Dozens of Israeli soldiers are living in poverty, partly because of the conditions of their military service, they said in a letter they sent Wednesday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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"We were drafted to the Israel Defense Forces and chose to be combat fighters out of a feeling of mission and social obligation," the soldiers wrote in the letter, which was also sent to Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, according to Channel 1 and Channel 10 television.
"Even from the first days since we were drafted, we were astounded to see that we had to purchase a lot of equipment out of our own pockets, [equipment] that is important to the fulfillment of our tasks, and pay for it with money we didn't have," the letter states. "The gaps between the soldiers who have parents able to help them and those who don't quickly became evident. Since we were drafted into the IDF, and because our military salary is not enough for even the most basic needs, we have all become beggars with bank overdrafts."
The IDF said it was not familiar with the issues described in the letter, which was sent through A Warm Home for Every Soldier, an advocacy group that seeks to improve the financial and emotional state of lone soldiers. Over the last few years, the group has also been attempting to get the army to raise the salaries of soldiers fulfilling their mandatory service.
"We are not familiar with the problem of hungry soldiers," said a senior officer in the personnel directorate. "We invested hundreds of millions of shekels in the soldiers who perform compulsory service – in service conditions payments, in food, in coupons distributed by the battalion commander."
The army said it was working on raising the salaries of soldiers doing their compulsory service beginning next year, but said the plan requires the government to allocate sufficient funds and pass the necessary legislation.
The IDF said it already provides "a wide variety of financial solutions" for soldiers in need, including tens of thousands of shekels distributed to combat soldiers, up to 3,000 shekels in grants to eligible combat soldiers and hundreds of shekels in pre-Rosh Hashanah gift certificates to soldiers eligible for the assistance.
"If the soldiers in question go to their commanders or the service conditions personnel, these cases will be examined and dealt with in accordance with their needs," the army said in a statement. "
Soldiers' personal problems are dealt with by the relevant authorities in each unit and are considered to be "of the utmost importance," the statement said.