Noting a sharp rise in the number of complaints filed by soldiers against their commanders, an annual report issued by the IDF Ombudsman Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avner Barzani on Monday urged the IDF to begin paying closer attention to the needs of each and every soldier.
6,048 complaints were filed to the ombudsman's office in 2005 in contrast to 5,943 complaints filed in 2004. 60 percent of the complaints were found to have been legitimate. The complaints dealt mostly with issues regarding soldier-commander relationships, military medical care, payment and reserve service. But the issue that took up a majority of the report was the severity of some of the complaints Barzani received from soldiers regarding the way they were treated by their commanding officers.
"Unfortunately it sometimes appears that commanders who are expected to be strict when it comes to operational and professional norms, tend to be lax and easy when it comes to the treatment of their subordinates," Barzani wrote in the report submitted on Monday to President Moshe Katsav and the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Some of the examples Barzani brought included one soldier who threatened to commit suicide and was told by his commander not cut his veins in the company's tent so as not to get the mattresses dirty with blood. Another soldier was told by his commander to relieve his mental distress by jumping off a tree despite his request to meet with an army psychologist. Another soldier broke a tooth during a training exercise and when he asked his commander for time to look for the missing part his request was rejected since "a magazine is more important than your tooth."
"Commanders need to listen to their soldiers and take what they say seriously," Barzani said at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. "They shouldn't just dismiss their soldiers when they are in distress."
Referring to the removal of two soldiers from the elite Duvdevan Unit in January after they refused to go out on a mission claiming they needed psychiatric assistance, Barzani said that the army, including IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, should have dealt with the soldiers differently without expelling them from their unit. Barzani said that when he asked the Duvdevan commander why he didn't do anything to help his soldiers, he was told by the senior officer that he preferred to back up the company commander's decision not to allow the soldiers to meet with a military psychiatrist.
"Commanders need to remember that they firstly need to be loyal to their soldiers," Barzani said Monday. "The Duvdevan commander's conclusions were wrongâ€¦these were good soldiers who should not have been treated this way."
Barzani also brought examples of soldiers whose lives were carelessly put at risk by their commanders. In one case, a soldier was ordered to return to his base in the territories on a Saturday night but stood for hours at a dangerous checkpoint without a rifle. Another case involved a solider who was ordered to wait for his commander to pick him up a whole night at a gas station despite a number of alerts about terrorist plans to abduct IDF soldiers.
In response to the report, Halutz ordered head of IDF Human Resources Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern to head a committee ordered to review the report and submit recommendation to the IDF General Staff.
"People need to be in the center of the IDF's attention as an organization," an IDF statement read. "Respect is a basic demand for any relationship between commanders and their subordinates."