WASHINGTON — The American military is looking to Israel for expertise in dealing with Iraq’s civilian population, possibly adapting Israeli software for use in teaching American soldiers how to minimize friction with occupied Iraqis.
The IDF officer who initiated and directed the production of the educational software, Lt. Col. Amos Guiora, confirmed during a visit to Washington last month that both American and European officials have seen the software and expressed interest in it.
The IDF is now translating the software into English. Guiora, the commander of the IDF’s School of Military Law, said it easily could be adapted to instruct non-Israeli soldiers dealing with a civilian population during situations of a military occupation, such as that in Iraq, and during peacekeeping missions.
“The simulations all reflect dilemmas of a junior commander in the field, and they all relate to legal and ethical codes that are a reflection of international law,” Guiora told a group of civilian experts on military affairs and journalists in Washington last month.
The software is intended “to train and teach how to behave with civilians so that the good guys don’t go and join the bad guys,” Guiora said.
Senior Israeli military officers expressed concern recently that Israel’s tough tactics in combating terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza are hurting innocent Palestinian civilians, spawning greater resentment among those who are not engaged in violent activity and pushing them into the arms of terrorist groups. Senior American officials have expressed similar concern about the antagonism that the U.S. military rule in Iraq may be creating among Iraqi civilians.
Both Israeli and American officials say they are trying to isolate civilians from terrorists and guerrillas who use civilians as a cover. But in both cases, many civilians are hurt. In the past three years Israeli soldiers have killed hundreds of non-combatant Palestinians in the territories. According to the IDF, as of October 15, some 235 of the 2,171 Palestinians killed in hostilities in the past three years were non-combatants. According to the Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem, the number is at least 1,010 — more than half the Palestinians killed. The discrepancy, B’Tselem told the Forward, stems from the definition of non-combatant. B’Tselem does not count stone-throwers as combatants, while the army does.
The simulation program highlights 11 codes of military behavior in a civilian environment. Each code is introduced by a short clip from a Hollywood film, such as Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” or the classic western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” “You must use a gimmick to grab the attention of a 19-year-old,” said Guiora, who grew up in America, studied law at Case Western Reserve Law School in Cleveland, interned on Capitol Hill for former Rep. Howard Wolpe, a Michigan Democrat, and emigrated to Israel as an adult.
The software deals both with the obvious — a blanket ban on crimes such as pillage and sexually abusing women — and with the ambiguous. For example, what do you do if you’re a soldier staffing a West Bank roadblock, and you have just received intelligence that Palestinians are trying to smuggle a suicide bomber in an ambulance? An ambulance is approaching the roadblock with a woman who seems to be in labor and a man who seems as her anxious husband. Answer: You may search the ambulance, but you must do it quickly, with as little inconvenience to the woman and her husband as possible, and rush it through once you are satisfied that it does not carry explosives. A Palestinian woman recently delivered a dead baby in an ambulance while stranded at a West Bank roadblock, Guiora said. But there has also been more than one incident in which terrorists posed as innocent sick or injured civilians in an ambulance.
Another example: You’re commanding a military jeep on patrol in the West Bank, and you approach a barricade blocking the road. You suspect that it may be booby-trapped, and you see Palestinians around, among them people you suspect have erected the barricade. May you order the Palestinians to clear the road? Answer: Never. You may also never use Palestinians as “human shields” to protect you while you perform your mission. Getting soldiers to resist this temptation is not easy, Guiora said.
The codes deal mainly with proportionality in the use of force, showing dignity and humaneness when dealing with civilians, showing sensitivity to cultural and religious property, avoiding pillage, respecting international laws on surrender, providing relief for the sick, allowing maximal freedom for the media and reporting violations by others.
The software is being used to instruct both senior and junior commanders, Guiora said. He declined to comment on the extent of international interest in the software, and on contacts that the American military reportedly had with the IDF to acquire and adapt the software to America’s mission in Iraq.