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‘Asking soldiers to write farewell letters before Gaza war lowered morale’

IDF Soldiers’ Complaints Commissioner releases annual report, criticizes physical and verbal abuse of soldiers by their commanders.
ShowImageIDF soldiers storm a target during the ground incursion into Gaza. (photo credit:IDF)
Requests by commanders for soldiers to write farewell letters before heading out to battle in Gaza last summer constituted an error of judgement that lowered fighting morale, the IDF Soldiers’ Complaints Commissioner, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, said Tuesday in a report.

The forty third annual Complaints Commissioner Report included criticism of the practice of farewell letter writing, which was encouraged by commanders. The letters “harmed the morale of combat soldiers and their ability to fight with all their heart and soul. It disrupted their faith and hope, and could have harmed their ability to function in the battlefield,” Brick said.

The letters may have also disrupted the balance in the minds of combat soldier that exists between fear, and the need to carry out orders, he added.

“Writing farewell letters before danger squeezes enormous mental energies out of the soldiers, magnifies their fear, and causes them to lose concentration and focus in battle, out of a fear that what they write in the farewell letter will come true,” Brick wrote.

Instead, soldiers should be directed towards determination, optimism, fostering a fighting spirit, and self confidence before heading onto the battlefield.

Brick found that 61.6% of complaints by soldiers over misconduct in the army were justified. In 2014, he received a total of 6,711 complaints, and of those, 3,472 were submitted by serving soldiers.

That constituted a rise of 18.3 percent complaints by soldiers, compared to 2014, though the total number of complaints dropped in comparison to last year’s figures.

Justified complaints included a deputy commander who slapped a soldier, and kicked other soldiers.

A female officer became violent with a soldier, locked him in a room, denied him the use of a bathroom, and was verbally abusive, the report found.

In another instance, a combat company commander severely verbally abused his subordinates. The commander also falsely told one of his soldiers that he would be awarded a citation by his brigade commander.

Other cases include a company commander who verbally abused his driver, saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll screw you for every day that you were absent. When you were not here, I took care of your girlfriend. I visited her.” The report also touched on improper use of the Whatsapp messaging service, in violation of army regulations.

IDF medical officers were found to have doubted their patients without good cause, and shown impatience towards them in a negligent manner.

On a positive note, the report also emphasized that although 2014 was rife with military operations and conflicts, these events “not only failed to harm the motivation of combat soldiers and combat support personnel in field units – but the soldiers displayed fighting spirit and dedication, despite dealing with a harsh, dangerous, and erosive reality.”

Turning his attention to relations between commanders and their subordinates, Brick said he found a number of “commanders for whom authority and power” was the norm. They exhibited a “lack of faith in the individual, paying no attention to medical or health distress, and mistakenly thought that breaking down a soldier will assist in their training and preparation for their military role.” Brick said that it became apparent to him that “the role that these commanders adopted for themselves eroded the concept of command and norms in the IDF to a thin level.”

He criticized cases of humiliations, and hurtful and dismissive attitudes, adding, “This is not the path of command, upon which generations of commanders have grown up on, and which has been taught in various command training.” He said unusual cases of physical violence were recorded, that were mostly perpetuated by inexperienced, low-ranking commanders who are only a little older than soldiers under their command, such as platoon commanders.


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