Only In Israel

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Court Martial

If there's a ritual no military service is complete without it's being court-martialed.
In an archaic ceremony which often seems as it was copied word by word from "Catch-22", people a few years older than you can easily take away your freedom, and land you in detention, or worse, jail. It all starts with a "complaint form", this is filled by an NCO or an officer, who then shoves you into the Commander's office (whether it's a Battalion commander, or a Company commander judging you), where you're identified, and the "trial" begins.

Calling it a trial is somewhat hard. The judge is often the accuser, there rarely are witnesses, you can't argue, and only have to answer "yes, sir" or "no, sir", unless asked for details. Then he gives you the ruling, which is a tricky part, since it's read from a peace of paper, in crypted military acronyms, and you have no idea whether you're guilty or not till he reaches the next part. The sentence. If you're found innocent, you salute and exit the room, if you're found guilty, you just leave without saluting.
To someone who has never been in the military it may sound ridiculous, to a soldier, it's a fatal obstacle to any vacation home, or worse, to completing the military service. You see, if you get more than 7 days in jail, not only will you serve those days in jail, you'll have to re-serve them for the military, before you complete your service. So basically, 28 days of jail, doesn't just mean 28 days of jail, but also additional 28 days before you're demobilized.

There's not much of a chance of actually winning one of those, especially for soldiers serving in combat. Everyone knows each other, and the punishment is usually set long before you even enter the trial, between the officers. Sometimes it can get pretty ridiculous (depending just how dumb is the officer who judges you). I mean I've heard of cases of astounding stupidity: a guy who interrupted the battalion commander's speech got 28 days in jail, then again, a guy who lost a weapon by leaving it in an unlocked car in an Arab Israeli village, got a week of detention.
This really is one of the most anachronistic things about the army. You feel so vulnerable, I mean as Israeli soldiers who get home pretty often compared to foreign troops (once in a month was my longest period without being home, usually it's around two weeks) you're pretty involved in civilian life. You hear the news, you know what trials should look like. And then you get back to the army and you're slapped in the face with the archaic custom which a court martial is, and the easiness of taking away your freedom.

I don't think it's ever going to change. But then again a lot of things I never thought will change, have changed during my service. I'll write a bit more about those things now, that I'm approaching the end of my service. But I have to say, I think the best solution for this problem is just getting demobilized. This way, they can't get to you.


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