Like almost any person in his mid forties I have plenty of remorses about things that I did and did not do in my life. Yet, one thing stands atop of all my mistakes: I should have not served in the Israeli army.
As an Israeli citizen, I was forced to devote three years of my life to the enforcement of governmental policies which at best kept me alienated. I spent the first part of my mandatory service, approximately half a year, in a refugee camp near Nablus. The year was 1987 and my job was to make sure that none of the Palestinians who resided there like pickles in a barrel would revolt.
Then, I spent another half a year guarding a top-security-for-no-apparent-reason military camp in Tel-Aviv. This time, I was making sure that soldiers who were somewhat luckier than the aforementioned Palestinians do not extend their lunch break. Finally, the climax of my contribution to Israel’s national security, were two years of service as a correspondent for the military’s official weekly and a PR agent for the IDF. In this capacity I wrote hundreds of garbage stories about the heroic acts of young men whose brevity was tightly connected to the humiliation of the Palestinians from the first part of this paragraph. I am happy to note that nearly all the unaffiliated newspapers that I approached with my intentionally badly written stories showed no interest in publishing them. I finished my service feeling nausea and determined never to wear a military uniform, however, it took two more years until I gained courage to convince the IDF that I don’t fit in – not even as a reserve soldier.
Years have passed. Today, it is much easier to obtain a dishonorable discharge, but young Israelis are still afraid, almost as I was in my time, not to follow the herd. They do go to see the successful rendition of Hair and find the play impressive, but they don’t imitate the actors and don’t burn their draft-cards. Like me, they must be scared of what their parents would say and unrealistically frightened of the horrendous effect that draft dodging supposedly has on their future. Socialization takes its toll.
It is not difficult to guess out where I stand politically and to conclude that in my subjective view ninety-nine-point-nine percent of what Israeli soldiers have been forced to do for the last decades is on the verge of a war crime, but even if I were certain that the occupation of the West Bank is the most justified and merciful thing – I would still not recommend any sensible guy to donate years of his life to the IDF, simply because this sacrifice remains unrewarded and unequal.
Let’s start with equality: A typical Secular Israeli Guy (SIG) is coerced to serve for three years, but his girlfriend is required to serve for only two years. His modern-orthodox pal is likely to serve for less than a year and a half (and spend additional time studying in some yeshiva), and his ultra-orthodox acquaintances (men and women) most probably do not serve at all. All in all (and now we move to talk about money) – our poor SIG would find himself working 24/7 and earning between 7,000 Shekels to 25,000 Shekels a year for three long years. That’s less than a prisoner’s wages!
Some people believe that a country is entitled to ask its young citizens to serve in the armed forces, even against their will, for a limited period of time, but even they would find it difficult to accept that religion and gender are legitimate factors in determining who would serve, or that a prisoner should earn more than a soldier.
You cannot tie an employee to a workplace that he dislikes, pay him a ridiculous paycheck, and expect him to be effective and productive. It is about time that Israel would realize this basic fact and cancel the enforced conscription. It is also about time that SIGs would not be so afraid to avoid the draft. Take my word: Nothing happens to those who don’t serve.