To Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi:
Everyone knows to quote David Ben-Gurion’s maxim about what we – Hebrew fathers and mothers – must know: That the fate of our sons is in the hands of worthy commanders. Well, we have two sons, paratroopers past and present, and since the disaster at Hilazon Stream we no longer feel that way.
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We have no illusions: Only those who do not, err not. Our own personal experience in the military, including in elite units, as well as our experience as parents – in the education system, at work, on the street – teaches us that people make mistakes. That’s understood. Professional errors happen, and understanding should be directed at those who err, in battle or in training. But no professional organization has any place for a culture of lies and cover-ups.
The feeling that haunts us since that rainy night in January of 2019 is that the organizational culture in the paratroopers’ brigade is defective. The events of that night, as described by the soldiers who were there and later in Yaniv Kubovich’s comprehensive exposé series, have revealed a tale of cover-ups and misrepresentation, which began before Evyatar Yosefi, of blessed memory, was pulled out of the water. The commanders used all the means at their disposal to coordinate their positions, falsify documents, pressure fighters and even abuse them.
We know, as do our sons, how much effort the Israel Defense Forces spends on teaching its soldiers that when you make a mistake, you should own up, take responsibility, take your punishment, and only then resume advancement. In this case, there was no taking of responsibility at any command level in the brigade. This we learned clearly at the end of course ceremonies for the November 2017 recruits, when we heard the commanders’ eye-rolling speeches. This feeling stayed with that class of reconnaissance battalion fighters until their discharge.
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When responding to events in real time, we were pleasantly surprised with the sharp message you delivered: “Chief of staff dismisses entire command chain down to lieutenant colonel,” the headlines screamed. You gave us hope that an effort would be made to uproot this blight. But as time went, by we learned that nothing has changed. The convictions and dismissals were for show alone. Promotions weren’t really stopped, and the IDF, under your leadership, carries on all the same.
This week we heard that you appointed Yishai Rozilio, the commander of the reconnaissance battalion during the disaster, to a senior position. Again, without accepting responsibility he isn’t worthy of serving as battalion commander, but apparently you think he is worthy to be a brigade commander. Unsurprising yet disappointing. We expected more from you. We understand that the ranks have to be filled, and the most fitting commanders must be appointed to the job, but anyone with half a brain can see that armies that nurture a culture of lying will never win wars.
Furthermore, what about the IDF’s duty toward us, parents sending our sons and daughter into combat service? We are realistic and have no demands of zero casualties. But we do ask that our children be commanded by commanders who take responsibility for their actions. No cover-ups, no forgeries and no lies. We expect the chief of staff to educate his commanders to be brave not only in battle, but also in facing their own actions, and to see to it that an honest and moral organizational culture reigns, with zero tolerance for lies.
Unfortunately, we no longer have faith in you. The last promotion you approved spurs us to no longer be silent. We cannot publish our names, nor write to you directly, for we have seen how the paratroopers’ brigade has abused at least one of the fighters who cooperated with the military police investigation. We have learned that in today’s IDF, those who tell the truth, report errors and are not afraid to admit mistakes (even their own) are punished, whereas those who lie and cover up are promoted. Do not ask us and other parents to send our sons and daughters to military service if you can’t keep your end of the simple bargain emblazoned on every wall in the IDF.
The writers are parents of paratroopers, past and present.