Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Fight the System

Sometimes you are clearly wronged. A right guaranteed by army rules is ignored by an ill-informed or ill-intentioned commander. Other times you just feel wronged. Like when a commander keeps you from attending a close friend’s wedding for no reason. While soldiers must come to terms with the reality of a rules-bound hierarchy riddled with self-aggrandizing superiors, there are wrongs worth opposing.

There are also people in and outside the army who can help you right those wrongs. It is always better to not go over your officer’s head, or outside the army, if you do not have to (Why? Because nothing will piss your boss off more). Most of the time you will have to, of course, since a lowly soldier in a hierarchical system needs someone on his side when his beef is with his direct supervisors.

The following is a list of all the relevant people a soldier can turn to resolve an army problem. In general it is worth following the order in which I have listed the suggestions, though there are times when playing politics is necessary and the normal rules go out the window. There are also times when no amount of protekzia, or effort by your part to resist a wrong, will make much headway. An egocentric supervisor opposed to your request will resist the old boys network that call him on your behalf and will always unearth some arbitrary army regulation to negate the rules in your favor. So understand when you go into battle against the system that there are some battles you cannot win.

Note, I have direct phone numbers (and emails) for all of the following, save your officers/adjuncts/parents. Provide your email in the comments section and I can share any requested contact information.

1. Your platoon leader (the katzin, lieutenant)

Lieutenants are tasked with looking out for their troops, not just under fire but personal needs as well. Following chain-of-command, a soldier usually first raises his request with his squad leader (mak, mifaked klitah) or platoon sergeant (samal), either of whom will then pass your message onto the lieutenant. As long as you have a reasonable relationship with your lieutenant, he is always the first person to turn to for assistance with any problem. This is because every dispute will ultimately be decided by your superior. Every other person on this list, in fact, is merely there to intercede on your behalf with your superiors. If speaking with your lieutenant does not help, then you should continue up the food chain, requesting to speak with the company commander (mem’pei, mifaked plugah) and, as necessary, the battalion commander (magad, mifaked g’dud).

2. Mashakeet tash

The female staff soldier (one per company) responsible for soldier’s personal affairs and basic rights is often the first person to speak to for any personal request or problem, including needs and rights of lone soldiers. A soldier may prefer to have the mashakeet tash approach his lieutenant on his behalf. A good mashakeet tash is unafraid to defend, and good at securing, soldiers’ rights with less than sympathetic officers. Unfortunately, most mashakeet tash are far from professional, so often soldiers, especially lone soldiers with many extra personal needs and rights, are left to fend for themselves. Note that in basic training, there is usually an additional female staff soldier responsible only for the needs of foreign born soldiers known as a mashakeet aliyah.

3. Family & Friends

Protekzia is essential to resolving most army disputes in your favor. Having concerned people call your officer on your behalf puts pressure on him to resolve the situation. These people can also advise you what to do, and give you the confidence to continue fighting for what is right.

Working protekzia means starting local, first speaking to those closest to you, and then building on their contacts to reach out to people you previously did not know. If you live on a kibbutz, your host family and others on the kibbutz will usually know a few senior military types that can intercede on your behalf. Your first port of call, accordingly, should be to your host parents (or parents, if you are not a lone soldier). Israeli army officers are expected to be in contact with their soldiers’ parents, and Israeli parents are well known for using this contact to their children’s advantage. As a kibbutz family hosting a foreign born volunteer, my host parents had unimpeachable Zionist credentials in their favor when they reached out on my behalf. The next ring of people to reach out to, such as your local Garin Tzabar facilitator or the professional Garin Tzabar staff, share similar credentials. These credentials are important insofar as they validate going beyond your officer’s back. Lone soldiers can always claim, in fairness, that they only turned for help to the very people charged with aiding lone soldiers such as themselves.

4. Moked Chayalim Bodedim (Lone Soldier Office)

The army opened an office in 2011 to look out for lone soldiers. The office has no executive powers but in my experience it can effectively channel concerns and information between you and your officers (often the katzin/a tash, your mashakeet tash’s superior).

5. Tziki Aud & The Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin

Tziki Aud had been aiding lone soldiers for three decades when in 2010, together with former lone soldiers and the support of Michael Levin’s family, he opened a center headquartered in Jerusalem, dedicated to assisting lone soldiers. With a wealth of experience, patience and authentic concern, Tziki is perhaps the best address for lone soldiers in need of assistance. The center has a wealth of other qualified volunteers worth turning to for advice and protekzia.

6. Tzvika Levi

Like Tziki, Tzvika (yes, it is easy to confuse their names!) is a deeply experienced advocate for lone soldiers. His name recognition amongst top army officers is unparalleled. In the Paratroops Brigade in particular, Tzvika can seemingly speak to any of your officer’s bosses’ bosses with ease and a voice carrying real authority. The mark against Tzvika is that he is always so busy that it is difficult to even reach him, let alone speak to him long enough so that he really understands the full extent of your problem. Nevertheless, he means well and can be a very effective advocate for your cause.

7. Netziv Kvilot Chayalim (Army Complaints Office)

If you are convinced that your superiors have ignored army rules in wronging you, then the official place to log a complaint—and possibly really screw over your officers if they are found culpable—is Netziv Kvilot Chayalim, the army ombudsman. Within the military, saying you want to lichvol (lit. to handcuff, though it means to file an official complaint) a superior is often taken as a threat, or merely the whine of a disgruntled soldier. The process carries serious ramifications. While the complaints office is not military court, its decisions are entered into an officers’ permanent record. Filing a complaint is a long and complicated process, requiring a soldier to fax a written record, the complaints office to investigate and agree to take up the case, and the retired general who runs the whole operation to publish his final report. The entire process can easily take two months.

8. Letter writing & media

If none of the regular army channels and lone soldier advocates can help you, then there are two further options. The first is sending letters to senior military figures (really senior, as in generals and division heads). Even if only one letter is read, the trickle-down effect can lead the officers who are causing you such grief to get a phone call from their boss telling them to mend their ways.

The second option follows the same principle. But instead of reaching out directly to top army men, this time you contact media figures and ask their assistance in sharing, and possibly publishing your army issue, through their media networks. Nothing forces an officer to quit screwing with you faster than a story in the newspaper or radio detailing his crummy treatment of you. The chance of a journalist actually publishing your story is slim. Plus you have to keep in mind that soldiers are formally forbidden from speaking to the media (this is easily evaded by reminding the journalist that your “parents” were the ones to speak to the media). That said, the media can be a powerful weapon depending on the circumstances. I have experience with Yaakov Katz of the English language Jerusalem Post. The most well known and recommended media figure is without question Carmela Menashe, a radio journalist nationally recognized for her advocacy on behalf of soldier’s rights.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,I'm not sure if you check these any more.. My name is Aviv and I am now a pre-med college student. I plan on enlisting in the IDF before going to medical school, but have many questions. Could I please contact you for some quick questions? I appreciate any time you have to answer. My email is
    I look forward to hearing from you