Nearly a year after his release from the army, Yisrael Yanover — a former lone soldier and Gaza war veteran — is still waiting for the IDF to pay him tens of thousands of shekels owed in back pay.
Due to what appears to be a purely bureaucratic mistake, the South African-born soldier was denied several months pay, totaling approximately NIS 10,000 ($2,650). Yanover attempted to address the error both while in the army and upon his discharge, but to no avail.
“I just don’t know what to do now. Only because I was smart and saved up every penny I got from the army, am I able to support myself,” he said Wednesday.
The troubles for Yanover, a former combat medic in the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion, originated from an ironic and unfortunate quirk in army logic concerning so-called lone soldiers, those who serve in the IDF without their families in the country:
If two lone soldiers fall in love and get married, they are no longer considered lone soldiers. By definition, an IDF soldier married to an IDF soldier has family in Israel.
Losing the status of lone soldier also means losing all that comes with it — double pay, a grocery allowance, municipal tax benefits, extra days off, etc.
And that is what happened to Yanover, when in December 2014 he married fellow lone soldier Haviva Korenblit.
Deputy Minister in Charge of Public Diplomacy Michael Oren, a former lone soldier himself, has proposed to change this “ironic” situation with a law that would allow married lone soldiers to retain their benefits, he told The Times of Israel over the phone.
“If they are lone soldiers, they should keep their lone soldier benefits,” Oren said Thursday from the US.
“It’s a disincentive to serving in the army,” he added.
Oren first began working on the law, which he expects will pass in the Knesset, after hearing about this rule from a soldier during Israel’s Memorial Day, he said.
Since he became a deputy minister — and is therefore no longer able to legislate — fellow Kulanu MK Meirav Ben-Ari has taken over the task of advancing the law, Oren said.
While married lone soldiers lose their lone soldier benefits, they are meant to receive new ones, including additional salary, known as Tashmash, a Hebrew acronym meaning family pay.
But for as yet unclear reasons, despite losing their lone soldier statuses, the Yanovers did not receive this additional payment, at least not entirely.
Though they received the salary increase of approximately NIS 4,000 twice after their marriage was recognized, the army failed to provide it for five months, Yanover told The Times of Israel.
While in the army, Yanover corresponded with his mashakit tash, or non-commissioned officer responsible for service conditions — a sort of social worker for soldiers — in order to address this situation.
Just before his release from the army in October 2015, Yanover inquired again and was told by this NCO via text message that she “understood from me that I didn’t want the money,” he said.
‘I never gave up and as proof there are my frequent and repeated requests to receive the money’
Months later, after she’d been released by the army, the NCO admitted to Yanover that this confusion was caused — in her words — by “a mistake,” he said.
In a WhatsApp message, she told him that “her mistake canceled the family pay,” Yanover said.
Upon his discharge from the army, he started asking for help from organizations, including the Wings Program for Lone Soldiers, and in November, Yanover filed an official complaint with an army ombudsman to get this money.
“I never gave up and as proof there are my frequent and repeated requests to receive the money,” he wrote in his letter to the army.
A short while after submitting the complaint, Yanover heard back from the mashakit tash, who asked him to send a number of documents so his complaint could be reviewed.
Unfortunately, Yanover and his new bride Haviva, who had been unable to fully celebrate their nuptials while in the army, were on their honeymoon in India at the time. So thousands of miles away from Israel, the couple scrambled to get the documentation in order.
“Thank God my wife is smart,” Yanover said. “She’d taken pictures of a whole bunch of documents, and I had the right ones.”
After filing the paperwork approximately six months ago, Yanover waited to hear back from the committee, but got no response.
Hearing nothing, he contacted the army again and was told last week that he had been eligible to receive the money that he was owed, but his request had been denied because he had “not cooperated” with the committee, Yanover said.
The NCO told Yanover that she had received his documents and passed them along to her commander, but they had somehow not reached the committee, he said.
“So they blamed me. I tried to argue that I had [cooperated], that I had given everything that I needed to,” Yanover said.
“But they said there was nothing they could do.”
Despite telling Yanover last week that he was not eligible to receive any of the family pay, the army had in fact transfered just less than half the amount he was entitled to — NIS 9,300 ($2,500) out of NIS 20,000 ($5,300) — earlier this month, he said.
In response to The Times of Israel’s requests for information about this case, an IDF spokesperson said only that Yanover’s request “would be reviewed sometime next week,” but did not offer any explanation for the nearly year-long delay or answer any other questions related to the case.
Though the problem seems to have come from the NCO’s mistake, it’s not clear what is keeping this bureaucratic nightmare going. But while the army deliberates, the Yanovers have to make ends meet.
Both Yisrael and Haviva are starting school — he in a pre-university preparatory program and she in nursing school — making it almost impossible for them work full-time, he said.
“That’s [NIS 10,000] that would help me get through the next few months,” Yanover said.
“But more than that, it’s rightfully mine,” he added.
Oren, who has proposed a number of bills to provide greater benefits for lone soldiers, said Yanover’s case is not unique.
While the benefits for lone and married soldiers are officially on the books, those do not always “trickle down.”
The army is, after all, run by imperfect people, who are not always aware of every rule, law and official benefit for soldiers who merit financial assistance, Oren said.
‘It comes down to if the platoon commander or company commanders knows about it and cares about it’
Sometimes a box gets left unchecked, a paper falls behind a desk or an email doesn’t get read.
“In every [Knesset] hearing I have, the issue comes up as a ba’aya tashit,” the deputy minister said, using a Hebrew term meaning service conditions problem.
“The soldiers have the rights, but at the level of the mashakit tash or ktzinat tash” — a service conditions officer — “it doesn’t trickle down. So it comes down to if the platoon commander or company commanders knows about it and cares about it,” he said.
Since being interviewed, the deputy minister’s office said it would look into Yanover’s case and try to help.
This article was updated on August 21, 2016 at 4:56 p.m. with corrected figures and fresh details.