Israeli peace proponents refuse army service

Despite obligatory military service for both men and women, more and more Israelis appear to be questioning the role of their armed forces and are unwilling to serve.

Some statistics suggest that as many as one in four Israelis don’t serve in the army – this includes religious Jews and Israeli Arabs.

Amir Givol is still trying to piece together why he is considered a criminal by the Israeli police. He served three years in the army but refuses to be part of its reserve forces. Now he is helping those who feel the same way.

He belongs to New Profile – an organization that provides information to young Israelis who are considering doing something that goes against the grain of Israeli identity – not serving in the army. Amir says their reservations are a direct result of the Second Lebanon war three years ago.

Israel lost just under 200 people in that war. Soldiers complained they lacked equipment, were not properly trained and that many of the fatalities could have been prevented.

These criticisms caused many Israelis to question whether or not they wanted to serve their army. But it was also a wakeup call, highlighting that without such an army, Israel could cease to exist.

“You want to live in peace and you believe in all these values of peace – but you have to be ready to go to war. Because if you don't, just imagine if all the youngsters leave Israel – there'll be nobody to fight. It’s suicidal,” believes Hanni Mann-Shalvi from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

National service has been compulsory in Israel since the founding of the state in 1948. From the age of eighteen, girls are obliged to serve two years, boys three. Until recently, dodging army service was unthinkable.

Yet some young Israelis are beginning to take a stand against their government. Sahar Vardi, 18, spent two months in a military prison for refusing to serve. She says she knew from the age of 12 she would never wear a soldier’s uniform.

“When people ask how old I am, they ask, ‘what do you do in the army?’ The conversation then goes up to higher tones, at least from the other side. Because the society is so militarized,” Sahar says.

Six months ago, Israel was at war with Gaza. Most Israelis fear another conflict is only a matter of time – whether it be with Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran.