Funeral of 21-year-old Abdul Fatah Al-Sharif , who was shot dead by soldier Elor Azaria in March 2016, Hebron.

The Israeli Army: Is 18 too young?

By Iris Mark/ PNN/

Recently an Israeli military court gave an 18-month-sentence over charges of “manslaughter” for an Israeli militant who shot and killed 21 year old Palestinian Abdul Fatah Al-Sharif in Hebron. The Israeli soldier is the 21 year old Elor Azaria. Today, after more than a year of the shooting, Azaria went to jail.

The military prosecution asked for 3-5 years for Azaria, but instead, he received a lighter sentence of 18 months, while receiving support from the Israeli Prime Minister and other right wing leaders. At the same time, Palestinian children under the age of 16 could receive a harsher sentence only for throwing stones or over false accusations.

As in most countries, the Israeli military draft is at age 18 for men and women. But unlike the rest of the world, Israel has occupied Palestine for the last 50 years, making it the world’s longest ongoing military occupation. The result for Israeli soldiers is daily encounters with Palestinians on checkpoints, contact points, protests and more. In the Israeli military men have to serve for 32 months and women 24 months, making big parts of the Israeli army between the ages of 18-21.

The underdeveloped brain

The psychological problem of having lots of 18 to 21-year old armed forces with power over an entire Palestinian population is the lack of the brain’s maturity. Psychological research shows that the brain’s development of the prefrontal cortex is likely to persist until the age of 25 or 30. Meaning that the “thinking part” of the brain is underdeveloped before mid 20’s or early 30’s.

The prefrontal cortex is vital in decision making, impulse control, risk management, logical thinking, organized thinking, personal development, attention and complex planning among others. All of these which soldiers are dependent on in conflict zones. Lack of impulse control, risk management and poor judgment can quickly develop into a lethal situation as it did in the case of Elor Azarya who shot a young wounded Palestinian man in the head from a close distance, while other soldiers were watching.

Incidents like that take place on an almost daily basis. With all the power that’s given to them by their right-wing government, young armed Israeli soldiers standing on checkpoints can block or allow the movement of hundreds of Palestinians who live in an occupied country and need to cross checkpoints every day.

Not only is the underdeveloped brain going to affect the person’s behavior, but the situation of stress, as a conflict zone, can prohibit the brain from normal development. In other words stress can inhibit the brain’s ability to deal with stress later on in life, and making it permanently difficult for the soldiers to control impulses and manage risks. A downwards spine-roll hard to get out of.

Soldiers of the Israeli army are constantly working in conflict zones, making the prefrontal cortex extremely important. Daily encounters with Palestinians gives plenty of situations where violations are made- many of which could have been avoided.