Sergeant's Preventable Death Is a Parable of the Core Israeli Story

Yair Assulin
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Paratroopers and search teams in the Hilazon Stream area, January 7, 2019.
Paratroopers and search teams in the Hilazon Stream area, January 7, 2019.Credit: Firefighter's Spokesperson's Office

There are so many things to write about and truly these are significant, stormy and revolutionary events on many levels. But after reading Yaniv Kubovich’s important investigative piece (Hebrew Haaretz, Tuesday) about the frighteningly needless death of soldier Evyatar Yosefi in the Hilazon Stream in January 2019, you want to just write about it. You want to write about it mainly in order to scream.

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You want to shout about all the attempts to sweep it under the rug, the manipulations, the power plays, the criminal instincts – there’s just no other word for it – of the commanders, who in a moment’s time and without the blink of an eye, while the corpse was still in the water, were already beginning to disrupt the investigation, to hide the truth. To shout at a neglectful battalion commander who screams at a brave soldier that he’s a liar, and a division commander who watches in silence.

To shout in the wake of all the testimonies given by the soldiers – those who tried very hard to join the elite paratrooper unit – how they called the commanders time after time, because they were unbearably cold, because it was dangerous, because they felt that life was slipping through their fingers. And then how, later, the commanders tried to blame them as well for this terrible death.

To shout at the indifferent responses, the recognizable imperviousness of people who delude themselves about the ranks they wear upon their shoulders, who forget they are first and foremost human beings. How even when the thermometer shows extreme cold, how even then none of them does anything. And that’s without even talking about the faulty preparations and the lies during interrogations, and the feeling that the soldier is only an object, and the commanders’ utter disregard for their subordinates.

And in one remark made during this critical investigation, you learn about how in general, during most of this navigation exercise, the commanders were apparently asleep, far from the driving rain and cold. “You are dreaming if you think the navigation will be ended,” one of the commanders said, according to testimony. Did he then go right back to sleep?

To shout about how the first soldiers to complete the navigation route discovered that nobody was waiting for them. You read about how they waited in the rain and cold for hours without anyone coming to pick them up. The wait alone is enough to make your head spin. When one of them said he was soaked and freezing, they told him to jump up and down so he wouldn’t get hypothermia.

And it must be shouted out loud – here and everywhere – that you know that this vital investigation will be buried almost immediately in a mound of political gossip that has long since become our ultimate tool of repression. For nearly every detail of this story is a parable of the core of the Israeli story. We’re not shouting here in pain but in anger; it’s also a scream that seeks to make a point.

Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi at a ceremony in Kibbutz Dafna, January 30, 2019.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi at a ceremony in Kibbutz Dafna, January 30, 2019.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Of course not all commanders are like these, that’s clear. The power of this investigation lies in it’s exposure not only of the failures of specific people, but mainly of a system’s values, those of the “people’s army.” That is what we need to take a look at. That’s what we’re shouting about.

And you cannot help but think about all the military people who speak today about corruption and morality, who view themselves as leaders. If they really want to see any change made in this place, if they are really committed to what they say, they must demand a new investigation into this incident and give stiffer punishments to the commanders. Because that’s the source of the erosion, the lack of confidence, the corruption. The IDF is Israel’s most powerful educational system. All emanates from it and no change will come unless we understand that. Unless we shout.

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