Israeli Army May Cut Jail Time for Deserters in Half

A new offense - desertion during operational combat - would be added, carrying maximum penalty of 10 years.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israel Defense Forces is suggesting that the penalty for desertion be cut significantly, according to a memorandum of law written by the Defense Ministry.

The Defense Ministry’s legal adviser, Ahaz Ben-Ari, has suggested halving the maximum penalty for desertion from 15 to 7 years, but adding a new offense, desertion in aggravated circumstances – during operational combat – that would carry a maximum punishment of 10 years. The adviser is acting on behalf of the ministry and the IDF’s Military Prosecution Service.

A further change in military law dealing with desertion would lengthen the time period currently sufficient to declare that an absentee did not plan to ever return to service – a condition for declaring a soldier a deserter. The time would rise from 21 consecutive days to 18 months. “This short period is detached from reality,” reads the explanation of the amendment, “and is no more than a ‘dead letter’” in military law.

Desertion cases are the vast majority of cases brought before military courts. In the past three years, the number of indictments has decreased, but it is still the leading offense in military courts.

According to Military Prosecution Service data, 2,125 soldiers were accused of desertion in 2012, compared to 2,391 soldiers charged in 2011. In 2010, 3,679 soldiers were indicted for desertion.

Most of the soldiers in military prisons were convicted of desertion or absenteeism. The state comptroller’s 2009 report on military prisons revealed that the percentage of soldiers of Ethiopian descent in military prisons is higher than their percentage in the population.

According to data from 2013, Ethiopian soldiers make up 13 percent of all military prisoners, far higher than their percentage in the IDF. According to the state comptroller, most Ethiopian soldiers are jailed following absenteeism or desertion due to economic difficulties and family problems.

Some 30 percent of all Ethiopian soldiers – male and female – were jailed at least once during their military service.

An Israel Defense Forces military jail.Credit: Nir Kafri

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