Israel's Marva and Gadna programmes

Captain Benjamin Rutland of the Israel Defense Forces responds to an article by Matthew Holehouse on

In his article The British Children who train to fight in Israel, Matthew Holehouse makes a highly inaccurate comparison between the Marva and Gadna programmes run by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and summer camps run by the extremist terrorist organisation, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). The comparison could not be more wrong and impugns both the IDF and the British Jewish community.

The Gadna and Marva programmes are experiential programmes that allow members of overseas Jewish communities to experience aspects of life in the Israeli army. Service in the IDF is compulsory for all Israeli citizens.

Many graduates of these programmes have decided to immigrate to Israel and have gone on to successfully serve in the IDF. The experience in these programmes helps graduates to deal with a fear of many new immigrants: what will the army be like. I am one of them.

The programmes are character building. Unlike the sensational headline, the participants are not trained to fight. The programs include lessons on Jewish history and the IDF ethical code, with a focus on peace, tolerance and respect. In many countries, Britain included, cadet programs are common in schools and viewed as a positive way to build character. These programs should be viewed in a similar fashion.

While Mr Holehouse may view these programmes as overly militaristic, and he is entitled to his view, to compare them with programmes run by terror organisations is just wrong. These camps indoctrinate children as young as five to hate Jews and Westerners, to venerate a culture of death and teach them that killing civilians is not only acceptable but desirable. The exact opposite of the aims of the IDF programs.

In his final paragraph, Mr Holehouse states that "there's not much to be won in games of moral equivalence and assertions as to which side’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians are the more reprehensible." Here Mr Holehouse reveals his bias. The IDF does its utmost to minimise harm to civilians, but is hampered by the cynical decision of the terror organisations to fire rockets from within civilian areas. The assertion that the IDF intentionally or indiscriminately attacks civilians is both wrong and defamatory.

Extremist Palestinian terror organisations maximise attacks on civilians. Just this week, the first of the Israeli school year, a Palestinian rocket fell meters from a kindergarten in the Israeli town of Sderot. 12 toddlers were sent to hospital to be treated for shock. A spokesperson for the PIJ claimed credit for the rocket attacks, noting that the rockets were timed to “meet” the students returning to school.

This week, across the world, millions of school children started the school year. In Sderot, pupils were accompanied by 200 IDF soldiers to reassure them and explain to them what to do in the event of a rocket attack. We look forward to a time where there is sufficient stability, quiet and peace for the students in Sderot to walk to school alone.

Captain Benjamin Rutland
Head of the European and Pacific Desk
IDF Spokespersons Office