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Red Rag weekly column: Letter to the IDF Chief of Staff
By: Gideon Spiro
6 August 2014 (English translation 10 August 2014)


Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz
Chief of Staff
Israel Defence Force


About 8 years ago, in the summer of 2006, we met at the Tel Nof camp for the
occasion of the paratroop jump near the Tel Aviv coast to commemorate the 50th
anniversary of the jump at the Mitla Pass, the only combat jump in the history
of Israel’s wars. I was one of the ten veterans who had jumped at Mitla in the
Sinai War in 1956 and who joined the commemorative jump (after medical
examinations to ensure that we were fit for the jump). To the best of my
memory nearly all the generals of the IDF participated in the jump. MK Eitan
Cabel, who served as a minister without portfolio, also participated in the
jump, even though he did not jump at Mitla.

My participation in the commemorative jump was not motivated by nostalgia but
by a political objective. As a journalist it was clear to me that the jump
would receive a substantial media coverage and I perceived an opportunity to
transmit a message I had developed over the years through study, reading
historical documents, an outlook that emphasizes peace and human rights and a
suspicious attitude to those in authority in general, especially in time of
war. And what have I discovered over the years? That when I jumped at Mitla I
was not defending Israel but was a pawn in a conspiracy the declining colonial
powers the UK and France cooked up with Israel for the purpose of reversing
the nationalization of the Suez Canal which the government of Egypt had
recently announced. In other words, without my permission I was made into a
soldier in the service of Her Britannic Majesty and what was left of the
British and French empires.

My comrades who were killed in the Sinai war in 1956 sacrificed their lives
for nothing, for an illegitimate objective. They not internalized the idea
that life was a gift given only once, and there is no second chance after
death. My message to 18-year-olds who are enlisting in the army and want to
run like golems to their deaths is to stop, think and try to understand the
purpose of the war, not to accept at face value the commanders’ prattle about
defending the Homeland. Read what those who disagree with the government are
saying. If you have come to the conclusion that this is a war of deception
like the Lebanon war, or of oppression of another people as in the Occupied
Territories, do not go. You are the owners of your lives. You must not let the
army decide who will live and who will die. Faced with the sheep-like tendency
to run to the “action”, think about what you will miss when your lives are cut
off at such a young age and what exciting experiences await you in life if you
refuse to join a pointless war. And always remember: the generals who send you
to war never endanger themselves. They are always outside the field of battle.
These thoughts were the compass that led me to become one of the founders of
the Yesh Gvul movement.

As I expected, my message to the soldiers was reported by the media, both
print media and electronic.

When you were appointed chief of staff you were subjected to public scrutiny,
and it was reported that your mother was a Holocaust survivor. That fact made
me hope that perhaps we were getting a new kind of chief of staff, one whose
finger would not be quick on the trigger and whose approach to command would
include instructions to avoid harming the civilian population; for after all,
you are certainly aware of the images from the period of the Holocaust that
show Jews with babies in their arms fleeing from bombardment with terror
etched on their faces. You would not want, I hoped, your term as chief of
staff to be stained with such images.

The height of my hopes was later matched by the depth of my disappointment.
You could not resist the temptation, and so you will end your term by
bequeathing to your successors a war in your name, the First Gantz War, to the
glory of the State of Israel. Glory? A bit of an exaggeration. I have no doubt
that like every general you want to leave behind you a “honey of a war” where
everything ran like clockwork, all the objectives of which were realized, in
which the army and its soldiers exhibited resourcefulness and original
thought, that was accepted wall-to-wall as a just war and the praises of the
military genius who commanded the army were sung, and most importantly, in
which the enemy was defeated, subjugated and begged for forgiveness. Wars like
that exist mainly in myth. The Third Gaza War, code-named “Solid Cliff”
(“Defensive Edge” in English) has not achieved its objectives. The declared
aim of the war was to stop the firing of missiles at Israel. That objective
was not realized. During the fighting the objective was changed and it became
the destruction of the tunnels that penetrate into Israel. For that there was
no need to return Gaza to the Stone Age. That problem could have been solved
without war at all. The Geological Institute offered the army reliable
equipment to detect tunnels. You should have gone along the route of the fence
with the equipment to discover the tunnels and seal their exits with
reinforced concrete. No Hamasnik could have passed. The army rejected the

You praise to the skies the functioning of the army and your subordinates
parrot the praise. I am not convinced. It reminds me of a man walking in the
dark, fearful of death and constantly yelling, “I’m not afraid!” I saw a
struggle between the fat and the thin. The Israeli invasion army, fat and
phlegmatic, equipped with modern weapons with awesome firepower, moves
heavily. On the other side stand the Hamas fighters, with sparse resources,
thin and therefore more flexible. In order to escape the fire of the invading
army’s weapons, they are forced to implement the advice given to our fathers,
“with wise advice thou shalt make thy war” (Proverbs 24:6) [1]

The defeat of Hamas seems to me to be a reasonable objective, just as I see
the defeat of the its Israeli counterpart, the Jewish Home party, and the
defeat of Lieberman and his party as reasonable objectives, and the defeat of
the settlers and all supporters of the apartheid Occupation regime and of the
fraudulent secularist Lapid who enthroned a backward settler rabbi as minister
of education – all these too I see as objectives that are reasonable, but not
to be realized using methods over which flies the black flag of war crime.

Which brings us to the worst of all: Operation “Solid Cliff” will be
remembered to our eternal shame for massacres of a civilian population. The
killing-field now numbers about two thousand killed and ten thousand wounded,
and that is not the final tally. Every day more corpses are discovered under
the rubble. The percentage of children among the victims is horrifying.
Neighbourhoods have been wiped out, entire families have been destroyed and
United Nations facilities packed with refugees who had fled from the brutal
killing have been bombed.

The worst episode of all was in Rafah. Hamas fighters captured a soldier from
the invading army. In wars combatants are taken captive and after the wars
end, negotiations begin for exchange of prisoners. They did not know if the
captive was alive or dead. The commanders of the army of invasion decided to
implement the “Hannibal procedure”, which was devised for cases of abduction
of a soldier. Intense fire from all weapons: cannons, mortars and missiles
against a civilian population. The kidnappers were long gone through the
tunnels but the indiscriminate bombings against the innocent population

I quote from the newspaper Haaretz: “Rafah residents reported that they
were caught in a trap of fire the likes of which they had not seen before; the
IDF shelled and bombed houses along with their occupants without any
discrimination, and when they tried to escape from the houses the shells and
the bombs hit them on the streets, also indiscriminately. ‘All the houses
shook, like an earthquake’, residents told Haaretz. ‘The army went
crazy’ is how one Rafah woman put it. ‘They used F-16s, Apache helicopters,
drones, cannons and shelling from warships. We ran and the shells followed us,
there was no place to hide.’ (Haaretz 3 August 2014). They fired on
hospitals and ambulances. The result of this madness was at least 123 killed,
including 30 children, and five hundred wounded (Same Haaretz article,
by Amira Hass).

If that is what the Hannibal procedure looked like, it is a criminal procedure
that must be removed from the army’s orders. The phenomenon of an occupying
army losing all restraint and slaughtering the local population in revenge was
also seen in other places. The German occupier did that in the Second World
War in the village of Lidice in Czechoslovakia and the village of Oradour-sur-
Glane in France.

Gradually more stories are emerging that do nothing to enhance the image of
the army. Soldiers looted and stole money from Palestinian families. If anyone
still entertains the notion that the Israeli army is the most moral army in
the world, the Third Gaza War has put an end to that joke.

During my military service I served for a time as commander of a squad that
included Dan Shomron, who later became the chief of staff during whose term
the first Intifada broke out. On 19 October 1988 a photo was published of the
dead body of Ziad Fayez Haj Muhammad, a four and a half year old boy from
Nablus who was shot to death by an Israeli soldier while he was playing next
to his home. He was identified as the youngest fatality of the Intifada. I
asked the Attorney General at the time, Yosef Harish, to launch an
investigation against Minister of Defence Yitzhak Rabin, Chief of Staff Dan
Shomron and Generals Amram Mitzna and Yitzhak Mordechai for grave violations
of human rights.

Yosef Harish – what a surprise – did not accept my request, but it generated
an exchange of sharp letters between me and Aliza Mitzna, the wife of General
Mitzna, which was published in full in the weekly Haolam Hazeh (21
January 1989). As I write these lines, I have re-read my letter to Aliza
Mitzna (1 January 1989), and to my sorrow it is painfully relevant today. I
wrote to Dan a personal letter of protest in which I pointed out, among other
things, that as his former commander I did not teach him to shoot at children.
I suggested that he resign, join Yesh Gvul and contribute to the struggle
against the Occupation that was turning Israel into a violent and racist
society. He did not accept my suggestion. Since then over a thousand
Palestinian children have been killed by the Occupation army’s fire, including
days-old babies and pregnant women who were about to give birth. No one at the
top level of the Occupation army has been put on trial. It was precisely for
that purpose that the International Criminal Court was created.

In Israel you enjoy immunity, but outside the country there is more room for
personal initiative. If human rights activists identify you abroad, they will
do all that the law allows to deliver you to the International Criminal Court,
which will decide whether or not the First Gantz War contravened the laws of
war to the point of war crimes.

The unending prattle on television and radio makes me sick. One subject I did
not miss, however: the reports on the funerals. I listened carefully to the
eulogies by the parents, brothers and sisters, girlfriends and boyfriends. The
heart is rent and the eyes brim with tears, and I had no words of comfort but
sorrow for the young lives that were cut off before their time. Nor did I
forget that each one of the two thousand killed in Gaza had a name, and to my
shame the Israel Broadcasting Authority refused to broadcast B’tselem’s radio
spot listing the names of children who have been killed in Gaza. [2] What

The press gives extensive coverage to the heroes of the war. They seek out
heroes and the stories flow in: soldier A leapt here, soldier B leapt there,
soldier C killed someone at point-blank range and soldier D looked death in
the eyes and overcame it, and so on. But the real heroes are the ones who
refused to participate in the orgy of destruction and killing.

Gideon Spiro

Translator’s notes

1. The Hebrew word “tahbula”, translated in the Book of Proverbs (Jewish
Publication Society 1917 edition) as “wise advice” (“wise counsel” in the King
James Version) also means “trickery”, “ruse” or “stratagem”.


Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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