idf soldiers 311.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Earlier this week, the army announced that eight soldiers from the Kfir
brigade’s Nahshon battalion had been suspended and were under investigation for
a brutal hazing incident that left another soldier so badly beaten he was
hospitalized with a ruptured spleen.
This is not the first case of hazing
to come to the public’s attention. In March and May, the Givati brigade was hit
with two hazing scandals. The hazing rituals that have come to light fit the
model of abuse that other institutions, including militaries around the world,
In one case, the new soldiers were placed in a “container”
where they were kicked and beaten. They also had disgusting liquids poured on
them and were subject to regimes of “tradition” meant to instill respect, or
fear, of the veteran soldiers. For instance, they could not shower when the
older soldiers were in the stalls or, in the recent Kfir case, they could not
touch a special stick that the senior enlisted men had.
In 2009, a
Northern Command court noted that a long tradition of hazing had existed in the
Armored Corps 74th Battalion. Two soldiers – both staff sergeants – argued that
they subjected junior soldiers to hazing rituals which they themselves had
Some of the soldiers who suffered wrote to the IDF Military
Advocate General that the story had been “blown out of proportion.” They had
come to the unit having heard of the “folklore and tradition.”
“tradition” involved having coffee prepared in a new recruits mouth. Those
accused of hazing and their families often feel they are singled out for
punishment and that a culture of hazing has existed for years, and only the most
egregious cases are prosecuted.
Michelle Finkel, a doctor and expert on
the subject, defines hazing “as committing acts against an individual or forcing
an individual into committing an act that creates a risk for harm in order for
the individual to be initiated into or affiliated with an
Danny Kaplan of Tel Aviv University, who investigated
hazing in the military, writes that “hazing rituals are often applied to new
rookies, to soldiers beginning a new posting, or to regular group members as
part of the power struggle between cliques.”
It is a common phenomenon
that afflicts militarizes around the world. A recent case in the US, in which a
soldier committed suicide after constant abuse by his comrades, has drawn
attention to the problem.
Kaplan, however, relates that some of the
Israeli victims didn’t always understand it in a negative way. One soldier felt
that it “was all out of love... These things would look crazy to people from the
The hazing rituals in the IDF come at a time of increased
reports of lack of discipline. Alongside disciplinary problems there is the
army’s frequent resorting to sending soldiers to short spells in military
According to a recent report a total of sixty percent of
Ethiopian soldiers spend time in prison, while 25 percent of all male soldiers
spend time in the brig. This is an abnormally high number; other militaries do
not incarcerate their soldiers so often. A pattern emerges of an IDF with
increasing indiscipline, an overly corrective use of prison and a tradition of
hazing rituals that may be growing more flagrant over time.
military service is mandatory for most segments of Israeli society, it is highly
problematic that some soldiers may be subjected to abuse during this service.
Yet stamping out hazing is not a simple action.
Giving harsh prison terms
to the few soldiers who are caught is only a partial solution. At the same time
there is no reason that unit traditions, as silly as they may seem, such as
having a special stick that some may not touch, should be ferreted out as if
they are the only source of the problem.
The problem has to do with
actions that create risk and harm to the individual, as well as those carried
out only to humiliate. These actions often give rise to arrogant displays of
indiscipline, such as the four paratroopers jailed in April for refusing orders
by an officer to carry out cleaning duties because they were not “rookie”
The army must take seriously a program for breaking the
cyclical curse of harmful hazing, while maintaining unit cohesion and positive
traditions that make soldiers feel part of the whole. A process by which
soldiers can report their problems anonymously is important to encourage,
alongside a systematic study of how widespread the phenomenon is and how foreign militaries have successfully dealt with its most obvious manifestations.