Poll: 62% of IDF soldiers say military lawyers interfering with missions, harming ability to defend country

Soldiers feel hampered by legal definitions of what is proper use of force and fear they won’t have backing if they make a wrong decision in the field.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Most soldiers feel that legal norms incorporated in the IDF are harming their abilities to protect the country, Rotter.net reported Monday from a survey taken by the Israel Democracy Institute.

Sixty-two percent of the 500 soldiers surveyed answered that the military’s legal department limits the IDF’s ability to carry out its objectives.

The split was much more even over the question whether the “purity of arms” legal guidelines hamper the army from carrying out its missions. While 44 percent of the soldiers says they are harmful, 47 percent answered that they actually contribute to the IDF’s ability to do so.

On the other hand, a vast majority – 81 percent – feel that protecting their comrades is also more important than ensuring that the exact legal definition regarding proper use of force is met in their missions.

In a question that gave a nod to an actual case that happened in Hebron, 52 percent said that a soldier who shoots a Palestinian suspected of attempting to carry out a terror attack should not be put on trial.

In 2016, army medic Elor Azaria shot and killed a terrorist in such circumstances and was sentenced to 18 months in prison on manslaughter charges.

Top army brass at the time, including Chief of Staff Gado Eizenkot, condemned him for actions running counter to the professional and ethical norms of behavior demanded of the IDF. Eizenkot eventually reduced his sentence to 14 months and Azaria was released after nine months.

One particular statistic may concern the army the most.

Forty-five percent of soldiers feared that they would not be backed up by the IDF in court if they made a poor decision in the field. That same percentage said that they had refrained from taking action in the past because of that fear.

Forty-five percent also said that the value system of the senior command was far from their own.