IDF Watchdog warns of rise in violence and racism towards soldiers

One commander threw a gun at his troops, another walked into the women's showers unannounced.

IDF soldiers stand guard during a demonstration by Palestinians against the closure of the main road in Jabaa area south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF soldiers stand guard during a demonstration by Palestinians against the closure of the main road in Jabaa area south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF ombudsman cited a rise in complaints by soldiers alleging violent or racist behavior by high-ranking officers, an annual report issued Sunday revealed.
Other issues dominating troops’ complaints to the Defense Ministry in the past year included cuts in IDF personnel and a decline in motivation on the part of soldiers to serve in mixed-gender battalions, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick wrote in his report.
He pointed to a 6% increase in complaints (6,758) filed in 2016 compared to a year ago, and said 58% of complaints by soldiers were found to be justified.
The report said that in 2016 there was an increase in the number of serious complaints by soldiers, including complaints of both physical and verbal violence by either the company commander or officers with the rank of major “who feel that they are allowed to act violently because of their rank,” Brick wrote.
In one incident, a commander lost his temper and began cursing his soldiers and threw a gun at them. In another incident, Brick recommended Military Police investigate complaints that a company commander did not report to his battalion and about a brigade commander over an incident involving a game with a weapon, which took place within the unit.
“Many soldiers are afraid to tell commanders about things that happen in the unit so as not to be labeled as ‘informers’ and in such a situation, a severe phenomenon of conspiracy of silence may develop,” Brick wrote.
There was also a rise of soldiers complaining of racism in the past year compared to previous years, as well as a tenfold number of complaints in the field of discipline, with 525 complaints compared to 51 in 2015.
The army stated that every commander is expected to serve as “an exemplary example” and the IDF views any violent or racist conduct with “great severity,” responding decisively to any such event.
The IDF has four coed battalions and the army aims to have 1,100 soldiers serving in them by the end of 2018.
But according to Brick, the percentage of female soldiers who leave the battalion at the beginning of their training makes the decrease in motivation “evident” as they feel their skills and abilities are being constantly compared to those of male soldiers.
While the army said in response to the report that the IDF has more than doubled the number of girls serving in combat units in the past five years due to their high motivation to serve as combat soldiers, Brick wrote that there is a discrepancy between the expectations of soldiers and the reality they face once placed in operational battalions, which led to the decrease in the motivation of fighters.
According to the army, a preparatory program was opened this year wherein soldiers are able to better manage their expectations through training in battalions and other operational activity in both routine and emergency situations.
The report also mentioned cases where commanders entered the quarters of the female soldiers without warning, as well as female soldiers having to shower in the male showers due to a small number of showers and toilets in relation to the number of female soldiers. In addition, most of the commanders in the mixed battalion are men who did not serve in mixed battalions and in some cases expressed dissatisfaction having been placed in the mixed battalions.
According to Brick, cuts to IDF personnel, which have been implemented as part of the IDF’s five-year plan adopted last year, have led to a “fear of a crisis of confidence” in the combat support system, as well as a gap in manpower and a decrease in the recruitment and staffing of senior officers.
Large-scale cuts in core-military sectors among career soldiers, such as in central positions in the field of maintenance, armament and logistics “may result in financial costs, which may be higher than the savings in manpower due to lack of care and maintenance,” the major-general wrote.
The report also focused on issues that arise annually during checks by the commissioner, such as shortcomings in medical services.
Responding to the report, the army said the ombudsman’s report “summarizes a broad picture of 2016, and includes issues that have already been dealt with in the framework of the decisions made by the IDF during the past year.”
Welcoming the report, the army stated that the IDF is constantly working with additional internal auditing mechanisms to improve its conduct on a wide range of issues and are committed to drawing the necessary lessons from it.
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.Gadi Eisenkot has appointed deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen Aviv Kochavi to address the issues raised as part of the army’s work plan for the coming year.