IDF Comptroller finds increase in violence by commanders against soldiers

The report was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The IDF Search and Rescue Unit takes part in a drill, December 2019. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
The IDF Search and Rescue Unit takes part in a drill, December 2019.
The IDF Comptroller’s Report has found an increase of violence and use of excessive force by commanders against soldiers in the military, despite an overall decrease in the number of complaints filed to the Defense Ministry in the past year.
“Over the past year, the alarming trend of commanders using excessive force toward soldiers has intensified to the point of physical violence,” read the report. “These are aggressive acts that have no place in Israeli society at all, and certainly not in the IDF.”
The report – based on written complaints by soldiers, interviews and reviews of internal military reports – was submitted by the IDF comptroller and deputy commissioner of soldiers Brig-Gen. (ret.) Eitan Dahan.
The report was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
According to the report, there was a 10% decrease in complaints (6,114) filed in 2019 compared to the previous year, with 59% of complaints by soldiers found to be justified. An estimated 55% were filed by conscripted soldiers, with another 12% filed by career officers, and 11% filed by reservists.
The report stated that, like in previous years, there were a number of complaints from soldiers from minority groups, notably Ethiopians, whose commanders spoke to them in a racist manner.
In one instance, an Ethiopian soldier filed a complaint against a noncommissioned officer in her unit who, during a conversation in the dining room of the base, said: “You are not Jews. You are Gentiles. You are worse off than Arabs.”
An inquest into the investigation later found that while the soldier admitted to acting “inappropriately” toward the other soldier, he had been referring to demonstrations by the Ethiopian community, and that he meant to say “their demonstrations are worse than demonstrations by Arabs.”
In another instance, an Ethiopian soldier filed a complaint after his platoon commander had said that he “does not see Ethiopians at night, because they are black.”
Dahan stated that he had spoken to soldiers who had been “humiliated” by commanders in public, leading to “severe injury to their dignity as human beings.”
ACCORDING TO the report, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi has set strict standards for handling such cases and has zero tolerance for commanders who have violated the IDF’s standards.
Similar to previous years, the report found commanders speaking unprofessionally to subordinates; commanders knowingly or unknowingly failing to provide the services to their soldiers required by military protocol; medical personnel failing to keep up with the needs of the soldiers in their care; and more.
“In the past year, there was a parallel in the cases of physical violence and the use of excessive force by commanders, cases of racist statements against soldiers of the Ethiopian community, and poor treatment of soldiers in terms of their medical rights,” the report said, adding that “in addition, there remains the high and alarming number of complaints by career and conscripted officers.”
According to the report, there were also complaints filed by draftees. Noting that the conscription of draftees “has not only shown professional gaps” but also “difficulties and delays arising from bureaucratic restrictions, in a way that often impairs their chances of being able to identify and be drafted into positions that match their capabilities.”
There were also gaps between army policies and orders versus how they were implemented, due to a “lack of coordination” between divisions. Soldiers, the report said, often encountered delays due to poor coordination and lack of cooperation between relevant divisions.
Similar to past years, the report also discussed complaints filed by soldiers and officers regarding inadequate medical treatment, as well as the inaccessibility to medical treatment primarily due to the decision to outsource medical services.
In one case, a conscripted soldier experienced a significant delay in medical treatment after his platoon commander and deputy commander did not allow him to consult with medical officials regarding intense pain in his stomach, despite repeated complaints.
When he finally was examined in a hospital, doctors found that his appendix had burst and he was rushed to surgery.
In another case, a conscripted soldier had been examined by a paramedic for a leg injury and was then referred to see a physician. Despite the recommendation by the paramedic, the soldier was made to continue operational duty for five days before being brought to a physician, who confirmed that he had fractured his leg.
“THE EXPECTATION from IDF commanders is that they will help their soldiers realize their right to optimal medical care, especially in the days of uncertainty,” the report read. “The commanders must also show a great deal of involvement to advance the care of their soldiers,” including by making medical services available to them as much as possible, “and certainly not to infringe on their medical rights.”
Dahan stated that the IDF bears responsibility for the safety of its soldiers, and it is “inconceivable” that commanders use force against their soldiers, who are supposed to follow them onto the battlefield with full confidence.
The abuse of power by commanders affects soldiers – be it mentally or physically – and can lead to “severe” lack of confidence and motivation.
This is true regarding “not only the physical injury [that was caused] but also the deep mental scars and the severe damage to their trust in commanders and the military system,” the report said, adding that commanders are morally responsible for “the eradication of this dangerous phenomenon.”
In response, the IDF said in a statement that it is looking into the findings further in order to “address the gaps raised in the report. All events are learned, handled, and derived from personal and systemic lessons.”
The IDF does not have tolerance for violence of any kind and violent acts are treated severely,” the military said, adding that the most serious cases are those of commander violence against a subordinate, which are “very exceptional cases.”
“The IDF is committed to examining the findings, learning the lessons, and correcting as needed as soon as possible,” it said.
The statement also said that the report raised issues that require “examination” of the daily lives of IDF servicemen.