Women's Draft Resistance in Israel

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by Shani Werner, Rela Mazali
English: Tal Haran

Israel is the only country in the world that practices conscription for women. It is thus also the only country in the world where women’s draft resistance exists. The movement of women draft resisters in Israel is constantly on the rise, but no data are available as to its exact extent. The army refrains from making such data known to the public. In October 2002, Brigadier-General Avi Zamir, head of the planning division at the army’s manpower department, reported to the Knesset committee on the status of women that the number of women who do not enlist on grounds of conscience is confidential. Data that the New Profile movement has assembled from media items, indicate that every year, 40% of women candidates for conscription do not enlist. In the past decade, the number of women who have not enlisted on grounds of conscience and religious faith has risen by 10%, and now constitutes 30% of all candidates.

Unlike men who declare their refusal to enlist and are sent to a military prison, women’s objection to serve on grounds of conscience has won official recognition by the military authorities. Such women are entitled to exemption, provided they convince a military commission known as "the conscience committee" that their objection is indeed sincere.

Most of the public, including conscription candidates, is not aware of the official and practical recognition of women’s right to refuse. Information on how to realize this right is hard to come by. It is very hard to spot the negligible mention of this subject among the preparatory information sent to candidates for conscription. Women who inquire about this at conscription centers are often told "there is no such thing". Thus many girls do not achieve their right to apply to "the conscience committee".

The process required of the girls who do, is not simple. "The conscience committee" treats young women objectors arbitrarily and inconsistently. In some cases, their interview is short and trivial, in others it is pointedly humiliating and seriously intimidating. Quite a few girls are not aware of their right to contest the committee’s decision or demand to read its protocol. Until recently, "the conscience committee" rejected most of the girls after their first application, and only exempted (most of) them after their second try – when they contested the decision. Many women, however, were not aware that they could appeal.

Since its inception, the New Profile movement has been collecting and publicizing information about the right of women to resist the draft, and how to go about it. The New Profile web site, offers a package of detailed information on this subject, composed by conscientious objector Moran Cohen and attorney Yossi Wolfson. The movement’s network of counsellors offers explanations and supportive, personal assistance to women who have decided to resist the draft. At present, more and more young women are becoming aware of this option, and most women who apply to the military commission are indeed exempted.

Although the Israeli army exempts women objectors relatively easily, in comparison to its treatment of male objectors, refusal as such is not an easy step to take. It requires every woman to confront herself, the way she was raised, and an environment that often resents her act and cannot understand it. Furthermore, the fact that women are favored over men regarding the right to refuse, results directly from women’s inferior status in the army, and in Israeli society at large. Women are exempt since they are unimportant, as it were, not "the real thing" – a combat soldier. Accordingly, their refusal – a personal step that is brave and not at all easy – is "negligible", not reported by the media, invisible to the public eye.

In the coming weeks we will offer a series of testimonies written by women draft resisters. They tell about themselves, their refusal, the process they have undergone, significant junctions. Other women resisters (anticipating, following or in the middle of the process) are warmly invited to send us their testimonies.

As a first "taste", here are a few fragments.

"…Then I thought of the day when I truly understood that I not only didn’t belong to the army, but that the army would act against me if necessary … I understood that I didn’t belong to them – and that they didn’t want me … " (Noa Kaufman)

"The trainer explained the semi-automatic paint rifles, the correct defensive moves, how to aim at the "enemy," how to switch magazines. I didn’t take part in that game. I came home a pacifist." (Danya Vaknin)

"… From that day on, all I could think about was how I get myself out of this rut the state has pushed me into.. I decided not to lie, or fake it and be as proper with the army as I could." (Moran Farchan)

"Aviv asked me if I'm still going to refuse. And I said yes. Because it was obvious to me that yes, that…because it just proves it even more, right? If people die, it should be stopped, right? More people shouldn’t die, should they? But Aviv already stopped listening. For good, actually, because he never talked to me again. And the others, too." (Tal Matalon)

"…In May 2001 I arrived at Tantur (a Christinan theological center, property of the Orthodox Church, that is considered ex-territorium), for an Israeli-Palestinian youth counsellors dialogue seminar." (Eilat Maoz)

"After my interview with the "conscience committee," I left the Tel-Hashomer induction base and phoned home. There had been a bombing in Tel-Aviv. ... A youth had chosen to commit suicide in order to kill Israelis. If only could have told him about other Israelis who refuse to be his occupiers… " (Shani Werner)

"Everybody laughed and said it would pass by the time I went to the army. It didn't." (Noa Levi)

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