Paid episode

The full episode is only available to paid subscribers of Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis

An Israeli tank fired on a home in Kibbutz Be'eri on October 7, knowing there were Jewish hostages inside

Now the army is beginning to investigate. And Israel's controversial "Hannibal Directive" is coming back to the headlines. What it is and why it matters.

Even though the war is still raging (and the north looks ready to ignite, though what will happen there is anyone’s guess (it’s widely assumed that the army and the political echelons actually want to go to war in the north to destroy Hezbollah, while Israel has the chance), the army is beginning to investigate what seem to have been major errors made on October 7 and since.

One of those was a tank that fired on a home in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7th, even though those involved knew that there were a dozen Israelis in the home (most were killed by the Israeli tank).

In today’s column we look briefly at the investigation of the senior officer in charge, and share a haunting video (a brief clip of it is above) with some survivors of Be’eri who recount what went on in those critical moments.

Image preview

FRIDAY (2/16): We’ll wrap up the week, and and will look at an issue that’s surfaced in the Israeli Hebrew press:

Two plans for ending the war by the spring

We’ll conclude the week with piece on that recently published, translated from the Hebrew for our readers. And we’ll come back to that green wedding dress we pointed to earlier in the week.

The family members whose loved ones were killed in the hostage incident in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7th have started to demand answers and transparency about the army’s actions that day that led to the tragic deaths of 13 people.

A recent Haaretz editorial (which you should read to the get the full story) argued that the IDF must give the family members “and the public an explanation for the army's conduct” and most importantly, reveal whether or not the Hannibal Directive [a directive that outlines the course of action when a soldier may be at risk of abduction, even if it means risking harm to the soldier] “was used against the Israelis held hostage in the house.”

The suspicion that the IDF may have employed the Hannibal Directive against the hostages in the home in Kibbutz Be'eri is based on the testimony of Yasmin Porat and Hadas Dagan (whom you will hear from in the video below), the only survivors of the incident.

Yasmin Porat was released by one of the terrorists during the height of the hostage situation. She told the counter-terrorism unit that there were 40 terrorists and 14 hostages inside the home. Hadas Dagan was injured when a tank was fired at the house.

According to a report in The New York Times, Brig. Gen Barak Hiram, who was in charge of the fighting in that area, “said he ordered the tank commander to break into the Cohen home even at the cost of civilian casualties.”

The family members demand that the incident be investigated immediately instead of waiting until the end of the war.

The public deserves to know: “Did Hiram act in accordance with the IDF's rules and ethos, or contrary to them? And is the spirit of the Hannibal Directive the dominant one in the IDF during its war on Hamas?”

What is the Hannibal Directive?

The exact nature of the Hannibal Directive is not clear or public. Even discussion of the existence of the policy was for many years not allowed. But the essence of the directive is that the IDF will do everything necessary to prevent a soldier from becoming captive, even at the risk of harming the soldier. (When Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, there was actually time to fire on his two captors and him, which a tank did, but it was given permission only to use machine gun fire, which failed to prevent his abduction.)

But has the IDF unofficially or semiofficially also suggested that soldiers can be intentionally killed by IDF forces to prevent their being taken captive? Officially, no. As Prof. Asa Kasher, the author of the IDF Code of Ethics has said:1

The protocol itself, in its current version, is not flawed. But the idea that better a dead soldier than a captive soldier is monstrous in my opinion. It's a total misunderstanding of the matter: Firing a tank shell in order to kill an abductee is both illegal and immoral. This is a disturbing interpretation, and the IDF would do well to make it clear that it is unacceptable.

Kasher made the comment more than a decade ago. And what’s interesting is that he specifically ruled out firing a tank shell (an enormous armament)—which is apparently what was done in Be’eri. The commanding officer who gave the order is not denying that he gave it. On that level, the facts are not in question. Should the order have been given? Should the tank have fired? Should the soldiers have refused the order? Was it better to kill the Israelis than have them taken into captivity?

Consider this horrifying thought experiment: if the IDF had had the chance (which it didn’t) and could have killed the 240 captives rather than have them taken across the border, meaning that Israel would have lost 1600 people on October 7 rather than 1400, but have no captives, would the country be better off? Would many of those people be better off? And even if the country or those people would have been better off, is that the kind of order that a Jewish state can give?

These are all the sorts of issues that are likely to emerge and arouse discussion as the investigation gets going.

Here’s a the more complete version of the video of which there is a clip above, which explains where much of the pain, outrage and demand for inquiry on the part of Be’eri residents is coming from …

Listen to this episode with a 7-day free trial

Subscribe to Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis to listen to this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.

Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside is for people who want to understand Israel with nuance, who believe that Israel is neither hopelessly flawed and illegitimate, nor beyond critique. If thoughtful analysis of Israel and its people interests you, welcome!