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Suicide the leading cause of death among IDF soldiers last year

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

IDF soldiers stand near the site where a Israeli civilian was injured by gunfire from the Gaza Strip on December 29, 2021. (Flash90)
IDF soldiers stand near the site where a Israeli civilian was injured by gunfire from the Gaza Strip on December 29, 2021. (Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces saw a slight increase in the number of soldiers killed in uniform over the past year — 31 compared to the previous year’s 28 — as well as a small rise in the number of suicides, according to fresh statistics released by the military.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death, with at least 11 soldiers believed to have taken their own lives in 2021 and another two whose deaths are currently designated as accidents but which may also have been suicide, Brig. Gen. Yoram Knafo, chief of staff of the IDF Manpower Directorate, tells reporters.

Of the 11 soldiers believed to have taken their own lives, three were members of the Ethiopian community, far above the number than would be expected based on their representation in the population. One of the two additional possible suicides was also Ethiopian, further inflating the already disproportionate number. Knafo says the military is aware of this issue and is working to better address it, while trying to not stigmatize the Ethiopian population.

This is an increase from 2020, when nine soldiers were suspected of having died by suicide, though Knafo says that overall the number of suicides in the military has held steady at roughly 10 each year.

Only one IDF soldier was killed in combat over the past year, Omer Tabib, who was hit by an anti-tank guided missile on the Gaza border during May’s conflict with terror groups in the Strip. Another soldier, Yonatan Granot, was killed when he was shot in the head by another soldier who had allegedly fired a weapon on their base in violation of orders and is currently on trial for manslaughter.

The death of Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who was shot in the head by a Palestinian gunman during a riot along the Gaza border, was not included in the figures since he served in the Border Police.

Ten soldiers were killed in car accidents while on leave and six soldiers died of illnesses in 2021, none of them from the coronavirus, Knafo says.

Last year, no soldiers were killed in work or training accidents, he says.

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