(Israeli Defence Force)


The army is known as the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) from the early days when that is exactly what it saw itself as about. Given the outlook of many Israelis (Israeli Psychology) perhaps that is how it is still seen in what are, however, very different circumstances.

It has been well said that Israel is not so much a state with an army as an army with a state. Men do three years national service, women two. Rather surprisingly, only half the population go to the army, since Israeli Arabs do not and one can be exempted on religious grounds. One Israeli man we met, now a left-wing activist, said he got out of conscription claiming psychological derangement (!); an elderly woman who had gone to the army commented that she was always sick when there was shooting. A former officer, who had been in charge of checkpoints, commented that the main emotions of soldiers are terror (surrounded by a hostile population) and boredom.

Clearly however not everything is so benign. There are gruelling stories of soldiers in Gaza saying ‘now, finally, we are allowed to kill’; and that they wanted to do it again just to see the bodies twitch. It seems that Russian soldiers have been paid by the scalp. People have been surprised that there were Bedouin soldiers in Gaza: it is a job. There is an interesting organisation, ‘Breaking the Silence’, of ex-soldiers who describe what they did and saw in Israel’s various military campaigns. This has clearly made an impact on Israeli society. Soldiers feel there is a huge gap between their world and the Israeli population, many of whom have never been in the occupied territories. The ‘Breaking the Silence’ volume on Gaza was published in July 2009.

It is a real problem that the majority of soldiers are so young. Certainly many that I saw appeared to be 17/18 year olds. They control, at whim, the lives of Palestinians.  People feel that their dignity is taken away. For example, an old woman going through a checkpoint with a stick deliberately has her stick removed. An Israeli woman in her 70s, a member of Machsom Watch (Checkpoints) commented, of the army, that it is the high command that she blames: it is very difficult for an 18 year old boy to do something other than what he has been told.

Soldiers at the Wailing Wall Plaza, Jerusalem


See Further on this Site:

  1. -Militarisation

  2. -Gaza

  3. -Goldstone Report

  4. -Arms Exports

  5. -EU-Israel Relations

  6. -Whither Now?

Specialist Literature:

Publications Breaking the Silence (all of which publications go by that name, with a subtitle).