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Israel Defense Forces: Education & Youth Corps


During the 1948 War of Independence, the IDF was engaged in a massive effort to draft manpower, train, equip and build combat units and the logistical infrastructure necessary to support combat. However, it was clear to the battalion and unit commanders as it was to the General Staff that they must strengthen the spirit of the fighter, as it is the human being behind the weapon who determines the outcome of war. The saying that "It is not the tank but the man who will be victorious" served as the guiding principle from the beginning to the triumphant end of the war. According to IDF philosophy derived from the pre-state underground fighting units, the commander was considered an educator. During the War of Independence, the IDF had to integrate many new immigrants into its ranks, had to teach them the rudiments of the Hebrew language and help them merge into Israeli society. This was done as best could given the harsh situation. Following the war, the population of the State of Israel more than doubled. Immigrants were housed in transit camps under poor conditions. The IDF was harnessed to the national effort of absorbing the masses of new immigrants. The IDF assigned women soldiers to help the newcomers learn Hebrew. They likewise attended to their social needs in forming support groups and clubs for youngsters. Many of these activities would continue throughout the years.

During the instability of the 50s and 60s in which terrorist attacks and infiltrations were rampant, the military education system of the IDF served as a source of information and morale for the army and also served the civilian population. During the period preceding the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel witnessed the Arab military build-up, soldiers demanded to better understand the Arab moves and Israeli responses. As a result, the head of IDF Education, despatched his staff to the units and divisions operating in the fields of battle. Education personnel provided daily newspapers, issued radios, and operated mobile film projection units and also provided board games. The army also began to print huge amounts of postal cards drawn by volunteer caricature artists, in order to help soldiers keep in touch with home. The entertainment branch began to call up professional entertainers for reserve duty and to organize these reservists into entertainment groups. Following Israel's victory, the Education service took on two new tasks: care of the wounded and honoring the memory of the fallen. They taught the military history of the various combat units to foster and esprit de corps. In addition, picture magazines and victory albums were printed. However, the Six-Day War created many complex image problems with which the IDF had to deal. Namely, the issue of the territories and resolving the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

During the long months of the War of Attrition, which followed the Six-Day War, front-line units bore the brunt of enemy shelling and attacks. The IDF education system focussed its attention on these front line units and great efforts were made to relieve the pressures placed on them.

Surveys conducted during the 1973 Yom Kippur War revealed that the main issues that pre-occupied the soldiers were the failure of military intelligence to predict the outbreak of war, information about what was taking place on other fronts, lack of credibility and defective equipment.

After the Yom Kippur War, Israeli society underwent a metamorphosis that had an effect on the military education system. Another priority which first developed in the 60s and intensified in the 70s was the need to bridge social gaps and foster the weaker elements of society. As far as the IDF and the military education system were concerned, this led to the induction of disadvantaged soldiers and to the fostering of these soldiers. At the end of the 70s, the Center for Advancement of Special Populations was established to help teach such disadvantaged recruits basic skills so that upon completion of their military service they would be able to function as productive members of society. The rising importance of a military education system was evident in the expansion of education frameworks throughout the IDF and in the deployment of hundreds of women soldiers as Education NCOs. In 1984 the military education system was recognized as a full-fledged Corps. A Corps Training School was established as well as a school for leadership training and for the training officers and senior NCOs.

The focii of the Education Corps in the 80s and in the early 90s were the Lebanon War and the Intifada. The IDF found itself both in Lebanon and later during the Intifada, operating in the midst of a civilian population in a media-satuarated environment. These complex situations posed severe challenges to the IDF's combat ethic. Because of the nature of the IDF's military activity, namely the fact that the actions of individual soldiers could have far-reaching consequences, military education became crucial to the proper execution of IDF missions. There was a need to clarify the new parameters for carrying out orders. To this end, the Education Corps built a system that prepared soldiers for service in the Territories and provided them with additional training during their service. The Corps dispatched mobile vans with educational material and sent educators and psychologists to conduct discussions with soldiers in order to increase their sensitivity to the unique situation in the field..

As Israel emerged into a modern consumer society in the late 80s and early 90s, many of the original idealistic motives for serving in the IDF were replaced by the desire for a self-realization. In the early 90s, the Education Corps was merged with Gadna (Youth Battalions) and was charged with a new mission - preparing Israeli youth for military service. It was at this time that the IDF began to induct newly arrived immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. Besides preparing them for military service, the Corps also taught them Hebrew and gave the new recruits a grounding in Israeli and Jewish heritage. As in the past, the IDF Education Corps was harnessed to the national challenge and helped the civilian sector absorb new immigrants. The Corps assigned teachers and counselors to teach newcomers Hebrew and assist them in immigrant absorption centres and in schools. In times of emergency, such as the 1993 Operation Accountability and the 1996 Operation Grapes of Wrath, when Israeli villages in the north were bombarded by Hizbullah terrorist gunners, the Corps dispatched servicewomen teachers to help the population in the areas of hostility in northern Israel.

The Corps Structure and Goals

In the IDF, junior officers are conscripts and they are only marginally older than the soldiers they command. The military education system is charged with training the officer as an educator and giving him the theoretical fundamental tools of leadership. This training can be divided into two main categories: 1) increasing the commander's leadership skills and sensitizing him to the problems an individual may face in a military environment. 2) Expanding the officer's horizons, broadening his general knowledge and enhancing his grasp and identification with the military's mission.

The IDF education system is divided into three branches:

The Instruction Branch is in charge of training commanders as leaders and developing their interpersonal skills. It also formulates IDF information policy for military personnel. Among the tools which it uses are seminars and field trips, to familiarize the soldier with his country and its natural environment. During training periods, soldiers learn about the general and military histories, as well as the fauna and flora of the areas in which they train. Likewise, during basic training and other rmilitary courses, the y are often taken out of the field and sent to week-long seminars on cultural and current issues in order to break monotony and broaden their horizons.

The Education Branch oversees study programs in the IDF, teaching Hebrew, elementary and secondary education and promoting an understanding of Israel.

The Entertainment Branch aims to create an emotional identification of the soldier with military life and to raising his/her cultural level. This Branch offers support to units throughout the military in developing cultural programs. It also oversees the educational content of the artistic material of the IDF Entertainment Troupes.

The military education system also includes a military radio station called Galei Zahal (IDF airwaves) and a magazine Bamahane (On Base). The military education system is headed by the Senior Education Officer who ranks as a Brigadier-General.

Towards the Future

In mid-1994, a new trategic structure was commissioned within the Education Corps, which includes a future-oriented perspective vis-a-vis education and Gadna activites. This new structure demands a change in the underlying viewpoints regarding the roles of military education. This changes include factors such as (i) who is suited to be an education officer, (ii) the manner in which he/she should function, (iii) what is the required professional level he/she must transmit and (iv) a rethinking by the professional framework responsible for military education, all of which will require a basic redesign in the training courses undergone by education staffers at the Education Training Base.

Sources: Israel Defense Forces