Fighter pilot’s death re-ignites combat debate

Asaf Ramon with Shimon Peres, after his pilots’ course in June

Asaf Ramon with Shimon Peres, after his pilots’ course in June

The death of Captain Asaf Ramon in a jet fighter accident on Sunday has reopened the question of whether children from bereaved families should be allowed to serve in combat units.

Captain Ramon was the son of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia Shuttle disaster in 2003.

The IDF regulations state that a child or sibling of a fallen IDF soldier is exempt from service in a combat unit unless their parent signs an authorisation. On average, about 80 members of bereaved families join the IDF each year and serve in combat units with their parents’ consent.

“It puts an unbearable amount of pressure on the bereaved mother or widow, who feels that by signing the consent, she may be sealing her son’s fate,” said a senior IDF officer. While the army is not expected to change its rules, there have been calls this week in the Knesset for legislation on the matter.

The Ramon family tragedy is not the first time that a son or brother of a fallen IDF soldier has been killed in active service. In previous cases, the IDF considered changing its regulations.

Major General (reserve) Elazar Stern, former commander of the IDF Personnel Corps, said that he was in favour of forbidding bereaved family members to serve in dangerous conditions “but I changed my mind after talking to so many families who said to me that the army cannot block a son from following in his father or brother’s footsteps. As it is they have suffered enough.”

Professor Asa Kasher of Tel Aviv University, the author of the IDF’s ethical code of conduct and himself a father of a fallen officer, is also against changing the current rules.

“Everyone has a personal way of mourning,” he says, “and for many sons and daughters, serving in their father or brother’s unit is that way. For young Israelis, army service is the first stage of adult life and we have no right to tell them how to live their lives.”

Last updated: 11:57am, September 18 2009