Unfit For The IDF
08/18/2010 - 13:34

One reason the American military has resisted calls to reinstate a draft is that conscription often forces armies to deal with soldiers who not only don't want to be there and aren't committed to the cause but can be unfit for duty. While the Abu Ghraib affair shows that even volunteers can be unfit, for the most part it's the men and women who choose to defend their country and are committed to the skills and discipline of military life that contemporary commanders prefer to have on the front.

With over 300 million citizens America can afford to rely on a volunteer army. With seven million citizens and hostile borders, Israel can't. And that's how it ends up with soldiers like Eden Abergil, who has admitted to being "thoughtless" in not only take smiling pictures of herself with blindfolded Palestinian prisoners but to then posting them on Facebook. It's unclear how the photos and the comments beneath them became public.

For a country as obsessed with its worldwide image as Israel, one that tweeted every detail of its relief mission to Haiti, the age of cell-phone cameras, Facebook and YouTube are going to pose a challenge to any effort to minimize the impact of unfit soldiers like Abergil.

But after 60 years as a military-dominated society, Israel is facing a more serious problem of ennui in the ranks. In his excellent new book, "Walking Israel," NBC news Israel correspondent Martin Fletcher speaks to Yuval Eilan, who runs an army preparation course for teens in Herzliya that's meant to toughen them, mentally and physically, so they can get into elite units.

Eilan says the motivation to get into the glorified paratrooper, commando and SEAL units used to be noble and patriotic, but today has become about more about leveraging the service into a better post-army career. The number of people he sees striving for those units, for whatever reason, is on the decline as parents urge their kids to find non-combat jobs in intelligence or computers. "They got tired," Eilan told Fletcher. "It's all been going on too long."

Fletcher adds that "a growing number of parents deliver a message to their kids, indirectly, that army service is not as important as it once was, that they should do what's required of them and get on with their life."  It's not clear if Abergil was bored with her job detaining Palestinians or actually hates them, although Ha'aretz reported that she had also written on her Facebook page that she "would gladly kill Arabs."

What can the army do about that kind of soldier? If there is psychological profiling of recruits at intake, it's not likely that even intense scrutiny of a teenage soldier's maturity can predict how they will act when they are in real military circumstances until it happens. "Three months of basic training is supposed to toughen up the body of the most coddled momma's boy," writes Fletcher. "But it doesn't always prepare them emotionally for what they will face. While Israeli combat soldiers may achieve high status, a high number are also screwed up."

This leads to the argument that an occupation not only dehumanizes the occupied but the occupier, and then to the argument over the occupation itself, which is not my point here.

In the last few weeks the IDF's image and its slogan of "Purity of Arms" has taken some hits, first with the indictment of  several soldiers on serious charges of misconduct during Operation Cast Lead, then with You Tube videos showing soldiers trying to have a good time, singing and dancing and potentially derelict while on patrol. They all remind us that these soldiers, if they lived in America, would be managing their social and academic lives rather than going heavily armed into delicate situations. It is the nature of any army that despite all the wisdom of the officers, great power is still in the hands of the inexperienced.

Answering social media on its own terms, the IDF spokesman Barak Raz, went on YouTube to decry Aberil's conduct, citing the army's code of conduct.

Abergil, who lives in Asdod and was released from the army in 2008, in turn went on the defensive Tuesday, telling Israeli army radio she didn't see what all the fuss was about and correctly saying that comparisons to the far more disgraceful Abu Ghraib toturers are absurd.

"There was no statement in the photos about violence, about disrespect, about anything that would hurt that person. I just had my picture taken with someone in the background," said Abergil, who said the photos were taken at a base on the border of Gaza where suspicious Palestinians trying to cross into Israel are detained for questioning. "When I understood that so many people were hurt by those pictures, I removed them." But its clear from her playful exchange of comments with a friend, wondering if the prisoner depicted has a Facebook account, that her intention both in taking and posting the photos was mockery.

Most likely, the army will begin to crack down on soldiers' use and possession of cameras while on active duty. On the hasbara front, Israel might also remind people why most Palestinians are arrested and detained in the first place. There is a direct relation between the strength of crackdowns at West Bank and Gaza crossings and the level of violence. Israel routinely eases crossings for Muslim holidays and when times are peaceful and clamps down hard after attacks. The reduced number of homicide bombings in recent years is surely the result of the security barrier, not greater pacifism, and so the IDF and border police are forced on a daily basis to investigate and counter  weapons smuggling and attempts to kill Jews, rival factions or informers.

While we're at it, let's remind those who are properly indignant about this affair to be equally properly indignant about the treatment of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit, a  prisoner of Hamas. Since his captors won't allow the International Red Cross to visit him and assess his condition, and no one has posed with him on Facebook, we can only imagine the kind of daily horrors he has been subjected to. In all likelihood, Abergil's prisoners have gone home by now. Gilad Shalit just entered his fourth year of captivity.

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Mark D. The source for my "blanket" assertions: 1. "Kick all the Eden Ebergils out of the IDF you have no IDF." My source is discussions with the group Breaking the Silence. Go to their website and read their statement following the publication of their own pictures. 2. Where did I get the information that these were not suspected terrorists? From Haaretz's Anshel Pfeffer, among others, http://www.thejc.com/news/israel-news/37070/analysis-no-abu-ghraib-photoshoot-we-should-all-be-very-concerned "But in many ways, the images of Abergil posing, smiling, with arrested Palestinian civilians bound and blindfolded in the close background, poses a more difficult and complex moral challenge for the IDF's commanders" 3. What evidence do you have that the security fence has stopped suicide bombers? Please don't simply argue "post hoc ergo propter hoc". You may want to read my post http://www.jeremiahhaber.com/2009/07/on-exploding-myth-that-israeli-barrier.html But I am glad that you offered no evidence for Adam's assertion that Ebergil was an isolated case. As for "Breaking the Silence," you write of the hundreds of soldiers who have testified, "What did these vets do in the army? Misbehave and then feel bad about it?" Yep, you got it.
You seem to be very confident in your blanket assertions. 1. "Kick all the Eden Ebergils out of the IDF you have no IDF." This despite your earlier statement that a veterans group works to expose this type of behavior. What did these vets do in the army? Misbehave and then feel bad about it? Really, not a single soldier who doesn't rejoice in torturing Palestinians. Why would you live in such a country or accept the protection of such a malevolent army? 2. "In fact, the pictures were not of suspected terrorists but apparently of Gazans illegal day laborers, who crossed into Israel in order to support their families." Did you get this information directly from military intelligence? Or maybe from the Gazan laborers themselves? And I suppose if the IDF intercepted these laborers they were detained for questioning about whether they paid their taxes, not on suspicion of terrorism. Yes, I know they were detained to punish the people of Gaza for electing Hamas. That would be on top of Israel's other cruel punishment of the Gazan people: supplying their electricity and fuel and sending tons of food and aid every day. And here is the kicker: 3."The security fence that snakes through occupied territory has not stopped a single suicide bomber;" I think even Hamas would choke on this one. "It was not pacificism that stopped suicide bombing, but a strategic decision by Hamas and other groups that suicide bombing was hurting the Palestinian cause." Again, I admire your sources, which apparently include both Israeli intelligence and Hamas leaders. You've got the scoop of the decade here, Jerry. Why keep it to yourself? Hamas doing anythinig "strategic" let alone give up their thirst for Jewish blood would make headlines anywhere, but for now I guess it will have to stay on the front page of the La-La Land Gazette, of which you should be the publisher.
Adam, Your post is marred by woeful ignorance of Israel and how its army works. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures like those posted by Eden Eberjil. Taking trophy pictures of bound detainees (or corpses) is the norm, not the exception, as has been pointed by the veteran group, Breaking the Silence, which posted some of its collection on Facebook, and was echoed in Haaretz's editorial yesterday. And it is nothing new, either. Is it universal? Certainly not, thank God. But it is widespread, and you cannot show me a single directive of the IDF that has prohibited it, or a single soldier disciplined for doing it before Eden went Facebook. And most Israelis think that there is nothing wrong with what Eden did, indeed, there is now a Facebook page supporting her, and a Jerusalem Post readers' poll that shows overwhelming support of the "Big deal. What was wrong with what she did?" position. Look at the talkbacks, as well. What does all this have to do with better psychological profiling? Kick all the Eden Ebergils out of the IDF you have no IDF. In fact, the pictures were not of suspected terrorists but apparently of Gazans illegal day laborers, who crossed into Israel in order to support their families. As you know, Gazan's freedom of movement have been curtailed by Israel in an effort to punish them collectively for electing Hamas, and to use their suffering as a bargaining chip to release Gilad Shalit. As for Kassam rocket attacks, those stopped when a cease-fire was arranged and started up again when Israel broke the cease fire. (The time line of this is well-documented.) Finally, the security fence that snakes through occupied territory has not stopped a single suicide bomber; or at least there is no evidence to that effect. It was not pacificism that stopped suicide bombing, but a strategic decision by Hamas and other groups that suicide bombing was hurting the Palestinian cause. There is, however, abundant evidence that the security fence has a) been a method of expropriating Palestinian lands for settlement, as already recognized by the Israeli High Court, and b) destroyed the lives and livelihoods of many Palestinian civilians. Please don't make the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. In fact, the sharpest drop of suicide bombing occurred in Jerusalem, which has not been closed off by the "security fence." In any event, go to the Breaking the Silence website and check out my post on the subject of Eden Eberjil (the latter is less important) http://www.jeremiahhaber.com/2010/08/move-over-eden-abergil-eleven-new.html And while you were sleeping, you may not have heard of the Israeli soldier suspected of stealing and selling laptops taken from the Gaza Flotilla. And the Israeli reaction. As one of my readers said, "Why not? Spoils of war!" Look, all my kids served in the IDF, two as officers. They understand that these things happen when you have absolute power and when you are bored,unless you have been strongly conditioned to think otherwise. That's human nature. No amount of carrying around the IDF ethical code in your pocket is going to help, either. Best Jerry

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