An open letter to Yael Even Or’s “We are Israeli reservists. We refuse to serve” petition in the Washington Post.

Dear Yael,

I believe you have a bone to pick with the IDF, and as it seems to me, with western society as a whole.

In your refusal to serve petition, published in the Washington Post on July 23rd, you have centralized all your anguish against the woes of the IDF, where women aren’t fairly represented in the senior positions, minorities are still second class, and low income people have no opportunity for class mobility into a petition of your refusal to serve as an IDF reservist.

Yael you aren’t completely off. Your grievances against the IDF are issues that plague all systems of western societies.  But when it comes to the IDF, you got it wrong.

I don’t write editorials and I don’t post my opinions on Facebook. But when I read your petition last night, and given that my experience in the IDF was the exact opposite of that portrayed, I felt obligated to write to you.

My counter-arguments are endless, but I can tell you a few.

I can tell you about the time I had an overnight guard duty with an Ethiopian boy, who didn’t finish high school and at age 16 was in prison for theft. For 6 hours and over a lot of Turkish coffee, he explained to me how thankful he was for the army, who at the moment he drafted gave him the opportunity to finish his high school degree, and then a shot to try out for the elite counter-terror unit of the IDF Ground Forces. He made it.

I can tell you about my friend from basic training, a Mizrachi religious girl from a town in the north, who shared a small room with 4 of her siblings, who drafted to the army to serve as a teacher for at risk youth.

Or maybe I should tell you about my former unit, where most of the officers were women, Mizrachi, that in addition to the Russian non-Jewish immigrant and the Druze.

In basic training, I was thrown into a platoon with girls from all corners of the country, poor, rich, religious, Christian, Russian, Ethiopian, you name it. For a nice American Jewish girl like me, you could say I was a little in culture shock.

I loved every minute of it.

And what I loved more is how everyone, no matter of race, income, or religion were treated the same. We all ate shit. Together. My commander did not care where you came from and it didn’t matter.

I, the secular middle-class Ashkenazi academically educated lone-soldier American, was treated no more fairly than the Christian Russian immigrant who slept above me, nor the Ethiopian who slept in the bed next to me. We were all one platoon. When one was punished, we all were punished.

The IDF serves as an incredible melting pot, where all niches of the society are thrown together, to achieve the same mission. The kid from a high-rise apartment in Tel Aviv and the kid from a small town in the south are, sadly I must say, fighting together in the same mission today in Gaza.

Now let’s talk about the women. Yeah, most secretaries in the IDF are female. Most secretaries in the world are female. Oh Yael, since your complaints and misgiving are so grossly generalized anyways, why not write an op-ed about the global discrimination of women in the workplace and our submission to secretarial low-level administrative positions? Now that’s an article I would give a like on Facebook! Maybe the New York Times will print it.

Women around the globe in security positions are sidelined. Absolutely. While in the army I realized that I could never really be an expert, I’m not combat, I don’t go to war. Yael, you are right, it’s a problem–a global problem and one prominent of all western democracies.

And then there’s the occupation. Yael I’m not so sure that’s your issue here and I’m pretty sure you don’t lose sleep over it at night. You jumped on the newsworthiness of “Operation Protective Edge” to promote your personal vendetta against the IDF.

I hope, like you, to see the day where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in a 2-state solution and there is no need for 18 year-olds to draft. I hope that if I have kids here, I will not have to send them to the army.  But for now the situation is not such, for now there is an actual threat, and when a group of people are threatened, there is a military.

Occupation is always bad, for both the occupier and occupied.

But this being said, I never felt as a soldier, just another worker ant in the army machine to perpetuate the occupation of a group of people. Why? Because whenever I’d get upset seeing the border guard search all Arab-looking persons at a crossing, I remember that just a week and a half ago on Route 5 these searches prevented a bomb from being smuggled into Israel. Whenever I look at the security fence in the West Bank as something so unnatural for a people, I remember how many lives were saved as it stopped the influx of suicide bombers into Israel’s mains cities. And whenever I start to question all the pictures of dead Palestinians civilians, and wonder how my friends in Gaza who are infantrymen, tankers, and pilots could allow this to happen, a siren goes off in Tel Aviv, and I remember that there is a battle, and this is what happens in battle.

I hope there is a day when Israel can demilitarize. But until that day comes, I hope the IDF will continue to serve as a social mobilization machine. I hope it will continue to provide lost kids with a sense of meaning. I hope it will continue to make kids finish their high school studies before completing any training. I hope it will continue to give economic support to the parents of low income soldiers. I hope it will continue to give to women, those bound by abhorrent traditional roles, to be commanders, leaders, and instructors.

More than all these hopes I have written here, I hope my former officer, a female, Major, Moroccan, single-mother, and combat platoon commander likes my letter to you.


Julia Kraut