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
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