Israeli Colonel Speaks in Springfield: We Risk Our Own Lives to Protect Civilians in War Zones

Ethics in the Field:  An Inside Look at the Israeli Defense Forces

Presented by Colonel Bentzi Gruber

Springfield, Illinois

April 12, 2011

Colonel Bentzi Gruber, IDF.

Colonel Gruber is Vice Commander of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) armored division of 20,000 soldiers in Southern Israel   He is an expert on Israel’s counter-terrorism efforts and the ethics of the Israel Defense Forces.  Colonel Gruber commanded IDF forces during the 2008-2009 war against Hamas in Gaza. 

Via firsthand, frontline accounts and actual combat film footage (presented with IDF access and permission), as well as footage from the Associated Press and Reuters, Colonel Gruber highlighted the dilemmas facing IDF commanders in locating and combatting terrorists and armed fighters within a civilian population, and explained the IDF’s unique ethical code.   

Sadly, the IDF has had to learn how to defend Israel from armed forces that use civilian population centers, buildings, schools, mosques and even children as human shields.  Colonel Gruber used actual combat footage to vividly demonstrate just how far the IDF will go to protect civilians and to avoid and/or minimize collateral damage.  He presented two situations in which the IDF diverted a fired air-to-ground rocket targeting armed forces to explode in open terrain:  one case where a vehicle left the road and hid under an enclosed building; and another where a fleeing fighter sought refuge in front of a civilian occupied building.  To see two aerial maps of how Hamas embeds military forces and arms in civilian areas, click here.

In addition, Colonel Gruber presented actual footage from a jeep-driven, homicide-bomber attack along the Gaza border inside Israel.  He used this attack to explain how Israeli soldiers had “eight seconds” to determine what was happening and to figure out how to respond properly according to the IDF’s rules of engagement.  Colonel Gruber also presented actual footage of an armed Hamas fighter carrying a young child across the street to protect himself from attack.  He even discussed and presented video examples of the IDF’s tactics to protect civilians.  These include dropping leaflets, making phone calls and sending text messages to alert civilians to leave areas occupied by Hamas fighters prior to an Israeli attack. 

Colonel Gruber also showed video footage of IDF attacks against smuggling tunnels between Hamas-controlled Gaza and Egypt, including chain-reaction explosions that demonstrate that the tunnels are often filled with military and other types of explosives, all to be used to attack Israel.  This is why Israel is so concerned about preventing arms shipments to Gaza.  Gruber noted that Israel has destroyed 800 tunnels between Rafah (Gaza) and Egypt.

To see a map of Gaza in relation to Israel and Egypt, click here.

Colonel Gruber demonstrated how Hamas forces in Gaza use local and even United Nations ambulances to support their military activities.  He reported that Hamas has seized control of education and ambulance services formerly provided by the United Nations (“Hamas fired its civilian workers”).  Gruber showed this Reuters video (believed to be dated Spring 2006) as an example.  Count how many armed Hamas fighters pile into the commandeered United Nations marked ambulance, or should we say troop carrier (0:49 in the video).  Also observe, at the top of the frame, how ambulances are used to block the road and impede IDF forces.

Given Hamas’ resurgent rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel during the past week, including a missile attack on a school bus, Colonel Gruber’s talk was timely, and critically important.  Israel is frequently criticized for military operations against its enemies.  However, as the United States military learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as NATO is learning in Libya, it’s a difficult challenge to fight the enemy when it decides to embed itself among civilians. 

Colonel Gruber’s talk was also especially relevant given the retraction published by Richard Goldstone in his Washington Post Op-Ed, in which he essentially repudiated the unfounded claims and criticism about Israel’s military conduct during the 2008-2009 Gaza war.

Although not part of Colonel Gruber’s presentation, here are two examples of Hamas forces embedding themselves within heavily civilian areas.  First, as we recently posted, the IDF released footage of Hamas forces using a cemetery as a rocket base.  And, the video below contains footage released by Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, of its operatives firing rockets from dense, civilian population areas.  At 0:14 in the video, a rocket can be seen being fired from in front of a school and a mosque.

Gruber stressed three main points about the IDF’s Code of Ethics:

1.  Necessity:  Force should be used solely for the purpose of accomplishing the mission.

2.  Distinction:  Don’t harm the innocent.

3.  Proportionality:  Any collateral damage [which the IDF goes to unprecedented lengths to avoid] should be in proportion to the threat.

Read more about the IDF’s Code of Ethics here.

Colonel Gruber closed his presentation by sharing his philosophy of “Chesed in the Field.”  

According to Gruber, “Chesed in the Field (chesed is Hebrew for kindness) instills the values of community and social responsibility in the hearts of thousands of soldiers, and provides a sense of belonging for those members of society who are usually left on the outside looking in.”  He organizes  “a variety of programs throughout the year that bring together IDF soldiers and the terminally ill or disabled for experiences that educate and inspire everyone involved.  ‘When our soldiers are good people’, says Colonel Gruber, ‘that is when we have a strong army and secure country.'”


Colonel Gruber’s visit was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Springfield, Illinois’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and Adult Education Committee, along with the Springfield Chapter of Hadassah.  The Federation regularly sponsors and presents this type of Opinion Leader event for the local community.

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