Imagine you are an IDF soldier and you spot a terrorist about to strike. Should you attack or not?
“You have only eight seconds to make a critical decision,” IDF Col. (Res.) Bentzi Gruber told a group of 35 middle-school students at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth. “Keep in mind that you’re already exhausted and depleted of brainpower after carrying a 65-lb. backpack in the heat of Israel for the last four hours.”
Gruber’s talk at the Marlboro school was his 81st in 70 days. Vice commander of an armored division, Gruber delivers his “Ethics in the Field” presentation about Israel’s counterterrorism ethics to counter negative media reports about Israel’s policies during the Gaza war and other operations. His talk includes classified IDF footage, media clips, and riveting narration, all delivered with the passion of an Israeli who has been in the midst of the action — grenade fragments are embedded in his hand, and his shoulder still aches from a bullet wound.
“If we don’t get across the true story, the media and the anti-Israel extremists will lead you to believe that we actually are killing Palestinian babies because we need blood for matzot,” Gruber told the students. “Spread the message of truth because otherwise we will lose the media war. That’s what I need from you — and you and you,” he said, pointing to the students seated around the room.
Gruber spoke about the training Israeli soldiers receive to avoid civilian casualties. “If a chopper spots a known terrorist in a taxi with four kids in the car, that terrorist is untouchable,” he said. “Even though we know for sure he killed 20 Israelis yesterday, we don’t shoot because we won’t risk killing innocent children. We will wait and catch him tomorrow or next week.”
Gruber showed footage of terrorists carrying weapons, grabbing children to use as shields as they run for cover, or hiding behind UN ambulances. “They do this because they know we won’t shoot,” he said.
Another Israeli method employed to reduce casualties is called “Knocking on the Roof” — the IDF launches a warning missile into the corner of a roof on a building harboring terrorist activity. “One by one we count each terrorist as they come out of the building. Only when they are all out do we destroy the building,” he said.
Gruber documented ways in which the media is manipulated into believing Israel is the aggressor. He showed footage of an injured terrorist on a stretcher, an automatic rifle clearly visible by his side. Swiftly and surreptitiously, a Palestinian man removes the weapon from the stretcher, so that subsequent media coverage makes it look like the injured man is a civilian.
Gruber’s myth-busting talk has prompted anti-Israeli protests at college campuses around the nation. At the University of Denver, a fight ensued that ended in the arrest of 20 people. At Brown University, he said, 15 protesters left the lecture and distributed hundreds of flyers around campus accusing Gruber of war crimes.
“You will be under fire no matter where you go to college, no matter where you go around the world,” he told the students. “You have to stand up for yourself and for Israel.”
For eighth-grader Daniel Keinan of Marlboro, Gruber’s talk hit home. “My father was an IDF paratrooper, and my great-grandparents were part of the first resistance movement in Palestine,” Daniel said. “I know that the Israeli army treats its prisoners of war humanely. They are not starved or tortured. We have different standards of ethics than our enemies.”
Daniel said he plans to attend medical school and enlist in the IDF as a doctor. “I feel like Israel is my home, and I just want to help,” he said.
Anti-Israel sentiment in the media personally offends Adi Yarhi of Ocean. Negative portrayals of Israel are “simply not true,” the eighth-grader said. “The Israeli army is great, and Israel is a safe place because of it. My grandfather lost his leg while fighting in the Six-Day War. He didn’t fight to kill. He did it to defend his country.”
Daniel and Adi were among 12 Solomon Schechter eighth-graders who recently traveled to Israel for a 14-day trip during which they participated in a Yom Hazikaron ceremony.
The trip was the culmination of the students’ last 10 years of study, said head of school Yoti Yarhi. “Some of them were so moved by holy sites in Israel that they became very emotional. It was so uplifting to see such spirit within them.”
Yarhi credited Gruber for igniting that passion even further. “I feel so much pride to be standing here next to you and to say I, too, am Israeli,” she told him.