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Discipline and Military Justice

Military discipline was characterized by informality in relations between officers and enlisted men and apparent lack of concern for such exterior symbols as smartness on the parade ground and military appearance and bearing. Little attention was devoted to military drills and ceremonies, and uniform regulations were not always strictly enforced. Although the IDF historically viewed such visible manifestations of traditional military discipline as unimportant as long as the level of performance in combat remained high, shortcomings revealed during the October 1973 War resulted in a renewed concern with discipline. The Agranat Commission, which studied the failures of the October 1973 War, criticized the casualness of relations between ranks and suggested that lax discipline had led to deficiencies in such vital areas as the maintenance of weapons. After 1973 there was some tightening up, but the general feeling was that stringent spit-and-polish style disciplinary measures were unnecessary and would run counter to the egalitarian traditions of Zionism. Veteran commanders feared that too much emphasis on formal discipline risked weakening the reliance on personal commitment, bravery, and unit pride that had repeatedly brought victory to the IDF.

The predominance of reserves in the IDF also made it difficult to enforce rigid military discipline. Relations between enlisted reservists and their officers were informal. Because of intermixing, this attitude tended to be transferred to regular troops as well. In some of the most elite units, saluting was scorned and officers and enlisted men addressed each other by first names. To argue with an officer as an equal was not uncommon.

During the 1970s, certain kinds of unlawful activities-- particularly drug abuse, but also thefts and violent behavior-- increased markedly within the IDF. Most commentators attributed the problem to the post-1973 policy of conscripting former criminal offenders. The increase in drug abuse, particularly hashish, also was attributed to increased availability of illegal drugs in society as a whole. Career soldiers convicted of possession of illegal drugs risked dismissal. Most of those who did not adjust well to military life were assigned to service support units where they would not affect the overall motivation and readiness of the IDF.

The IDF took pride in promoting a humanistic spirit among its members and in seeking to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and civilian casualties whenever possible, a concept known as "purity of arms." But with the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, a degree of indifference and brutalization set in. The difficulty of fighting hidden guerrillas in a complex but generally hostile environment, plus the absence of well-defined political and military goals, eroded standards of conduct and morale. Troops often acted with contempt for civilian life and property. Whereas previously it had been unheard of, especially among elite units, for reservists to try to evade duty, commanders now struggled against reservist efforts to avoid service based on medical or other pretexts.

As the uprising in the occupied territories intensified during 1988, Israeli psychologists noted further evidence of these tendencies. The policy of placing esprit de corps above tight discipline militated against effective policing operations to contain violence. Excesses resulted when immature soldiers were ordered to administer beatings, break bones, or damage Arab property. Junior officers found it difficult to interpret orders flexibly or to contain emotionally charged troops who regarded Arab protesters as inferior beings (see Palestinian Uprising, December 1987- , this ch.).

The Military Justice Law of 1955, which embraced the entire range of legal matters affecting the military establishment, governed the conduct of IDF personnel. Under its provisions, a separate and independent system of military courts was established; military offenses were defined and maximum authorized punishments were specified in each case; and pretrial, trial, and appeal procedures and rules of evidence were described in detail. Military law applied to all military personnel, including reservists on active duty, civilian employees of the IDF, and certain other civilians engaged in defense-related activities. Punishments included confinement to camp, loss of pay, reprimand, fine, reduction in rank, imprisonment up to life, and death (although as of 1988 neither life imprisonment nor the death penalty had ever been imposed on IDF personnel).

Courts-martial of the first instance included district courts, naval courts, field courts, and special courts with jurisdiction over officers above the rank of lieutenant colonel. All courts except the special court were composed of three members, at least one of whom had to be a legally qualified military judge. The special court could have three or five members. No member could be of lower rank than the accused. The district court was the basic court-martial of first instance. The minister of defense could authorize the establishment of field courts in times of fighting.

The accused could act as his or her own defense counsel or elect to be represented by another military person or by a civilian lawyer authorized to practice before courts-martial. A three-member court-martial empaneled from members of the Military Court of Appeal decided appeals.

Data as of December 1988

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