IDF Seeks Trial for AWOL Conscientious Objector Suffering Depression

The military says it has done nothing wrong in handling a soldier who twice has not reported for duty. The soldier says he was abused in prison.

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Recruits at an IDF draft center.
Recruits at an IDF draft center.Credit: David Bachar

The lawyers of an 18-year-old conscientious objector say the Israeli army is acting unreasonable by demanding that he stand trial for going AWOL before being examined for mental illness.

“I can’t go back there, I simply can’t,” the soldier, N., told Haaretz. “I don’t know what will happen if the military police come get me at home; I prefer not to think about it.”

The Israel Defense Forces, which says it has acted properly, sent him a letter two weeks ago saying he must “arrange his status with the military and stand trial for his offense before he can be sent for an examination, as is customary under military regulations.”

But his lawyers say this would only worsen his mental state, with irreparable damage possible if he is not released from military service. They say he has tried to harm himself a number of times and the army knows this. It is clear that in the end he will never serve, they say.

N. did not report for duty after his request for an exemption was rejected. He was arrested by the military police and put in prison, where he says he was forced to stand on the parade ground under the rain, handcuffed while kept in solitary confinement, and yelled at for refusing to wear a uniform.

During his confinement, N. was kept under supervision after he tried to harm himself.

After he was released from prison, a psychiatrist judged that his mental state had worsened under detention. He found N. to be in a serious depressive state and recommended that he be released from military service and receive psychological treatment, including drugs.

“The soldier was treated properly during his stay and no exceptional incidents were recorded,” an IDF officer said, referring to an investigation by the military prison. The IDF added separately that even if N. is tried and sentenced to jail, he will first receive a medical examination to ensure that he is fit to go to prison.

As the IDF Spokesman’s Office put it, “For reasons of privacy we cannot comment on this soldier’s case; we can only note the [legal] requirement of enlistment.”

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