Israel May Ease Punishments for Army Deserters

Knesset committee recommends that soldiers must be AWOL 18 months, not 21 days, to classify as deserters.

An illustrative image of a handcuffed soldier.
Tal Cohen

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has lightened punishments for Israel Defense Forces deserters in an amendment to the military trial law it completed formulating on Monday.

The text of the law’s second and third readings, expected in two weeks, calls for reducing the maximum sentence from 15 years to seven years during peaceful periods, and 10 years in times of war. The amendment also extends the period required before a soldier is declared a deserter from 21 days to 18 months.

The move reflects a change in the army’s attitude toward deserters. The committee’s interim chairman, MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi), called the current punishment “disproportional.”

“We recognize the reality in which the number of absent-without-leave soldiers is not so large, and the reasons for their desertion are usually socioeconomic or maladjustment as a result of their being part of major immigration waves,” Yogev said.

Yogev added that the military advocate general had brought these issues to the committee to approve reducing the maximal sentence.