Saturday 17 October 2009

Refusing to Serve

Israel is a democratic country, and I would be one of the first to defend its democratic principles. This includes the right to free speech even when the statements being made are illogical and immensely damaging to the state. These are my views about the statements made by groups of high school seniors and other objectors who speak out against being drafted into the Israel Defence Force (IDF), and carrying out their duty to serve their country.

Israel is one of the few countries in the world which has a compulsory military draft for both boys and girls. Boys are currently required to serve in the IDF for 3 years whilst girls are required to serve for 2 years. There is a good reason for this compulsory draft. Israel is a country under an immense existential threat, with more than one of its neighbours openly voicing the wish that Israel will be destroyed, and indicating the willingness to destroy the Jewish state and all its inhabitants given the chance. There can be little doubt that the IDF is the reason why Israel is still in existence today more than 60 years after its independence. More than this, the IDF protects the freedom and liberties of Jews around the world. I have stated on these pages on more than one previous occasion that I believe that the only reason why another holocaust has not taken place is due to the existence and the power of the IDF. With rising anti-Semitism around the world, the strength of the IDF will also be the only thing that will prevent a future holocaust.

The IDF does not provide any flexibility for conscientious objection against the draft. Objectors are tried in a military court and are usually jailed if they continue to refuse to serve. With the vast majority of Israelis having served in the IDF at one time or another, Israeli society has a strong relationship with the IDF. There is often a stigma attached to people who choose not to undertake their service, and they may find it difficult to further their careers or be accepted in the local society.

I find myself getting really angry at this time of year when the annual letter is written to the Prime Minister, signed by a "group" of Israeli high school students speaking out against being drafted to the IDF. The letter, this year signed by 80 students, received its fair share of press coverage. It speaks of their refusal to serve in an "occupying force" and in a force that treats civilians badly and makes life difficult for millions of others. Whilst respecting the rights of these students to speak out, along with other conscientious objectors including the so-called "Shministim" who have travelled around the world speaking out against the IDF, I do not respect their point of view nor the way in which they choose to express it.

Like the objectors, I would also prefer for the IDF not to have to blockade millions of civilians into the Gaza strip. I would also prefer for IDF soldiers not to have to establish checkpoints for civilians crossing out of the West Bank, and being forced to search each one before allowing them to continue on their way. The requirements to behave in this way come because of the experiences that Israel has been forced to suffer to date. The fact that Palestinian civilians are trying to smuggle explosives into Israel every day with the objective of killing and maiming Israeli civilians forces our soldiers to have to search each and every one of them. The fact that civilian areas in Gaza are being used to fire missiles towards Israeli civilians in a random manner, forces the IDF to respond to this threat accordingly. The style of the IDF's behaviour is not out of choice, it is out of necessity.

So our Shministim and their colleagues are happy to live in Israel and to be protected by the IDF, to allow them and their families to live a safe and free Jewish existence. All of this is OK as long as other people's children are protecting them, and are risking their lives in the process. Unfortunately, some of these people even die in the course of the service of protecting Israel including the objectors. The minute, however, it comes time for them to serve their country and to protect the families of those who have protected them, then they come out as conscientious objectors. This is the moment they choose to object to the "occupation". In my opinion, this is unacceptable.

Like in every large organisation, there will undoubtedly be soldiers in the IDF who behave contrary to the rules and in a shameful manner. These soldiers are dealt with accordingly. This fact is not enough of a reason for people to object to serving in the IDF. Without the IDF, we have no Israel. People who object to the IDF, object to Israel. In my view, people who refuse to serve in the IDF should lose their right to live in Israel. With a Jewish population of less than 6 million people, there is no room for passengers.

Whilst I am infuriated each time my attention is drawn to the conscientious objectors, I do manage to keep this in perspective. Thankfully, the vast majority of high school students are not only willing to serve in the IDF, they are keen and eager to play their role in the defence of Israel and Jews around the world. I have the privilege of being exposed to my son and his friends who are all looking forward to their opportunity to serve. It is a pity that these young men and women don't get the same press coverage as the objectors. They certainly deserve it.

No comments: