Aug 27, 2007 22:25 | Updated Aug 27, 2007 22:25
By MATTHEW WAGNER
Religious "hesder" soldiers on basic training in an IDF Intelligence platoon complained Sunday that a low-ranking officer abused them on religious grounds and violated their right to pray.
The officer, according to the soldiers, used coercive methods on Sunday to force them to finish their afternoon prayer quickly. They said he split the platoon into two groups. One group was permitted to pray; the other group was forced to do pushups while their comrades prayed.
The officer used this as a tactic for shortening the prayer time, since the soldiers who were allowed to pray did not want to prolong the period during which their comrades did pushups.
The platoon is made up of religious soldiers from two different hesder yeshivot: Har Bracha and Ra'anana.
Rabbi David Stav, spokesman for the Union of Hesder Yeshivot, said the incident was proof that there are elements in the IDF who are hostile to religious soldiers.
"Somebody has a load of antipathy that he has decided to bring down on the hesder soldiers," he said.
The IDF, in a statement, said that it has launched an initial investigation, which indicated that the officer had acted in violation of IDF rules. The statement said that those responsible for the incident would be punished.
The incident highlights the tensions that arise during army service between religious hesder soldiers, who combine yeshiva studies with a shortened 18-month army duty (instead of three years), and secular soldiers.
OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, who is religious, recently cited this tension as one of the reasons for his push to integrate religious soldiers with secular soldiers in mixed platoons.
Stern argued that segregated, religious-only platoons create unnecessary friction since the religious soldiers who serve in them are looked down upon by secular soldiers as being pampered because they receive extra time for prayer.
Insubordination among religious soldiers has been a major concern for the IDF since disengagement. The unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip presented a nearly untenable situation for religious soldiers who were torn between their loyalty to the IDF and their faith in the inviolability of the Greater Israel ideal.
Insubordination became a major concern last month when a group of soldiers refused to cooperate, even in an indirect way, in the evacuation of two Jewish families from Hebron's Arab market.
Meanwhile, the disproportionately high number of religious combat soldiers and officers, at a time when draft dodging has become a major problem, serves to heighten secular concerns about religious control of the army.
Religious soldiers - along with kibbutz and moshav members - seem to be less affected by the individualistic trends in Israeli society that discourage prospective soldiers from contributing to collective efforts such as military service.