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Strategic Studies Finds IDF Shows Symptoms of Occupying Army

August 19, 1988
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The Israel Defense Force is beginning to exhibit psychological symptoms of being occupiers, a study in Israel on the behavior of occupying armies in modern history indicates.

The study was conducted over a four-year period by Dr. Yoram Peri of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Its purpose was to evaluate what psychological effects Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has had on members of the IDF.

During the course of the four years, Peri researched events in Israel and elsewhere, including Britain’s military involvement in Northern Ireland. His study will soon be published by Westview Press of Boulder, Colo.

Peri, who is also deputy editor of the Israeli daily Davar, determined a three-fold process that occurs in the occupier’s psyche, beginning with development of a “political-military doctrine” within the army’s ranks.

He found that this was followed by development of a “self-image crisis” among the soldiers, which finally leads to a “crisis in civil-military relations.”

Peri found this last problem most pronounced in a “citizen’s army” where a majority of citizens do military service.

The problem is exacerbated, he said, when there is a division of opinion regarding the occupation, and the subsequent resentment of the army’s actions by a segment of society.

Without general societal support for the military, the army is compelled to take a more extreme stand, which aggravates the situation.

Peri described the potential for “severe clashes with the government” when an army begins to veer from the government position following a long period of occupation, especially when confronted by rebellion within the populace.

In its extreme, he said, such tension between army and government could lead to a “full-fledged military coup.”

Peri analyzed the behavior of individual soldiers in occupying armies and found that lengthy occupation, in situations of local opposition, could produce demoralization and what he calls the “pin-head syndrome,” a tendency to keep a low profile and avoid responsibility.


One factor which was present prior to the uprising, and which makes this occupation similar to other occupations in the world, is the presence of Israeli settlers within the territories, forcing the military to become politicized, Peli reports.

But “twenty years of relative calm came to an end with the outburst of the intifada, a development which has influenced the whole military structure in the territories.

“The Palestinian rebellion resulted in an explosion of controversy, which caused some of the characteristics of other occupying armies to surface in the IDF.”

Peri’s writes that the present situation of rebellion in the territories demands anti-subversive warfare measures, but that the implementation of such measures is difficult.

“Some of these measures, e.g. ‘the beating policy,’ have been greatly opposed by many citizens, and this has led to a weakening of the consensus,” he said.

“Soldiers are experiencing conflicts of conscience while serving in the territories, and the number of conscientious objectors is on the rise.”

He ends on a pessimistic note. “It is certain that the situation will never return to what it was before December 1987… for the most part, damaging effects will or will not develop in the IDF depending on the level of subversive warfare, whether the consensus remains strong within Israeli society, and most important, what will be the political solution to the crisis, advocated by the government.”

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