Al Jazeera

Friday 16 July 2004
Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank

For the first time, suicide has become the leading cause of death in the Israeli armed forces, according to an Israeli newspaper report.

Quoting statistics from Israeli army’s rehabilitation division, the Hebrew daily Maariv said that in 2003, the number of Israeli soldiers who committed suicide was significantly higher than those killed during military incursions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A total of 43 Israeli soldiers took their own lives last year compared to 30 soldiers killed in intifada-related hostilities, said the report.

This represents a 30% increase in the number of suicides over the 2002 figure of 31.

Additionally, in 2003, 32 Israeli soldiers died of various illnesses, 27 were killed in traffic accidents or during vacation and 10 died in traffic accidents while on duty.

Nine soldiers were killed during training and practice exercises and in course of military operations. A further eight soldiers died due to other reasons.

This year’s suicide figure is just as disturbing. The newspaper said 15 Israeli soldiers have killed themselves in the first six months of 2004.

Embarrassed by the report, the Israeli Ministry of Defence refused to comment on its content. A spokesperson said she “knew nothing of the report”, adding the ministry “had nothing to do with it”.

The publication of the Maariv report appears to have taken the Israeli military by surprise. An army spokesman said the fatality figures may have been leaked by unauthorised sources within the army or the Ministry of Defence.

He said the army is deliberating about the revelations.

The Israeli army denies as a matter of course any connection between army “excesses” in the occupied territories and the phenomenon of suicides among soldiers.

Army sources routinely cite more mundane reasons such as emotional crises, bullying and persecution by superiors, and psychological depression.

However, it is widely believed that a significant number of the suicide cases are connected to soldiers’ traumatic experiences in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

‘Terrible burden’

An Israeli peace activist, who spoke to on condition of anonymity, said she believed many of the soldiers who went on to take their own lives, simply couldn’t live with the moral burden of causing avoidable and unjustified deaths in the occupied Palestinian territories.