Daniel Mandell, 23, is an officer with Israel Defense Forces who teaches military ethics. His 13-year-old brother Koby and a teenage friend were stoned to death May 8, 2001, by at least three presumed Palestinians near their home in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Tekoa.
He was here recently to speak about the ethical challenges facing the military on the 21st-century battlefield. The conference was sponsored Beit Morasha of Jerusalem and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, which together created the “Identity and Purpose” program to teach moral values and battlefield ethics to Israeli military soldiers and officers.
Q: What are your duties in the IDF?
A: I’m in the reserve army doing basic training for haredi [fervently Orthodox Jews]. I am there to guide the commanders who do the basic training — reviewing the different subjects, including Jewish and Israeli identity and war ethics.
Why those topics?
We believe a commander trains soldiers not only physically for war but mentally — making sure the soldier is ready for any situation physically and ethically. I am not haredi but Zionist Orthodox. I was based with soldiers of different backgrounds and …the more we got to know each other, the better working team we became. That in turn has an impact on their parents, who feel better about their son serving and making us a stronger nation — one people.
How did you react to the military?
I was already very connected to the land and tradition because I had a religious education, but I noticed it was not that way for everyone. It’s the first time I got to know people who were not religious and did not have a strong connection to the land and to the country. The non-religious Israeli education system doesn’t teach values.
Teaching ethics to soldiers is quite an accomplishment for someone whose brother was so brutally murdered.
I turned 12 on the last day of the shiva for Koby; our family made aliyah when I was 7. It’s widely believed he was killed by Palestinians.
Do you now hate Palestinians?
The way my family deals with it is that we are not going to fall into the hatred that the Palestinians have fallen into. We are not going to ruin our lives and fill our lives with hatred. Towards those specific people I have the most intense hatred, but I don’t want to live my life hating a whole people.
How does that impact what you are now doing?
A professional solider in the IDF requires that you have the highest morals and ethics because you are a solider in the army of a Jewish state; we can’t let ourselves be anything less than that.
Being a professional soldier means that you use force to the degree that is needed and not a bit more.
We believe in ethics not only because we are professionals but we are the citizens of tomorrow. We want our soldiers to have a clean conscience and clear souls so they don’t hurt themselves mentally.
After your brother’s murder, your parents, Seth and Sherri, created the Koby Mandell Foundation that runs Camp Koby and Yosef, named after the 14-year-old killed with him, Yosef Ishran.
It’s been going on for about 10 years. It’s free for kids from third or fourth grade until the age of 18, and they come back every year. It’s a week to 10 days long and they have a blast and stay in touch all year long. Most have lost someone in their immediate family from a terrorist attack or from a horrible death like drowning.
My parents showed that there is a different way to deal with death instead of sitting and sulking. They got up and made a better life for themselves and for their children by showing that real strength is not about whether you cried or not but about real living.
Why is it so important for the IDF to have this ethics course for its soldiers?
We have to have soldiers who know why they are there, where they came from and why they are serving and fighting. I like them to understand that they are not only the soldiers of today but rather a 2,000-year-old dream coming true — being a solider in the army of a Jewish country on the land of Israel.