Practice Relating to Rule 142. Instruction in International Humanitarian Law within Armed Forces
Israel’s Manual on the Laws of War (1998) states: “There is room for and importance to being familiar with the laws of war and directing our conduct in accordance therewith.”
In its judgment in Physicians for Human Rights v Commander of IDF Forces in the Gaza Strip in 2004, Israel’s High Court of Justice stated:
34. According to the humanitarian principles of international law, military activities require the following: First, that the rules of conduct be taught to, and that they be internalized by, all combat soldiers, from the Chief of General Staff down to new recruits. See Physicians for Human Rights, at 5. Second, that procedures be drawn up that allow implementation of these rules, and which allow them to be put into practice during combat. An examination of the conduct of the army while fighting in Rafah, as detailed in the petition before us – and we have nothing other than what has been presented to us – indicates significant progress compared to the situation two years ago. See Barake; Physicians for Human Rights and other decisions. This is the case regarding the implementation of the duty to ensure water, medical equipment, medicines, food, evacuation of the wounded and the burial of the dead. This is also the case regarding the preparation of the army, and the design of procedures that allow humanitarian obligations to be satisfied. The establishment of the Humanitarian Hotline and the District Coordination Office, as well as the assignment of a liaison officer of the Coordination Office to every battalion, greatly aided the implementation of humanitarian principles.
35. In the framework of our discussion regarding the internalization of humanitarian laws, we emphasize that it is the duty of the military commander not only to prevent the army from harming the lives and dignity of the local residents (the “negative” duty: see supra para. 11). He also has a “positive” duty (para. 11). He must protect the lives and dignity of the local residents … The recognition that the basic duty belongs to the military commander must be internalized, and it is his job to adopt different measures from the outset so that he can fulfill his duty on the battlefield.
In 1999, during a debate in the UN Security Council, Israel stated:
There are practical steps that every signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention can adopt in order to ensure greater respect and adherence to its provisions. First, States have a responsibility to educate their peoples regarding the importance of international humanitarian law in general. This should not be confined to the small community of legal experts in foreign ministries and universities who write on this subject. States should disseminate information about the Fourth Geneva Convention even before they became involved in armed conflicts. For example, the Fourth Geneva Convention should be included in military training. In fact, the provisions of the Convention should be included in the staff orders of every soldier, which is the practice of the Israel Defense Forces.
According to the Report on the Practice of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carry out extensive training of military personnel in the field of the laws of war, with the aim of ensuring that “all IDF personnel have at least a basic understanding of the humanitarian principles and other principles governing armed conflict”. All such instruction is the responsibility of the IDF’s Military Advocate-General’s Corps and is carried out by the IDF’s International Law Department and the International Law Section of the IDF Military Law School. The report also notes: “The IDF has a policy of cooperating with the ICRC in the dissemination of the Laws of War. In this context, the IDF enables representatives of the ICRC to present lectures in various IDF schools and courses.”
In 2008, in a background paper on Israel’s operations in Gaza, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated: “Israel has adopted the principles of international humanitarian law outlined above [regarding the principles of ‘distinction’ and ‘proportionality’] and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has enshrined them in its training, operational planning and orders.”
In 2009, in a report on Israeli operations in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 (the “Gaza Operation”, also known as “Operation Cast Lead”), Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated:
212. The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] takes substantial measures to instil awareness of and respect for international law in commanders and soldiers. The IDF Military Advocate General’s Corps provides instruction in the Law of Armed Conflict to fighting forces predominantly through the IDF School of Military Law. The activities of the School in this regard are numerous and varied …
217. … Israel employs extensive training to try to ensure awareness and compliance by its commanders and soldiers with international law and domestic norms and laws.
In January 2010, in an update of its July 2009 report on Israeli operations in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated:
Israel is committed to educating state agents – in this case, IDF commanders and soldiers – of their duties and restrictions. This includes the widespread dissemination of relevant Law of Armed Conflict principles across the ranks of the IDF.
[footnote in original omitted]
In its judgment in Physicians for Human Rights v. Commander of the IDF Forces in the West Bank in 2002, Israel’s High Court of Justice stated:
The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] shall once again instruct the combat forces, down to the level of the lone soldier in the field, of this commitment by our forces based on law and morality – and, according to the state, even on utilitarian considerations – through concrete instructions which will prevent, to the extent possible, and even in severe situations, incidents which are inconsistent with the rules of humanitarian law.
An Order of the Israeli Chief of Staff requires that “all operational directive or order which precedes action by the soldiers has to include a directive requiring that the provisions of the Conventions be taught to the soldiers”. The Order refers to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property.