“A Land to Die For? Soldier Talk and Moral reflections of Young Israelis” the new book by David RananLeave a comment
May 12, 2013 by IJV
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
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