Sgt. Y. has only several months
left of his mandatory army service, but last Thursday he
just couldn't take it anymore.
According to soldiers in the
Battalion 51 their mental health
needs were ignored by their officers
following last summer's war.
Photo: Illustrative Photos by Ariel
Holding a stretcher. On July 26
eight soldiers - including deputy
battalion commander Maj. Ro'i Klein
- were killed in Bint Jbeil.
Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
Together with close to 100 of his fellow soldiers from
Battalion 51 of the Golani Brigade, Y. walked out the
front gate of the Tze'elim training base in the Negev
Thursday afternoon and began marching up the windy,
sandy road toward Beersheba in what was one of the
largest "revolts" in IDF history.
The decision to leave the base and essentially revolt
against the military was "spontaneous," soldiers
recalled this week. But the feeling of deprivation and
unfair treatment by their officers had been simmering
for several months, ever since Lt.-Col. David Zini took
over as Battalion 51's commander.
The problems that led to the revolt actually began a few
months earlier, immediately following the Lebanon war.
Like most of the IDF, Battalion 51 was deployed inside
Lebanon during the 33 days of fighting against Hizbullah.
On July 23, led by then-battalion commander Lt.-Col.
Yaniv Asor, the battalion invaded the village of Bint
Jbail and was ordered to take up positions on the
outskirts of the town where Hizbullah leader Sheikh
Hassan Nasrallah delivered a victory speech following
Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.
The first few days passed fairly quietly as the
battalion killed four Hizbullah guerrillas. On July 26,
the battalion was ordered to "conquer the town" and
during the sweep through its center, eight soldiers -
including deputy battalion commander Maj. Ro'i Klein -
Close to eight months have passed since that fateful day
and according to soldiers in the battalion their mental
health needs were ignored by their officers and they
were returned to duty as if nothing had happened.
Once the dust of the war settled, the battalion began to
feel the void that had been left by the loss of Klein -
who died heroically when he jumped on top of a grenade
to save other soldiers - and the seven others who died
in Bint Jbail. The soldiers asked to meet with an IDF
mental health officer to discuss their feelings. Their
request, they claimed this week, was ignored.
"It took four months before we were given the
opportunity to sit and talk with a mental health
officer," said Y., explaining that despite Golani's
tough image, even the bravest of soldiers need help. "We
do not go through a war every day," he said.
What added to the distress was Zini's appointment to the
battalion. Asor, who after the war was appointed
commander of Golani's elite Egoz unit, grew up in Golani
and served in a number of positions inside the brigade.
Zini was considered an outsider. He came from Sayeret
Matkal - the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit - where
he served in a number of positions before joining Golani.
"He was not one of us," explained several soldiers. "He
was not familiar with our way of doing things."
The IDF Spokesman's Office dismissed the soldiers'
claims and said that "since the war in Lebanon, mental
health experts have been accompanying the soldiers and
officers of the Golani Brigade and particularly
According to military sources, since the war, soldiers
have received appointments with mental health officers
several days after asking for them. "Battalion 51 was
put on the top of list for meetings with mental health
officers," the IDF said.
THE SOLDIERS tell a different story. They claim that
since Zini took command, norms that were entrenched in
the brigade were disregarded. Singing at meals and
during training exercises was forbidden. Privileges for
soldiers who had served in the battalion for close to
two years were canceled, and soldiers who were only
months from completing their military service were
treated like new recruits.
"Zini brought in new regulations and practices," said a
soldier who took part in the revolt. "He didn't grow up
in the brigade and when he came, he threw away all of
our traditions and didn't care that this was the way
things had been for decades."
Established in 1948, the Golani Brigade is one of the
most highly decorated infantry units in the IDF. Usually
deployed along the northern border, the brigade has
fought in all of Israel's wars and its soldiers have
earned the reputation of being diehard, dedicated,
innovative and well-trained troops who are given
particularly difficult missions.
Golani is also known for its high level of camaraderie
and has produced some of the leading commanders in the
IDF, including Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi
Ashkenazi, Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe
Kaplinsky, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh and
OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.
At the same time, however, the brigade has a reputation
of raising soldiers who are reckless and often lack
Last Thursday's revolt was not the first time that
soldiers from the brigade took matters into their own
hands. In the late 1990s, two companies revolted against
their officers, left their posts and went home. More
than 70 soldiers went to jail and the companies were
disbanded. Last April, 25 soldiers left their base near
Metulla to protest their commander's decision to expel a
number of their comrades from their battalion.
According to Prof. Arye Yitzhaki, a military historian
and expert on the IDF, last week's walkout was the
largest "revolt" since the War of Independence in 1948
when the entire Moriya Battalion defected from the
Jerusalem Brigade to the Palmah.
"There have been dozens of revolts in the Golani
Brigade," Yitzhaki said. "This was the biggest one, but
there have been cases in which soldiers even threw smoke
grenades into their officer's tent."
IDF legal sources pointed out that last week's walkout
did not exactly meet the criteria for a revolt. The
Military Justice Law, legislated in 1955, contains a
section entitled "Mutiny" that refers to soldiers who
disobey orders in time of war or a soldier who uses his
weapon against his commander. This, IDF legal experts
admit, was not the case with the Golani "revolt."
"There is a wrong use of semantics here," explained a
high-ranking officer in the Judge Advocate-General's
Office. "What the Golani soldiers did was not like
disobeying an order in time of war."
The law contains two sections he said would better apply
to the type of revolt launched by the Golani troops. One
is Section 48 entitled "Rebellion," which talks of
soldiers who take action to disrupt military order. The
other is Section 49, entitled "Demonstration that causes
harm to military discipline." It refers to soldiers who
do something that disrespects their officers or goes
against the IDF's disciplinary rules.
"The use of the word 'revolt' is not correct for this
situation," explained the officer. "These types of
events need to be dealt with on a command and
disciplinary level and not with laws that deal with far
more serious types of revolts."
COL. TAMIR YIDAI, commander of the Golani Brigade,
met with the soldiers after they returned to their base
on the day of the revolt and promised to fix some of the
problems and complaints they had raised.
The soldiers walked away feeling that the situation
would improve, but then 11 soldiers - believed to have
been the organizers of the revolt - were sent to jail
for periods ranging from 30 to 56 days after hearings
before Yidai on Monday. Seven other soldiers were
confined to their base for the next month.
Now soldiers are threatening to launch another revolt if
their complaints are not responsibly addressed and their
needs not cared for.
The rift between the soldiers and Zini also has to do
with the commemoration of the eight soldiers who were
killed in Bint Jbail.
On their own initiative, soldiers who fought inside the
town the day their comrades were killed came up with
innovative ways to commemorate them. One hung a black
flag in his room with the eight names written on it.
Others took a black piece of plastic and replaced the
brown one that served as the background for the Golani
pin they wear on their uniforms.
Zini and Yidai ordered the soldiers to take down the
flag and to replace the black background with the
traditional brown one.
But that's not all. Two months ago, the city of Katzrin
organized a "March of the Torch" in commemoration of the
dead soldiers. The battalion was invited to participate
in the march from Modi'in to the Golan Heights. The
battalion sent almost all of its soldiers to participate
in the march, during which each kilometer was walked by
a different soldier. At the finishing line in Katzrin
there was a ceremony attended by the mayors of Safed and
Katzrin, but Zini did not show up.
"This was the greatest possible insult," one of the
soldiers who participated said. "The commander of the
battalion which is being honored does not even bother to
show up and respect the memory of his dead soldiers."
In response, sources close to Zini said that he had
notified the Katzrin Municipality that he and other
officers and soldiers might not be able to make the
ceremony due to the battalion's ongoing operations
around Mount Hermon.
"The organizers of the march were notified from the
beginning that the commanders might not be able to
participate in the ceremony due to military operations
and visits they were conducting at the same time to
families of the dead soldiers," one source claimed.
"Despite their many efforts to come, in the end the
commanders did not succeed in making it."
The soldiers also complained that they were not allowed
to see a doctor and that when they complained they were
told by their commanders: "If you have a problem, then
"This type of attitude began when Zini took over the
battalion," said one soldier. "He does not know what
this brigade is about. You have to adapt to the people
here, especially after we watched as our friends were
killed in the line of duty."
On Friday, Zini convened all of the battalion's soldiers
for a talk about the revolt and its consequences.
According to soldiers who were there, he said he did not
plan on changing his strict disciplinarian policies.
"He did, however, say that he would conduct his own
personal reevaluation to see where he went wrong," a
military source said. "When 100 soldiers walk out like
that the officers need to sit down and see where they
might have gone wrong."
According to Brig.-Gen. (res.) Baruch Spiegel, a former
Golani Brigade commander, the soldiers' claim that a
commander needs to come from within the brigade is
"These types of revolts have happened to some of the
best battalion commanders in Golani history," said
Spiegel, who served as the brigade's commander from 1988
to 1990. "This is a problem that needs to be dealt with
all the time in all of the different IDF units."
Commanders, Spiegel said, need to "always have their
sensors working" to be able to prevent revolts and
"These soldiers are working in the most difficult line
of work there is," he said. "There needs to be a way to
release pressure on the soldiers and find a better
balance between their needs and what the commanders
Otherwise, the revolts will only continue.