Following Gilboa sex abuse, IDF to review compulsory non-military service

The IDF is set to establish a team to examine compulsory service outside of the military. The move comes after reports that female soldiers were sexually exploited at Gilboa prison.

Israel Border Police stop as the siren rings out across Israel to mark Yom Hazikaron, April 28, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel Border Police stop as the siren rings out across Israel to mark Yom Hazikaron, April 28, 2020

The IDF will establish a special team to examine compulsory service outside military units, after it was revealed that female soldiers were sexually exploited while serving at Gilboa Prison.

“Following the recent events, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi agreed to establish a special team led by the head of the Manpower Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Yaniv Asur, to examine the situation for conscript officers outside IDF units,” the military said in a statement.

The team will examine the process of recruiting, accompanying and service conditions of both female and male soldiers serving outside IDF units.

The team will also look at the climate in the organizations where troops serve and present conclusions and recommendations to “ensure appropriate service conditions and a safe service environment that respects all soldiers.”

According to the military, the decision was made in light of its “extensive responsibility” toward those enlisting in the IDF or any other security organization as part of their service.

 IDF officer Lt.-Col. Dan Sharoni at the IDF military court in the Kirya military headquarters (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) IDF officer Lt.-Col. Dan Sharoni at the IDF military court in the Kirya military headquarters (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Last Wednesday, Gilboa Prison commander Freddy Ben Shitrit told the government panel investigating the failures that led to the jailbreak of six Palestinian security prisoners earlier this year that female soldiers serving there were “pimped” to Palestinian inmates.

Shitrit appeared to confirm reports from 2018 that the soldiers who were doing their military service as prison guards would be placed in the security wing following the request of inmates, who in return would keep the facility “quiet” for prison staff.

One soldier who came forward and spoke to Channel 12 said prison staff knew of the abuse and even covered it up.

“They sent me on assignments I wasn’t supposed to do to be a sexual object in order to get intelligence,” she said. “One of the security prisoners acted however he wanted... [to with] me. Insults, sexual offenses, verbal assaults. Every time I came for a shift I was depressed.”

She said she was “just a sexual object to get information out of them... my commanders didn’t care about what I was feeling or experiencing.”

THERE HAVE been several recent high-profile sexual harassment cases in the IDF, including the case of Lt.-Col. Dan Sharoni, that sent shock waves across the military.

On Tuesday night, Kohavi denounced the offenses committed by Sharoni, who was dismissed by the IDF over accusations he secretly filmed female soldiers in intimate situations.

Kohavi was attending a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the training school for the Technology and Logistics Directorate along with Sgt. First Class Or Nehamia, who came forward against Sharoni and other senior IDF officers.

Calling the case “unacceptable, serious and indecent,” Kohavi said it was “a disgrace for any person to act this way, tenfold when it comes to an officer or commander. Any form of verbal or physical harm, or any invasion of privacy, is extremely serious and unacceptable in our eyes.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for these cases and, as evidence of this, the arrested officer has been permanently removed from his position and will stand trial in court,” Kohavi said.

Sharoni is accused of having filmed female soldiers in private areas of their barracks with hidden cameras over the course of several years. He was arrested and is facing a trial where at least 38 women have testified against him.

Saying that he “strengthens all the other girls and wishes that we’ll get stronger from this incident,” Kohavi added that the military is making “great efforts to create a safe space” in the IDF.

Next week the IDF will be pausing all activity to discuss raising awareness of sexual harassment in the military and the handling of such cases.

IN OCTOBER, the military Court of Appeals rescinded a gag order surrounding the case of another IDF officer who has been imprisoned since 2017 after being convicted of raping a Palestinian woman as well as committing sexual assault against other Palestinian men and women and extorting them for sexual favors.

The officer, who held the rank of major, served in the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration and was responsible for issuing permits to Palestinians from the West Bank to enter and work in Israel.

He was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison as well as being stripped of his rank and dismissed from the military. He was also ordered to pay NIS 18,000 in damages to each women he raped and NIS 9,000 to each woman he sexually exploited.

According to a February report in Israel Hayom, there has been a jump of 24% in the number of soldiers reporting sexual assault, as well as an increase in the number of complaints filed with the Military Police.

The report found that there were 1,542 complaints in 2020 about sexual assault in the military compared to 1,239 the previous year. While the report noted a slight decrease in the number of “serious” physical attacks, it did find a doubling (from 20 in 2019 to 41 complaints in 2020) of the number of people reporting voyeurism and of being filmed without consent in the showers or barracks.

Maj.-Gen. Yifat Yerushalmi-Tomer, who filed the report, said that the increase was “unusual since in the past decade complaints have risen by an average of 11% each year, whereas 2020 saw double that at 24%. A similar rise was seen in 2018, which was attributed to the #MeToo social media campaign.”

Yerushalmi-Tomer has since been appointed as the IDF’s top lawyer – the military advocate general – making her the first woman to hold that position.