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“A  Land  to  Die  For?    Soldier  Talk  and  Moral  reflections  of  Young  Israelis”    the new book by David  Ranan  

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May 12, 2013 by IJV

Abstract  

 

Israeli  governments  have  for  many  years  succeeded  in  maintaining  a  consensus  in  

Israeli  society  regarding  the  unquestionable  need  to  serve  in  the  army.  This  consensus  

was  based  on  the  ethos  of  a  Jewish  state  surrounded  by  Arabs  who  want  to  destroy  it.  

For  some  time  this  black  and  white  coloration  has  been  allowed  to  erode.    

 

The  trigger  for  this  book  was  a  recent  visit  to  Israeli  friends  of  mine,  two  of  whose  three  

sons  had  managed  to  wriggle  their  way  out  of  the  army  service.  Only  the  middle  son  had  

chosen  to  serve  in  the  army  and  served  a  full  three-­‐year  service  in  a  combat  unit.  I  say  

chosen”  but  he,  of  course,  did  not  “choose”  to  serve  in  the  army.  Military  service  is  

compulsory  for  most  Israeli  men  as  well  as  for  unmarried  women  and  not  doing  one’s  

duty  is  unusual.

 

 In  enlisting,  he  followed  not  only  the  law  but  also  the  norm.  And  yet,  I  

was  not  surprised  by  the  existence  of  draft  dodging  –  once  almost  impossible  -­‐  as  this  no  

longer  is  unheard  of  in  Israel.  I  was,  however,  surprised  to  find  this  “situation”  in  an  

Israeli  born  Ashkenazy  (from  European  origin)  and  secular  family.  Secular  Ashkenazy  

Jews  were  the  core  group  behind  the  successful  Zionist  effort  to  establish  the  Jewish  

state  and  its  institutions,  including  the  IDF,  Israel’s  military.  This  is  also  the  segment  of  

Israeli  society  that  in  the  past  used  to  turn  out  the  country’s  elite  soldiers.    

 

Much  has  changed  since  I  was  drafted  to  the  IDF,  in  the  summer  of  1965,  two  years  

before  the  Six  Day  War.  The  country  has  changed;  its  demographic  makeup  has  changed,  

its  relationship  with  its  Arab  neighbours  has  changed  and  the  resultant  nature  of  tasks  

that  combat  soldiers  are  charged  with  compared  to  what  was  required  of  combat  

soldiers  in  “my  time”  has  changed.    

 

The  issue  of  draft  dodging  and  of  conscientious  objecting  on  both  sides  of  the  political  

spectrum  is  an  explosive  one  in  Israel.  There  is  hardly  anyone  who  does  not  have  a  view  

in  this  matter.  Youngsters  who  decide  not  to  join  the  army  whether  by  becoming  

conscientious  objectors  or  by  draft  dodging  are  making  a  statement.  But  what  about  the  

others,  -­‐  the  majority  of  young  Israelis  -­‐  how  much  thinking  into  what  moral  issues  

might  be  involved  in  their  army  service  takes  place?  Can  one  expect  eighteen-­‐year-­‐olds  

to  have  the  maturity  to  weigh  such  moral  dilemmas?  Does  Israeli  society  want  its  sons  to  

consider  these  situations  as  dilemmas?  What  tools  have  they  got  at  their  disposal?      

 

To  understand  how  Israel  deals  with  the  issue  of  motivation  to  serve  and  how  some  

young  Israelis  handle  possible  doubts  and  moral  qualms,  I  interviewed  over  fifty  Israelis  

aged  between  18  and  30.  Some  were  interviewed  in  their  final  school  year,  before  

enlisting,  others  after  completing  their  military  service.  This  book  comprises  of  twenty-­‐

seven  interviews  turned  into  monologues  that  reveal  some  of  the  questions  that  concern  

this  generation.      

 

Tasks  that  can  involve  Israeli  soldiers  in  moral  dilemmas  are  likely  to  be  the  

responsibility  of  combat  units  during  their  service  in  the  Occupied  Territories.  Although  

some  combat  units  have  been  opened  to  female  soldiers,  most  of  the  combat  roles  are  

limited  to  male  soldiers.  I,  therefore,  chose  my  interviewees  from  the  population  that  is  

most  relevant  to  my  investigation:  males  serving  or  about  to  serve  in  a  combat  unit.

 

The  monologues  include:  pre-­‐military  service  youths  some  who  are  raring  to  go;  an  

ultraorthodox  boy  who  is  not  going  to  the  army;  a  few  conscientious  objectors  or  draft  

dodgers;  a  young  woman  who  had  planned  to  be  a  conscientious  objector  and  then  

changed  her  mind  as  well  as  a  young  man  who  sat  in  jail  for  resisting  the  draft  and  in  

retrospect  thinks  that  he  was  wrong.  Two  were  court-­‐martialled  and  jailed  for  refusing  

to  serve  in  the  Occupied  Territories and  two  who  had  no  problems  during  their  regular  

army  service  but  some  years  later  when  called  to  reserve  duty  find  the  tasks  difficult  to  

accept;  a  couple  of  religious  idealists  as  well  as  an  idealistic  female  combatant;  left  wing  

soldiers  who  hate  the  occupation,  believe  that  Israel  must  dismantle  the  settlements  and  

get  out  but  do  not  accept  the  legitimacy  of  refusing  the  draft;  and  even  one  who  perhaps  

could  be  defined  as  an  “immoraliste”.  

The author will be speaking about his book at Hashomer House at 8pm on Sunday, 12 May

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