Can you die in the military?

Understand Israel

Whoever wants to understand Israel, its hopes and contradictions, has to go far back in history. "A land where milk and honey flow" promised God Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. The power of this myth is unbroken. Neither the expulsion of the Jews in the second century AD, nor the countless pogroms up to the Shoah diminished the longing for the Promised Land.

And when the State of Israel was established in 1948, the promise seemed to be fulfilled a second time. However, Israel was not granted a peaceful existence. From day one, the young nation waged war against neighbors who claimed their territory. Tens of thousands died in an endless chain of terror and retribution. Israel has since developed into a highly armed nation - a nuclear power - for whose young soldiers war is the norm.

"They never knew an Israel with no occupied territories, an Israel without suicide bombers, an Israel without soldiers being used in barricades and checkpoints. They never knew an army that does not regularly enter Palestinian homes at will. This is the reality , to which eighteen-year-old Israelis belong and in which they are called to do their military service. "

In theory - writes David Ranan, who comes from a German-Jewish family and now lives in London - all Israelis are drafted into military service: men three years, unmarried women two years. And after that, anyone up to a certain age can be called up for reserve services once a year.

In practice, however, it looks very different. Palestinian Arabs residing in Israel do not do any weapon service anyway, and ultra-Orthodox Jews only to a limited extent; In addition, there are young men and women who illegally evade military service for a wide variety of reasons. Because they don't feel like it - the Israeli media call them "slackers", because they do not touch a weapon for reasons of conscience or because they do not share the political goals of the wars.

David Ranan conducted 50 interviews with young Israelis about their attitude towards military service and printed 27 as monologues - that is, without intervening questions. In their open language, they throw a bright spotlight on the inner workings of the Israeli army and society.

Eli, a 23-year-old combat soldier, on the excessive violence Israeli soldiers used against Palestinians:

"The Arabs were hit in the face, in the ribs, in the balls, in the body. I didn't know why the person in question was arrested. It could be that they just dragged him in like that: Come on, let's charge it. The are tied up and you can do what you want with them. You can also take their chains off and beat them - they will not touch you. Only one man strikes but around there are six others with weapons - should he strike back "They'd buff his face."

According to the respondents, the superiors usually know what is going on behind their backs, but they really want to prevent the attacks or they cannot.
The 2008 "Cast Lead" military operation in the Gaza Strip was even more dramatic. During the fighting, the Israeli military used phosphorus grenades, which caused terrible burns.

For the 30-year-old Maor, who was to be drafted as a reservist at the time, the television images of the operation were so shocking that he spontaneously refused to do military service:

"And if the whole world is upside down - I'm not going. It was a very emotional decision, not something I would have thought about a lot. I knew that if they called me to fire phosphorus shells on Gaza, I wouldn't Period. I'm not saying anything about the future, I'm not saying anything about the past, shooting phosphorus on Gaza right now - I'm not ready for that. "

Maor is not a pacifist. But he couldn't reconcile with his conscience the idea that the phosphorus shells he had shot could hit children and burn them to death. He refused to do military service and ended up in jail. Israel has no mercy on this point.

The problems with ultra-Orthodox Jews go in a completely different direction. They will not be drafted into the military until they are no longer full-time students. This special postponement is now leading to severe social upheaval.

"Since the provision stipulates that they are only exempt from military service as long as they are not employed but are full-time yeshiva students, this delay means that there is a steadily growing number of Israelis who do not enter professional life, but instead rely on welfare for a living. "

The government is even more accommodating for women: if they state that they cannot do military service because of their religious way of life, they will automatically be exempted. A rule that is increasingly being abused by secular Jewish women, writes David Ranan.

A completely different problem is already foreseeable: because ultra-Orthodox Jewish women with an average of seven children have a very high birth rate - in the case of secular Jewish women it is two or three - the number of Israelis who are eligible for military service will decrease more and more in the future.

If you want to get an authentic picture of the social and political upheavals in Israel, if you want to know why the iron principle that every citizen has to contribute to the defense of the country is crumbling, then David Ranan's book "Is it still good for ours." Land to Die? Young Israelis About Their Service in the Army "recommended.

The 40-page abstract on the history of Israel is also extremely well worth reading. After reading this book, many problems of the Middle East conflict can be better classified.

David Ranan: "Is it still good to die for our country? Young Israelis about their service in the army".
Nicolai Verlag, 272 pages 19.95 euros.