Israeli History, the Way They Tell It at the IDF

A booklet to help soldiers prepare for officers' school neglects to mention that the illustrious former president is a rapist and that Israel didn't exactly win the Second Lebanon War.

"Moshe Katsav (b. 1945 ) was president of Israel between 2000 and 2007. He was born in Yazd, Iran, and came to Israel in 1951. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics and history from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was a corporal in the army communications corps."

Thus begins the section describing the former president in an updated study booklet distributed at the IDF Officers' School, at Military Training Camp 1. Further along, it states that in 1969, at age 24, Katsav was elected Kiryat Malakhi's local council head. "Katsav held many political positions during his years in the Knesset," it continues, detailing a long list of Knesset committees and ministerial positions.

Officers complete their training - Ilan Assayag
Ilan Assayag

The Israel Defense Forces text even notes the fact that Katsav served as chairman of the Israel-China Parliamentary Friendship Association. Only one detail of his life is missing: that former Citizen No. 1 was tried for - and convicted of - rape. If it were up to the army, cadets would be very surprised when they opened today's paper and discovered that the former president had been sent to prison.

This pamphlet, called "Israel Readings," was published a year ago. Hundreds of soldiers have used it to prepare for the officers course entry exams. When it was written, Katsav had not yet been convicted of rape, nor had he been sentenced to prison, but his trial was well under way, and the fact that his term in office ended with a "temporary absence" was already three and a half years old. None of these details were deemed important enough to include.

The study text treats topics closer to the army's purview in an amateurish and embarrassing way, too. An example of this is the Second Lebanon War - which took place more than five years ago. Anyone who reads the booklet would receive the unambiguous impression that the IDF trounced Hezbollah. Five years ago, most of today's soldiers were young teenagers and presumably not all of them have read the Winograd report.

"Hezbollah took a hard beating and suffered heavy manpower and infrastructure losses," states the booklet the IDF hands out to some of its best soldiers. "A significant portion of its arms was destroyed and its strongholds along the border were eradicated." This is not disputed, but the Winograd report, which found very serious failings in the army's functioning in that same war, is not mentioned at all. Nor are the resignations of Defense Minister Amir Peretz or Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.

The booklet plays down the terrible blow to Israel - 44 civilians killed and 2,000 wounded, and 121 soldiers killed and 630 wounded - in a single sentence. "The Israeli home front was also exposed to ongoing strikes and suffered economic damage and loss of life," it says.

The concluding sentence will surely please the three leaders of that war - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Peretz and Halutz. "By the war's conclusion, Hezbollah was pushed back from the border, the Lebanese Army was deployed in the south of the country and an extensive international force was deployed as a barrier." This is their main argument to justify that ineptly conducted war. Apparently the IDF wants its young officers to believe this as well.

Only one sentence hints vaguely that one of the war's leaders paid with his job. While the entry on "The Second Lebanon War" does not mention the chief of staff's resignation, the entry "Dan Halutz" states: "While chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz commanded the plan for the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria as well as the Second Lebanon War. In the wake of the war, Lt. Gen. Halutz initiated a long series of investigations, and announced the end of his term at their completion."

The booklet also contains two more problematic details. One is a baffling instruction to soldiers in the section titled "Miscellaneous": "You must speak only Hebrew." The second, which is weightier, is a map of the Land of Israel divided into geographic regions. The Upper Galilee, the Carmel, the Sharon, the Coastal Plain, the Negev - all are there. But the Gaza Strip, which is not a part of Israel, is lumped into the area called "the Southern Coastal Plain," without any accompanying explanation. Nor do the captions "Samaria" and "Judean Hills" hint that the Palestinian Authority is also located in this area.

Perhaps the next version of the booklet - the one that states that President Katsav was a rapist and the Lebanon War was paved with failures - will also take note of the Palestinians' existence.

In response to an inquiry from Haaretz, the IDF spokesman stated that the booklet "contains general knowledge for candidates for the Training Base 1 entry exam and is not material taught in the officers training course. At Training Base 1, all subjects connected to officers' roles are studied. Also studied are battles and tactical lessons from wars and operations relevant to the junior officer's rank."