The coordinator of operations in the territories has decided that the mission of this officer – an Arabic-speaking reservist – would be to assist commanders in minimizing the harm done to and suffering sustained by the civilian population not involved in the fighting.
The officer will make sure that the enquiries of citizens whose homes get caught up in a crossfire will be quickly relayed to commanders on the ground and be addressed; he will spot in advance sensitive sites and areas, such as clinics, UN facilities, and civilian infrastructure sites; he will also coordinate the humanitarian aid to the population in the area where the regiment operates.
In fact, this humanitarian aid officer will serve as the representative on the ground of the Liaison and Coordination Administration, which serves as liaison for the Palestinian population and international aid groups during periods of routine and at wartime.
During the fighting in Operation Cast Lead, members of the Liaison and Coordination Administration recorded quite a few success stories in rescuing Gaza residents from the line of fire, providing medical assistance, handing over food and medicine, and initiating lulls in fighting.
However, one of the lessons of the operation was that these officers, who were sitting at the Erez Crossing and at the home front headquarters of the Gaza Division, were not always accessible to Palestinian residents at combat zones and did not always manage to relay vital messages to the fighters on the ground on time. As result, the IDF mistakenly targeted the homes of innocent civilians, vehicles, and people who were offering aid; this prompted quite a few cases where civilians, including children, women, and the elderly, were hurt.
A vital resource
The regimental humanitarian aid officers are supposed to overcome these failures. Their very presence on the ground, alongside the commanders and fighters, will have a restraining effect. They will also be able to curb misguided fire early on and prevent tragic misunderstandings. They will provide the IDF with a vital resource for fighting an enemy that uses the civilian population as a human shield.
Most of the components of this resource were already deployed during Operation Cast Lead: The thorough legal scrutiny of targets before the operation, the phone calls to civilians whose homes were about to be bombed because they were used as arms depots and Hamas headquarters, the leaflets that provided advance warning about the IDF’s intention to enter populated areas and asked civilians to evacuate these sites, the publication of the Liaison and Coordination Administration’s phone number in the Palestinian media, and the humanitarian lulls in the fighting.
Yet the regimental humanitarian aid officers are another vital link in this chain. The system will be completed if the IDF also defines safe zones civilians can flee to and protected escape routes that would lead them there. Once this is in place, the IDF will have an unmatched humanitarian system, which as far as I know no other army in the world can boast of. It will provide Israel with a proper response – and not a legalistic and “clever” one, but rather, a practical and efficient one – to the de-legitimacy which terror and guerilla groups use in the aims of depriving us of our right for self-defense.
Moreover, should this resource be utilized not only in Gaza but also in future combat in Lebanon or any other theater, and should the humanitarian officers get the attention of the fighters and of the IDF’s top brass, their very presence will reinforce the claim that the IDF is the world’s most moral army.
This is important not only in order to dismiss reports of the type drafted by the Goldstone Commission, but also and mostly in order to reinforce the faith of IDF soldiers in the righteousness of their way and in the purity of arms.