (pp. 5–6). - Amnesty International, Excessive Use of Lethal Force (London, 2000).
- [Open-ﬁre] regulations apparently enable ﬁring in situations where there is no clear and present danger to life, or even in situations where there is no life-threatening danger at all (p. 7). - B’Tselem, Trigger Happy: Unjustiﬁed Shooting and Violation of the Open-Fire Regulations during the al-Aqsa Intifada (Jerusalem, 2002).
- "During the ﬁrst months of the al-Aqsa intifada, Palestinians held hundreds of demonstrations [. . .] Palestinian demonstrators did not open fire in the vast majority of demonstrations. The soldiers responded to these demonstrations by using excessive and disproportionate force, leading to many casualties, including children" (p. 16). - B’Tselem, Trigger Happy: Unjustiﬁed Shooting and Violation of the Open-Fire Regulations during the al-Aqsa Intifada (Jerusalem, 2002).
- [R]egulations [. . .] permit soldiers to open ﬁre, automatically, at any Palestinian who approaches areas in the Gaza Strip referred to as ‘danger zones.’ [. . .] In effect, it constitutes a death sentence for every person who approaches, whether deliberately or by mistake, a settlement’s fence, certain roads, or the fence along the border.... An order of this kind also completely ignores the fact that many Palestinians try to sneak into Israel to go to work and not to injure Israeli soldiers or civilians" (pp. 39-41). - B’Tselem, Trigger Happy: Unjustiﬁed Shooting and Violation of the Open-Fire Regulations during the al-Aqsa Intifada (Jerusalem, 2002).
To top it off, the IDF does not exude a similar kind of excessive force for violence by Jewish groups. Amnesty notes, "The Israeli security forces’ ability to police violent demonstrations without the use of ﬁrearms is indicated in their policing of violent demonstrations by Jewish groups. [. . .] [N]o demonstration organized by a Jewish group has ever been ﬁred on, even by rubber bullets". One wonders why this disparity occurs.
- Amnesty International: Israel and the Occupied Territories: Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property (2004) and Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: The conflict in Gaza: A briefing on applicable law, investigations and accountability (2011)