Country report and updates: Israel

Last revision: 21 Apr 1998
21 Apr 1998
21/04/1998

1 Conscription

conscription exists

Conscription exists since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The present legal basis of conscription is the 1986 National Defence Service Law.

military service

All Jewish and Druze men and all Jewish women are liable for military service between the ages of 17 and 50. [1]

Military service lasts for three years in the case of men, and two years in the case of women. It lasts longer for officers and certain specialists, such as doctors and nurses. [6]

New immigrants are allowed a two-year 'absorption period', but can be called up for military service during this period. They are conscripted for similar or shorter periods, according to their age, gender and status as 'potential immigrants' or 'immigrants'. [6] [10]

Reserve service is required up till the age of 42 in the case of men (54 for officers) and up till 24 in the case of women. Reservist duty involves one month's annual training. [9]

Traditionally the reserve service has been considered a very important aspect of Israel's defence policy, indeed an important aspect of building a national identity. Since the 1980s attitudes seem to have changed somewhat. Men of over 35 are often not called up for reserve training, as they are considered medically unfit. Women are as a rule not called up for reserve training at all. [13]

postponement and exemption

Postponement is possible in the case of students. During the course of their studies they have to perform a one month's military training. [3]

Exemption is possible for 'reasons connected with the requirements of education, security settlement or the national economy, for family reasons or for other reasons' (National Defence Service Law, art.36). This applies to medical grounds or those convicted of criminal offences, but conscientious objectors too have claimed exemption due to unsuitability under this article. (see: Conscientious objection)

The relatively undereducated are also exempt. This is because conscripts are supposed to have finished at least eight years' education. Those who have not but nevertheless wish to volunteer, are given a basic education for, according to the authorities, everybody is entitled to serve in the armed forces. [3]

Special rules apply to the exemption of religious students and women.

exemption of religious students

Jewish male scholars studying in yeshiva religious schools are granted exemption or automatic deferral until they are past military service age. There is an arrangement whereby they can study while in the armed forces. Druze male religious scholars too are exempt. [2] [5] [6]

In discussing the status of the armed forces shortly after the founding of the State of Israel, representatives of orthodox religious parties argued that yeshiva students should be exempt from military service. This derives from the Jewish tradition that if a man wants to dedicate his life to religious study, society must allow him to do so. The request of orthodox parties to 'prevent neglect of studying the Torah' was granted by the authorities. But in recent years this exemption practice has become the subject to debate in Israeli society. [5] [7]

exemption of women

Exemption is possible for married women, pregnant women and women having children (art. 38 (a) (b)). Women granted postponement while they were students and married during this period, can not claim marriage as ground for exemption. [6]

Women are thought to get exempted quite easily; allegedly only 40 to 50 per cent of all liable women are actually recruited. [6]

recruitment

Call-up for medical examination takes place at the age of 17. Afterwards men are summoned for questioning: they are asked what they will seek to do serving in the armed forces and so forth. Women are not summoned for personal interviews, but are required to answer questionnaires.

Call-up for military service takes place at the age of 18.

Voluntary applications to perform military service can be made from the age of 17. [6] [10]

 

2 Conscientious objection

legal right

The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized in the case of men. It is only partially recognized in the case of women under art. 39 of the National Defence Service Law, which permits exemption on grounds of conscience but only if they are religious grounds.

procedure and practice

There have only ever been a few pacifist conscientious objectors in Israel, but the number has increased in recent years, mainly thanks to Russian immigrants with a pacifist background and a generally negative attitude towards military service. [8]

Most COs are known as 'partial objectors', people who do not refuse to perform military service but decline to serve in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories as they disagree with Israel's occupation. Many partial objectors are reservists refusing reserve obligations.

women

Women can claim exemption from military service on grounds of conscience under arts. 39 (c) and 40 of the Defence Service Law, according to which religious reasons can be grounds for exemption.

Art. 39 (c) deals with the exemption of women with a particular religious background. According to this article: "A female person of military age who has proved, in such manner and to such authority as shall be prescribed by regulations, that reasons of conscience or reasons connected with her family's religious way of life prevent her from serving in defence service shall be exempt from the duty of that service."

Art. 40 deals with exemption on religious grounds. According to it, exemption is permissible when: "(1) reasons of religious conviction prevent her from serving in the defence service and (2) she observes the dietary laws at home and away from home and (3) she does not ride on the Sabbath."

This article is somewhat ambiguous as it does not specify which religious conviction can achieve exemption. However, the military authorities have always assumed that it only applies to Jewish Orthodox women who keep the sabbath and kosher rules. [10]

Written application must be made to the Ministry of Defence conscription administration, before the first date for reporting at that office. Application procedure involves a hearing by an exemption board, which may include a Rabbi, psychiatrist, army officer, a representative of the public and a female soldier. In practice almost all such applications are believed to be granted. [5] [6]

The legislation on exemption of religious women is based on Jewish tradition, which does not permit daughters either to stray from their father's authority or to live in a mixed-gender society. Military service by women would conflict with both these proscriptions, hence with the traditional religious way of life. [7]

men

Legislation does not permit exemption for men on conscientious grounds. Male conscientious objectors usually try to claim exemption due to 'unsuitability' under art 36. of the National Defence Service Law.

Written application must be submitted to the Ministry of Defence conscription administration. No rules have been formulated for deciding on such applications, nor are there any guidelines for assessing applications.

Applications on the grounds of unsuitability can be made while serving, by submitting a written application. In such cases examination by a mental health officer or military psychiatrist is part of the procedure. [11]

There is no right to appeal against a Ministry of Defence decision. In the past, appeals have been made to the Israeli Supreme Court, but they have seldom been considered. The Supreme Court is believed to have twice ruled that partial objection could not be ground for unsuitability. [10]

In the 1990s the armed forces established a board to consider CO cases. It consisted solely of army representatives and it had no legal basis or standards for judging applications. Few people realised the board existed and it was eventually abolished in 1996. [7]

According to CO groups, the reaching of decisions on exemption owing to unsuitability is fairly arbitrary. Applications by absolute pacifists are believed as a rule to be more apt to be granted than those made by partial objectors. And an application is more likely to be granted if it has not been the focus of public attention, as the authorities are not keen on CO cases turning into political cases. [6] [12]

There are many COs whose applications have been rejected but who have who continued to refuse to serve, and have been sent to prison (see: draft evasion and desertion). In other cases informal arrangements within the armed forces are apparently made with reservists who decline to serve in the Occupied Territories. This is at the discretion of individual commander, each case being dealt with on its merits without providing a precedent. In such cases arrangements may be made within the unit itself, which may lead to assignment in Israel, postponement of service until such time as the unit would not be sent to the Occupied Territories, unarmed service within the armed forces or discharge on medical, domestic or work grounds. [5] [6]

substitute service

Substitute service is not available.

The previous Defence Service Law required women who were exempt from military service on grounds of conscience, to perform 'alternative civilian service', but such service has never in fact been performed. From 1977 on this provision has been legally ignored. Nevertheless a key question for the women's exemption board is still about a women's willingness to perform substitute service. [6]

Sometimes partial objectors refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories, have been assigned to unarmed military service or to a civilian service. This has been at the discretion of individual commanders and is not an actual right. [5] [7]

COs are apt to face subsequent restrictions in further life. Those who lack documents proving they have completed military service are often regarded with suspicion. For instance, they may find it difficult to get employment if they explain why they did not complete their military service and they can be refused loans by credit institutions. [3] [11]

However, the attitude of society towards COs seems to have changed slightly in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact the increasing number of partial objectors reflects a changing attitude in Israeli society towards Israeli policy and the role of the armed forces. Significantly, many partial objectors are the middle and upper class and belong to the legitimate left. [7] [8]

 

3 Draft evasion and desertion

penalties

Failure to fulfil a duty imposed by the National Defence Service Law is punishable by up to two years' imprisonment.

Attempting to evade military service is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.

Refusal to perform reserve duties is punishable by up to 56 days' imprisonment, the sentence being renewable if the objector refuses repeatedly.

Helping someone to avoid military service is punishable by a fine or up to two years' imprisonment (National Defence Service Law art. 35 (a) (2)). [2]

practice

Those who disobey call-up orders are regarded as refusing to perform military service and can thus be sentenced to up to five years' imprisonment. In practice sentences do not exceed more than a year's imprisonment. [10]

If an application for exemption from military service is rejected, the individual is ordered to perform military or reserve service. Continued refusal may lead to being disciplined or court-martialled. As stated above, there is no clearly discernible pattern to decision-making in cases of people refusing to serve. Military courts have sentenced objectors to up to one-and-a-half years' imprisonment. Sentences are frequently much shorter, but may be imposed repeatedly. They may be from seven to 35 days' imprisonment, and they may be renewed as much as five times. After they leave prison people may either be 'forgotten' or exempted. Usually COs get exempted after serving two 28 to 35-day prison sentences. [5] [12]

It has been reported in the past that Druze objectors are apt to receive exceptionally severe sentences for draft evasion and desertion. [4] [6]

 

5 History

Until the 1980s conscientious objection to military service was largely confined to a few pacifists. Between 1948 and 1982 there were about 150 known CO cases. Before 1967 they were usually pacifists who rejected the Israeli state, many of whom were Tolstoyans or disciples of Gandhi and Kropotkin. After 1967 the number of partial objectors gradually increased following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. More and more conscripts began to refuse to serve beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders, especially after the 1973 war. The number of partial objectors peaked following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. At that time some 160 Israelis were imprisoned for 10 to 40 days for refusing to serve in Lebanon. The number of objectors sent to prison seemed to decline between 1984 and 1987, but increased following the Palestinian uprising in the Occupied Territories (Intifada) in 1987. [5] [15]

Between 1987 and 1993 there were 300 known cases of partial objectors who refused to serve in the Occupied Territories. Many were sent to prison for from seven to 56 days. [2]

 

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 175,000 troops, which is about 3 percent of the population.

Every year about 53,000 young men and 51,000 young women reach conscription age. There are 138,500 conscripts in the armed forces. [9]

 

Sources

 

[1] UN Commission on Human Rights, 1997. The question of conscientious objection to military service, report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1995/83. United Nations, Geneva. [2] Amnesty International 1991. Conscientious objection to military service. AI, London. [3] Gouault, J. 1995. Service National, quelle options? Serie POUR Avec. GREP Editions/UNESCO, Paris. [4] Amnesty International 1991. Israel and the occupied territories, Druze conscientious objectors to military service. AI, London. [5] Amnesty International 1988. Israel and the occupied territories, conscientious objection. AI, London. [6] Society of St. Yves 1990. Response to War Resisters' International questionnaire. WRI, London. [7] Peri, Yoram 1993. 'Israel - Conscientious Objection in a Democracy under Siege', in: Moskos, C.C., J.W. Chambers II. The New Conscientious Objection, from sacred to secular resistance. Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford. [8] Putte, Stijn van der 1997. 'Dilemma's en perspectieven voor een ander Israel', in: VD AMOK, 4/1997, Utrecht/Amsterdam. [9] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London. [10] DIRB, 29 October 1993. [11] DIRB, 21 January 1994. [12] DIRB, 18 August 1995. [13] DIRB, 6 September 1996. [14] 'Dienstweigering roept nog veel emoties op in Isra`l', Telegraaf (Dutch newspaper), 19 April 1995. [15] Mantel, Bernard 1989. Begrensd geweten, soldatenprotest en selectieve dienstweigering in Isra`l 1982-1988. Unpublished paper, Amsterdam.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Israel

20 Oct 2017

Conscientious objectors Noa Gur Golan and Hadas Tal from Israel were imprisoned again for their refusal to be conscripted. Noa Gur Golan , 19, has already served 87 days in military prison, and was recently sentenced to another 30 days. Hadas Tal, 18, who's spent 50 days behind bars, was sentenced to 10 more days for her refusal to serve in the IDF.

12 Oct 2017

The ongoing struggle for ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews in Israel to maintain their status as draft-exempt continues. In the latest development in a story that has had many twists and turns, a 12th September decision by the Israeli Supreme Court ruled the status quo - an arrangement  allowing for mass exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews - was unconstitutional, and discriminatory. It gave the government a year to resolve the matter.