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Week of 7.17.09

Inside Israel's Army

Deep inside Israel's military forces—How does living with war affect their view the world?

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As President Obama begins a new push for peace in the Middle East, NOW travels to Israel to see how a lifetime of war shapes the psyche of a nation where almost every able-bodied man and woman must serve in the military.

The Weekly Q
"There's a story here of a generation, mine and yours, that understands that the most important value is the value of life. We finally got that it's not noble to die for our country," Idan Motola, an Israeli army reservist, tells NOW.

This week, NOW goes inside Israel's defense forces - where few have gone before - to speak with reservists about the impact of constant war on both their lives and their world view.

Parts of this show were excerpted from the film "Reporting for Duty".

Watch our show "Peace and Prosperity in the West Bank?", which focuses on the international effort underway in Jenin to build a safe and economically prosperous Palestinian state from the ground up.

Related Reports on PTSD

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Fighting the Army

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In the News

Aljazeera: Israel permits new settlement homes

BBC: Israel urged to halt settlements

CNN: Obama: No green light for Israel to attack Iran

The New York Times: Hamas Leader Hails Obama for New Tack

NOW Timeline: Israel-Lebanon Crisis

NPR: Hezbollah Captures Two Israeli Soldiers

Reuters: Israeli envoy sees firm U.S. support at UN Council

TIME: Who Fired on Israel from Lebanon

Viewer Comments

Commenter: Heather Stepanek
Of course Israel is in a state of war, just as the US was when it was clearing out the Native Americans, and when South Africa was when it was enforcing its apartheid plans and invading Namimbia.

You should have talked to the organization, Breaking the Silence, for their viewpoint on this issue. This is a huge oversight on your part.

I'm sorry your report focused on the soldier's questions about tactics or saving their own lives instead any qualms they had (or didn't have)about the brutality they waged against the mostly civilian population. This is a pretty pathetic report and be sure I won't be donating to PBS. I'll donate my money to more indepdent media.

Commenter: steve
This was a superb piece of journalism.
It reveals the commitment, humanity and questioning of leadership that defines Israel's citizen-soldiers. It helps explain why they have been so successful militarily and are so different than their Arab opponents who have little motivation to fight for their rulers.
Reading some of the hateful comments from other posters only reinforces why it is so important for Israel to maintain its armed forces from those who would do it harm at the first sign of weakness.

Commenter: Lyn
I'm still waiting for a show on the subject of Israel/Palestine that's not pro-Israel propaganda. Even the one the week before emphasized Palestinian violence yet downplayed the mass murders by Israel, or the facts of why there are refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, and never made so much as a mention of the Israeli practice of killing people by bulldozing their homes with the people still inside. This one makes no mention of the effects of Israel's white phospherous bombs on children, or the mass malnutrition resulting from the siege of Gaza. No, shows three sort of likeable men, shown hugging and loving their wives and children as they go off to war. To help in mass killings by Israel.

Commenter: Kate
The soldier who says he's not willing to blindly go war yet not one of them questioned the attacks on Gaza. To be sure, the residents of Gaza were pretty helpless militarily as Israel bombed their hospitals and schools, ambulances and houses full of helpless refugees from the attack, and rained white phospherous on them. There were many instances of Israeli soldiers killing people including women and children point blank. It was Israel's usual massive destruction, all with the usual "it was an accident" or "self-defense" excuse - never mind the 1000s of Palestinian residents of Gaza, mostly non-combatants, who were killed before the Dec.-Jan. attack. Never mind that Israelis pulled up lawn chairs to watch their army rain bombs on Gaza from the hills nearby. Not one of the soldiers noted that people of Gaza have a right to live. In fact these soldiers were cheering the invasion, with its killing of so many innocent people.

On the other hand, at least one of the soldiers questioned the Lebanese invasion - but in that one the Lebanese put on a good defense.

I don't know if these soldiers are deliberately turning a blind eye to the mass murders they're helping with, or just trying to blind us to them.

Commenter: Greg
The reporter, Michele Mitchell, gave us a propaganda piece for the Israeli army with no reporting whatsoever. This is exactly how we were taught by the media that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We were persuaded to attack Iraq as a preemptive war. So many people died and suffered because of this nonsense. The same is happening now and NOW is a party to it with this propaganda piece for the Israeli army.

Commenter: Greg Booth
Inside Israel's Army is a parroting of the Israel spin with no honest investigation. Shame on you! You ignored the 12 courageous solders who recently spoke out about the truth on the ground. To have any credibility what so ever you must include their story. All independent investigations support their statements and not Israeli army spin you falsely reported as fact.

Quotes from interviews with Israeli soldiers published Wednesday by "Breaking the Silence," a human rights group of former Israeli soldiers. The group said it withheld the names of the soldiers because many are still serving and could be punished.
Commanders' alleged comments on shooting at civilians: "In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents."
"I am not willing to allow a soldier of mine to risk himself by hesitating."
"Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy."
On use of civilians as human shields for advancing soldiers: "Sometimes the force would enter while placing rifle barrels on a civilian's shoulder, advancing into a house and using him as a human shield. Commanders said these were the instructions and we had to do it."
On use of shelling and air strikes: "Whole neighborhoods were simply razed because four houses in the area served to launch Qassam rockets. I don't know what else can be done, but it does seem somewhat unfair."
On use of phosphorous shells: "Q: Why fire phosphorus? A: Because it's fun. Cool."
"Q: Professionally do you have phosphorus for use against such threats?"
"I don't know what it's used for ... I don't understand what it's even doing in our supplies if we're not supposed to use such ammunition. It's ridiculous."
On destruction of private property: "You enter the house with live ammunition after blowing up the door, the soldiers are looking to blow up TV and computer screens. They're looking for interesting things in the drawers: Hamas scarves and flags, knives. They are looking to plunder."
On destruction of homes: "Throughout our time there, we were told that we had to clear the area," testified a bulldozer driver. "'Clearing the area' is a nice way of saying the systematic destruction of a particular area."
I am not surprised "Jews targeting Palestinian children" is well documented:

Commenter: Norman Illsley
Starting Israel was an experiment. It has failed. Zionism, the foundation of Israel, is a major cause. We, the U.S., should stop funding Israel. Our resources if channeled an international agency such as the U.N. and directed toward humane, fair, economic development for all traditional residents of the Middle East, would make that a peaceful happy part of the world.

You, as a representative of the media have a moral responsibility to give us truthful unbiased insight to this problem we helped create.

Commenter: DA
Are some of you so blind and stuck out in the left liberal field that you can not stand someone elses viewpoint? The story and the reporter are trying to tell you that the new generation of Israli soldier is not so full of blind hatered that they want to rush in and destroy. Propaganda piece- come on. Why can't a story be about one topic. Does every single story have to equally present both sides, unless of course it is a liberal slant story and then you would be ok with it.
The reporter, Michele Mitchell, brought to you an inside view of the modern Israli soldier. There was no RAH-RAH for IDF. If some commentors would lose the left wing chip on their shoulder, close their liberal kool-aid drinking mouths, and drop their anit-Zionist prejudisms, they might have heard something different and wouldn't be pushing their hate on here.
Ms. Mitchell has done many other pieces from the Palistinan view and the Arab view. I don't recall anyone calling her a Zionist then. Open your eats, open your minds.

Commenter: Bob Angel
A very interesting piece - i was unaware of the mistakes made by the IDF during the Second Lebanon War.

I have to say i'm slightly confused by some of the other comments on this site. The story was not about Gaza, it was about 2 soldiers in the reserve who had major misgivings about the Lebanon War. If anything, it was a mild attack on Israeli politicians for getting it wrong in 06 -not biased zionist propaganda

Commenter: Carole LK
A piece where the only interviewees are resaervists is hardly representative of the Israeli army. The Israeli army has become more radicalized by the introduction of religion into the ranks and I am sure many of them would come across much less reflective than these three were. Even with reservists there was no thought of the civilian casualties, the impact of the years of blockade or the absolute destruction of Gaza. Imagine the effect on 750,000 children barred from leaving a war zone as bombs,shells and bullets killed their famillies, friends and fellow Gazans, destroyed their homes, schools and hospitals and has left them living without the necessities of life.
How many times do we have to witness the stupidity of war started by the those who make the stupid claim that it will lead to peace? The answer was given by one of the interviewees in this presentation when he said "it maintains Isreali olidarity as long as we live under an external threat". It is in Israel's interest to promote fear in its own population while it builds settlements and divides the Palestinian territory and angers its neighbours by treatening war and its inhumane treatment of the occupied and then claiming it is under external threat.

Commenter: Christophe Kreis
Last Friday's segment on the Israeli army sounded like a propaganda piece for the Israeli army. The reporter did not make an attempt to interview soldiers with opposing viewpoints concerning the Gaza invasion. The reporter did not address any of the accusations made by international organizations concerning the killing of children and other civilians during the Gaza invasion. Not a single assertion made by the soldiers was questioned by the reporter.

We have to accept that all journalists are biased. Maybe one solution to reporting on very explosive issues would be to assign at least two reporters to each story.

Commenter: LT
This shameful piece of television had nothing to do with journalism or news magazines and plunged not only below PBS standards but is below what I would expect from FOX News. It was a shamefully one-sided, over-glorified action movie about the Israeli military.

The reporter repeats the phrase about Israel being "in a state of constant war" without saying who it is at war with or what the context of those wars is. The reporter mentions how the military pummeled Gaza after rocket attacks from Gaza without even showing a map or mentioning WHAT Gaza is, an open air prison in the densest area in the world, deprived of the most basic food and medical supplies.... zero history, zero Palestinians or Arabs represented (unlike the previous week's West Bank piece, which nobody would even consider doing without giving the Israelis their say).

Clearly NOW on PBS felt pressure to do a rah-rah piece on the Israelis to follow a very eye-opening and much needed story from a Palestinian perspective. Why can't we talk honestly and realistically about the situation without feeling the need to patronize and stroke and tell sweet lies to the Israelis to cover up their wrongdoings? Shame shame again.

Commenter: imsg
I appreciate your showing of the Israeli viewpoint. No one should have to live with a constant threat of fear. Unfortunately, a democracy in Israel is only threatning to its Arab neighbors that consist of dictatorships and where women are often regarded as property.

Commenter: Sally
Let me guess. ADL got on your case about last week's program so you did this infomercial on IDF.

Commenter: New New Prophecy
Excellent piece. Very fair and honest. Keep up the good work

Commenter: New New Prophecy
Iran arms path to Hamas hit hard by Gaza war'

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Tags: Hamas, Iran, Israel News

Iran's smuggling network to Gaza has shrunk following Operation Cast Lead, and international awareness of the issue has increased, according to Western and Israeli intelligence sources.

According to Western intelligence reports, Iran has been maintaining a robust arms smuggling system into the Gaza Strip as part of the support it extends to Hamas. This support is set up in a modus operandi similar to the one Iran has employed for two decades in helping Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syria.

The route through which arms are moved from Iran to Gaza seems to have become more complicated. Currently, it appears weapons shipments are dispatched through Bandar-Abbas, a southern Iranian port. From there the shipments are transported to Yemen, through the Persian Gulf.
The weapons go from Yemen to a Sudanese port, from where they are transported by professional smugglers to Egypt and onto the Sinai peninsula. From Yemen to Sudan, the arms are transported inside the hulls of medium-sized civilian boats.

According to the London-based Sunday Times and other media, the Israel Air Force used unmanned drones to attack secret Iranian convoys in Sudan last March; the convoys were said to be smuggling weapons to Palestinian militant organizations in the Gaza Strip.

But usually shipments from Sudan make it over to Bedouin smugglers, who transfer the shipments into the Sinai and get the goods over to the Egyptian part of Rafah. From there it is smuggled in tunnels to the Palestinian part of town, which is the terminus.

The weapons are mostly Chinese-made, but some are manufactured in Iran. This includes medium- and short-range rockets, anti-tank missiles, explosives and firearms.

A recent study by the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution showed that more than half the 16,000 people working in the tunnels are under 18, as were 30 of the 115 people killed in the tunnels since Israel imposed the blockade two years ago.

The Hamas government says the tunnels are legal until the blockade is lifted, and the Rafah municipality charges a NIS 10,000 shekel ($2,500 dollar/1,800 euro) fee to open one.

On the way back from Sudan to Yemen, the smuggling boats are often used to smuggle African foreign workers into Asia or for contraband products. United States Navy vessels found several of these boats. One, searched during routine security patrolling in the Red Sea, contained a large shipment of jams.

Israeli intelligence sources report that after Operation Cast Lead, the Egyptian security forces are more willing to cooperate with their Israeli counterparts. Coordination is done through phone calls between relatively high-level officials.

Israel has reportedly carried at least out three air strikes since January against what was believed to be Iranian arms shipments passing through Sudan on their way to Gaza, according to the American news network ABC.

Sudanese officials confirmed that in January, in the wake of Israel's assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza, unidentified aircraft attacked a convoy of 17 trucks heading north through eastern Sudan.

Commenter: marcia
Here's something I don't understand

According to this show (and since it contains so much Israeli propaganda, I have to believe that it reflects the prevailing attitudes of the Israeli government), most "able-bodied" Israeli adults are reservists in the military. "Citizen soldiers," as your show calls them.

That means they're militants. Furthermore, it means they're soldiers.

According to Israeli army rules of engagement, Palestinian militants may be assassinated or killed, including by dropping a 1-ton bomb on an apartment building while the militant is sleeping with his family, killing 16 completely innocent people including many children. This is not considered terrorism or illegal attack on a civilian by Israel, because killing a militant is not considered illegal.

If the same rules are applied to Palestinians, killing a militant Israeli would not be considered an illegal act of war. (Side note: IMHO the Israeli rules are atrocities)

Therefore, the as many of the attacks by Palestinians on Israel were are against "able-bodied adults," they shouldn't be considered terrorist, or illegal acts of war. They're attacks on militant "citizen soldiers". Something like 1/2 of the fatalities in Israel would be in that category, including active soldiers.

Added to Israelis killed in the occupied territories, both militant settlers, active soldiers and others participating in illegal acts against Palestinians, Palestinians have been far better when it comes to actually hitting militants and those guilty of acts of agression than Israel, for all its touted claim to moral supremacy.

Statistics aside, wouldn't it be nice if Israel actually changed into a state that granted equal rights and respected people regardless of ethnicity or religion, and stopped its ethnic cleansing?

This show was pretty nauseating in its defense of Israel's official ethnic supremacist policies.

Commenter: chuckvw
I had to double check that I was actually watching NOW. I thought perhaps I had tuned in to Fox News by mistake.

There is a much broader range of opinion within Israel and even in the IDF than was represented in this piece. The timing was unfortunate given the recent revelations of war crimes from Israeli soldiers who participated in the Gaza assault.

Commenter: eric
The statement in your July 17 program that the action in Gaza began after rocket attacks upon Israel ignores that fact that the truce was respected by Hamas until broken by ISRAEL in November.
You mislead your audience.

Commenter: Lyn
The soldier says its OK to confiscate Palestinians land because they don't like Israel - does he ever think that maybe they don't like Israel because Israel confiscates Palestinian land? Give me a break. Probably most of Israel is confiscated Palestinian land, Israel destroyed some 500 villages deliberately and drove the people out at gunpoint. Some of those people live in refugee camps in Gaza and they occasionally send rockets back towards the people who took over that land.

Commenter: BonoboSpidermonkey
Propaganda and lies.

White phosphorous on civilians is a war crime.
Shame on you pbs.

Commenter: American
My respect for Now has tanked during the 20 minutes of this piece. It makes it seem like Hezbollah started this war, where as it is clear, that 1) Israel started it by going into lebanese territory, and 2) they were planning for it long before they commenced the attack. Also, what about the utter devastation that was brought to Beirut? This is IDF propaganda.

Commenter: Greg Bacon
Your show on Israeli's living with war was one huge piece of BS and lies.

From woefully under reporting the number of Lebanese murdered and wounded by the IDF to substantialy under reporting the number of murdered and wounded Gazans to telling lies about how the 2nd Lebanese war was started and telling more lies about who really broke the truce that led to the IDF invading Gaza, this whole show sounded like it was scripted by Israel.

You call this reporting?

It was nothing but a shameless propaganda puff piece for that Apartheid nightmare known as Israel.

As for calling the IDF invasion of Lebanon in 2006 as the "2nd Lebanese" war, do some research.
Israel has used excuses and lies to invade her northern neighbor at least five times and will do so again, since it wants to steal the River Litni for itself.... And why not tell your audience who really stood in the way of a cease-fire in both Lebanon and Gaza?

Or did that get quelched by your Zionist masters?

You should have used not English, but Yiddish to broadcast the show.

Commenter: Lyn
This show ignores both recent and more distant history to the point of real distortion. It leaves out of the story the 3000 Gaza residents, mostly "civilians," killed by Israel from Sept. 2000 and but prior to the December 2008 attack, while your gullible interviewer drinks the words of these humane-seeming Israeli soldiers who justify the recent massacres based on the home-made rockets coming from that territory. Your narrator ignores the long and brutal occupation of Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank, it ignores the deliberate and premeditated ethnic cleansing by which Israel was founded and is still ongoing. The soldiers are a part of that. To say they may be the ones to bring peace is just orwellian.

Commenter: Carolyn
I just watched the report on soldiers in the Israeli army. I was so surprised and dismayed that your reporter chose to frame the brutal assault on Gaza as though it were justified action. It may have been only one sentence - but enough to show an assumption that is quickly becoming codified "history." It is so important for broadcasters to be mindful of every sentence, because really, the situation - occupation, apartheid, blockade - is not acceptable no matter what the spin. Gradually, if people hear the same phrases over and over, they become inured to what otherwise would be repellent.

Commenter: Marcia
If there was ever a bit of pro-Israel propaganda, this was it. NOW has lost any legitimate claim to being independent journalists.

Did you read the Amnesty report on the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza? There is solid evidence that Israel made numerous intentional killings of civilians, helpless people. As well as in Lebanon. Plus, your story distorts the sequence of events leading up to the Gaza invasion (a truce called for by Hamas was violated by Israel in a cross border attack killing some Hamas militants who weren't as far as anyone knows involved in attacking Israel), ignores the far more lethal bombing of Gaza and Lebanon, invasions, occupations (with accompanying torture and ethnic cleansing) incursions and shelling by Israel, constant violations of Lebanese airspace during the last 60 years.

the soldier claims "... the most important value is the value of life." but his claim is completely refuted by his service in the Israeli army. The state of Israel values Jewish life above Palestinian Israeli life, and far above the lives of innocent non-Israeli Palestinians.

Fine, the soldiers interviewed were intelligent and articulate, highly sympathetic. Nice that you didn't interview the Israeli soldiers who shoot Palestinian 3 and 7-year olds in cold blood as their parents were waving white flags. Or the ones who rained white phosperous on Gaza (or earlier, Lebanon) burning Palestinian babies and children to death.

Commenter: tom
I have concluded that Israel and especially its soldiers are war crimminals. Most human rights organization have listed a litany of crimes by israel.They all seem to find refuge in their violence while portraying themselves as victims. Their occupation of the land taken by force is illegal, along with targeting civilians, targeted assassinations, and lying about their nuclear arsenal etc

On a number of occassions, their leaders have admitted that targeting citizens is official policy. Also, over the years, they have encouraged--even paid--people from other countries to settle on land taken from the Palestinians because these outsiders are jewish.

Israel is a militaristic state which relies on violence to solve its problems. Too bad they didn't follow the examples of the two greatest Jews--Jesus and Einstein, both pacifists who opposed violence.

Killing under the cloak of war is murder. Albert Einstein
Love your enemies. Jesus of Nazareth

Commenter: Joan Landes
As a regular viewer, I have come to treasure from your show some of the finest independent journalism available anywhere. Instead I tuned in to see a truly embarrassing propaganda piece for the criminal Israeli campaigns against Lebanon and Gaza. Where in your report were the real voices of peace and opposition inside Israel? Where was your "independent evaluation" of the true measure of the death and destruction caused by anti-personnel weapons, phosphorus bombs, the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians (and in the case of Gaza, waged against a completely defenseless population), or the wounding of how many others by murderous weapons provided by the US? Where, in your report, were the victims of the IDF? Where were the human rights observers who evaluated the death and destruction visited on civilians by the IDF? Where were the voices of the courageous Israeli soldiers who refused to serve in these murderous campaigns or in the occupied territories? I'm sorry to learn that some Israeli soldiers are suffering PTSD and others some small remorse about military service, but what I mainly heard them suffering was the loss of their fellow soldiers not the vastly great numbers of deaths of Lebanese or Palestinians. What were you thinking in producing and broadcasting this program?

Commenter: Mike
This show was a puff piece of propaganda for Israel. The female reporter noticably sympathetic to the Israeli cause and she allowed the reservist hacks ample opportunity to tell us how worthwhile the Gaza mass murder was. There was one exception - one Israeli interview revealed his opposition to the Lebanon war.

Commenter: james Cliftin
interesting. For Israel a two state solution is a must in order to achieve a lasting peace. Demographics are not on Israel's side. They either instigate a two state solution or they will be outnumbered in their own state.

Commenter: Mr. Morrow
Wow the Military couldn't have done a better job. Journalism?

Leave it to PBS to show Israeli propaganda...TO THE VIEWERS OF PBS...Here is a reality check of what Israeli soldiers really do...
In Rafah, Gaza Strip Rachel Corrie, a 23-year old American woman from Olympia, Washington, who was a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, was killed by the Israeli Army. Rachel was standing in the path of the Israeli Army bulldozer as it advanced towards her. When the Army bulldozer refused to stop or turn aside she climbed up onto the mound of dirt and rubble being gathered in front of it wearing a fluorescent jacket to look directly at the soldier/driver who kept on advancing. The bulldozer continued to advance so that she was pulled under the pile of dirt and rubble. After she had disappeared from view the soldier/driver kept advancing until the bulldozer was completely on top of her. The soldier/driver did not lift the bulldozer blade and so she was crushed beneath it. Then the soldier/driver backed up - effectively running over her again as the soldier/driver laughed. The seven other ISM activists taking part in the action rushed to dig out her body. An ambulance rushed her to Al-Najar Hospital where she died.

The Israeli Army consistently bulldozes Palestinian homes, particularly in Rafah, where over 100 homes have been demolished...Israel keeps building and expanding settlements on land that does not belong to them. How would you feel if an Israeli soldier came to America and bulldozed down your home?

Commenter: Miriam
NOW producers: last Friday evening's show was a welcome surprise! Imagine! a US mainstream network program which discussed the reality of Palestine! I could not believe my eyes. I follow all news from overseas sources about Palestine extremely carefully but thought PBS was about to begin to inform/educate its NOW followers on the REALITIES of Palestinian life UNDER OCCUPATION. There was NO MENTION of US govt (BUSH, Elliot Abrams et al) involvement in arming and training paramilitary 'security guards' who have no hand in PROTECTING the Palestinians but DO "assist" the Occupation forces of the IDF until Midnight daily. I have journalist contacts there who have been reporting that these so-called "security" or quasi 'policemen' who actually threaten intimidate and round up all dissidents, democratic reformers and oppositionists to Fatah. Current president's term expired in January yet he is still President! whilst the ELECTED parliamentarians are still in Israeli jails or being blockaded for being the 'wrong' party. THIS IS THE DEMOCRACY THE US ENCOURAGES? THUGGISHNESS to SUPPRESS NECESSARY DEMOCRATIC REFORM? Keeping in office the man the People FIRED? Our tax dollars at work but always nice to know that Israeli terrorism is still endorsed and funded with our US Tax dollars. Understanding terrorism depends on which end of the Occupation forces gun you are. I am a former zionist jew who has been in West Bank on the receiving end of intimidation and harrassment on my first day visiting. Why not tell the WHOLE STORY? Both narratives not only the IOF security version as I think the Palestinians need and deserve 'protection from" their security and occupation forces!

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