נגד שירות חובה
'Physicians for Human
Rights' held a press conference at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem.
The theme at hand was the pressure that Israel applies to cancer and
other patients in severe condition in Gaza through its General Security
Services (Shabaq), The aim is to force them to collaborate with the
occupation regime against their own people, in return for the
possibility to exit Gaza for medical treatment.
The mere thought is unbearable. A person hooked up to tubes, perhaps
dying, desperately needy of treatment unavailable in Gaza, is en route
to Egypt or Jordan or Israel. At the checkpoint, he/she or a relative is
taken to a side room where a Shabaq agent will place his outrageous
demand in return for the permission to exit.
Refusal to cooperate will send the patient back, in many cases to a
We were there at that press conference. The people present were speaking
Arabic, English and French and German and Spanish. Not a single
Jewish-Israeli journalist. Or so it appeared. How – I
wondered – could they not be crowding in here around this issue? After
all, even if they think it's another one of those
slanderous rumors about Israel and its ways, even if they think this
could not really be happening, they are – after all – journalists. They
are supposed to be the ones who monitor power, who strive for truth, who
place knowledge and the right to know above all other considerations.
And after all, we are talking here about an act which, if it does indeed
take place, is of the utmost journalistic importance.
The possibility that Israel, officially, openly, murders patients
suffering excruciatingly from diseases if they refuse to betray their
own people, has not generated any public uproar or even discussion.
Hardly any Jewish-Israeli journalists have considered this to be
I believe that the real reason for which they did not show up at the
press conference, and wrote what and if they did, is part of the answer
to the question: how such criminal policy can be implemented so easily
and in such overriding silence in a state not subjected to dictatorship,
nor infused with censorship, where no journalists are at any real risk
if they report things against current government policy.
And my argument is that this is all because of conscription - mandatory
army service. For they too have served their duty in the armed forces.
Military service, instated in 1953, turned all civilians into an
inseparable part of state policy. State is no longer an abstract term,
differentiated from the individual.
The acts of state take place through the individual: his hands are
besmirched with the blood shed by the act of the state.
Initiation rites rampant in the mafia and other groups
(who act with institutionalized violence that usually does not adhere to
common values, and at times is even illegal) exist, among other things,
to ensure that the novice entering their ranks will be branded with the
stamp of belonging.
The trial or ceremony usually involves committing a crime. Thus, the
person accepted into the group has already violated some law in its
From that moment on, his loyalty is ensured.
For casting a critical look at the group would mean looking at himself,
taking a risk.
His sense of belonging, obedience and silence are ensured.
"But someone has to do
it" say the Jewish-Israeli parents who send their offspring to the army
year after year, generation after generation. "The whole
world is against us", and "we're all better off if it's my son in there,
and not some…", for "this is my country", and "I am duty-bound even if I
don't see eye to eye with the present policy", and "what would happen if
the really bad guys were to get here" – say others.
Even without questioning the extent of truth in the Jewish-Israeli
Zionist version of reality, let us assume that the political and
historical situation were exactly as they are now, with the exception
that military service were not mandatory.
Would parents still be repeating religiously, "One does need an army,
after all", and "better my son there than some…"? Will
they say that there is really no other choice, while his peers will be
doing other things with their lives.
The answer is no. If joining the army were not mandatory, even in
similar circumstances, parents would not necessarily want their children
to join the army.
But why not? one must ask. After all, one does need an army – they said
so themselves – and someone has to do it, and better their son than… Why
then, if not everyone goes, if it's not a duty, do these arguments lose
They no longer hold because they have not been the real motive all
along. They are merely the clichés provided by our culture to name the
conformist urge - that is unavoidably human,
and not only in the negative sense.
Perhaps because joining the army as a mandatory service is the most
prominent Israeli rite of initiation par excellence. If no longer
practiced by one and all, it would cease to be that. When its mythical,
symbolic dimensions are shifted towards the concrete, many will justly
say – why should I waste the best years of my young life on this of all
By the way, military service in the Wehrmacht, founded in 1935, was mandatory.
Youngsters were enlisted in its ranks under state law. They, too, as
customary everywhere under mandatory service laws, enlisted regardless
of the act of their state, and believed – one assumes – that this is
what must be done. For it is mandatory. They and their parents.
Do any one of those who argue that such 'service' should be fulfilled
regardless of the act of state, think that – had they and their sons
lived then and there – they would have done their duty in the Wehrmacht?
They would probably deny vehemently, saying that 'No, that is something
else altogether. After all, those people back then committed war crimes,
crimes against humanity. Acts to be condemned and shunned. Mandatory
conscription does not apply for every army. Not that one, certainly. And
ours is by far no Wehrmacht.'
But if duty is fulfilled because duty calls, and if service is mandatory
and one goes regardless of the act of state, because an army is
necessary, because "better my son than…", "'because it is the state",
then why not the Wehrmacht? How can such duty possibly apply to the one
army and not to the other?
"Still, in spite of possible
imperfections, after all we are no pacifists and regardless of who is
right or why people enlist, still we need an army." These words are
uttered by individuals who, in fact, oppose their government's policy.
And they continue to serve it, they and their sons.
A professional, lucrative army that would attract talents would no doubt
be better than an army of volunteers few of whom possess a natural
talent for the battles they are required to fight.
"But can a mercenary army be as loyal as a mandatory one?" they ask,
justly. "For, as soon as military service is salaried, who would agree
to risk their lives for pay?"
Many studies have shown that loyalty and willing to take risks in battle
characterize mercenary soldiers throughout history, even foreigners, for
whom the war at hand means nothing, personally - for example, and not
the only one, the French Foreign Legion.
Apparently all soldiers, both mercenary and regulars, are motivated
first and foremost by their kinship to their comrades-in-arms. Research
has shown that mercenaries are no different from regular soldiers in
their willingness to sacrifice themselves and commit acts of bravery.
So why maintain a regular (mandatory) army?
For if mandatory conscription were not imposed by law, the stamp of
belonging to the act of their state would no longer remain whole. It
would begin to crack and fall apart.
The act of state would become something the state does, rather than
myself and my
son. Then, the automatic willingness of citizens to justify and agree to
fulfill state policy regardless - would necessarily be lost as well. And
politicians would be held accountable.
That is just what happened with the United States' invasion of
Iraq. As there is no mandatory service, not every citizen served his
state's policy, was not fated to serve it - neither they nor their sons
and daughters. Thus, at least potentially, the crucial distance is
maintained between the individual and the act of state. The state is not
he. Not everything it does, he does. Therefore, he can examine it
without fearing what will be said of him.
And this indeed did happen. After the initial patriotic diatribes, and
the lies spread by the powers that be, and the love of war that is there
anyway, with time people began to question the justification for that
war. And easily acknowledged that it is criminal, immoral.
This has never happened in Israel which most of its citizens
(naturally, only of the sectors that are obliged by law to serve in the
army) were never critical as to its wars’ moral justification. Not only the general public, but most journalists as
well. No official censorship is needed for Jewish-Israeli journalists to
serve their government's policy and refuse to be critical. They will
claim they are patriots and accept the state's position verbatim,
although their professional future is at no risk if they pose questions
and suspect the state's real motive and justification.
For they, too, were in the army. For this policy is them. For their sons
are there. For looking at this policy from the side is looking at the
mirror, and making harsh statements about the act of state, as long as
military service is mandatory, is the same as saying "I and my son". It
is like saying "I committed this. Not they, not the state. I myself. Not
And that, of course, is the hardest nutshell of them all.
Compulsory military service is, then, Israel's most ingenious and
terrible invention. Its role is to brand the state's Jewish residents
with an immoral loyalty to the acts of their state, regardless. Its role
is to blur the difference between acts of state and of the individual,
to make them identical. What the state did was done by the private
As limited as one is in naming his own and his children's deeds,
one is limited in his ability to name the acts of state.
That is why no dictatorship is needed in Israel, no military junta nor
censorship, and no life-threat to hover over anyone who dare challenge
the state – for the majority to obey, participate and keep silent when
In full view of the murdered cancer patients of Gaza, in view of what is
called in Israel "Operation Cast Lead" and known around the world as
"The Massacre in Gaza", and in full view of
all the other crimes against the Palestinian people, from then to now –
all that is needed is mandatory military service.
Translated by Tal Haran
From the Anti-Conscription Manifesto 1926
"It is our belief that conscript armies, with their
large corps of professional officers, are a grave menace
to peace. Conscription involves the degradation of human
personality, and the destruction of liberty. Barrack
life, military drill, blind obedience to commands,
however unjust and foolish they may be, and deliberate
training for slaughter undermine respect for the
individual, for democracy and human life.
It is debasing human dignity to force men to give up
their life, or to inflict death against their will, or
without conviction as to the justice of their action.
The State which thinks itself entitled to force its
citizens to go to war will never pay proper regard to
the value and happiness of their lives in peace.
Moreover, by conscription the militarist spirit of
aggressiveness is implanted in the whole male population
at the most impressionable age. By training for war men
come to consider war as unavoidable and even desirable."
Signed among others by:
Rabindranath Tagore (India), Martin Buber (Germany),
Bertrand Russell (England), Albert Einstein (Germany),
C.F. Andrews (India), Norman Angell (England), Henri
Barbusse (France), A. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (Germany),
Annie Besant (India), Edward Carpenter (England), Miguel
de Unamuno (Spain), Georges Duhamel (France), August
Forel (Switzerland), Kurt Hiller (Germany), Toyohiko
Kagawa (Japan), George Lansbury, M.P. (England), Arthur
Ponsonby (England), Emanuel Radl (Czechoslovakia),
Leonhard Ragaz (Switzerland), Lajpat Rai (India), Romain
Rolland (France), Fritz von Unruh (Germany), Paul Loebe
(Germany), H.G. Wells (England)
From the Manifesto against
Conscription and the Military Training of Youth 1930
"Conscription subjects individual personalities to
militarism. It is a form of servitude.
That nations routinely tolerate it, is just one more
proof of its debilitating influence.
Military training is schooling of body and spirit in the
art of killing. Military training is
education for war. It is the perpetuation of war spirit.
It hinders the development of the desire for peace."
Signed among others by:
Thomas Mann (Germany), Sigmund Freud (Austria), Stefan
Zweig (Austria), Jane Addams (U.S.A.), Albert Einstein
(Germany), Tolstoy's collaborators Pavel Birukov
(Switzerland, originally Russia) and Valentin Bulgakov
(Russia), John Dewey (U.S.A.), August Forel
(Switzerland), Arvid Jaernefelt (Finland), Toyohiko
Kagawa (Japan), Selma Lagerloef (Sweden), Judah Leon
Magnes (Palestine), Ludwig Quidde (Germany), Emanuel
Radl (Czechoslovakia), Leonhard Ragaz (Switzerland),
Romain Rolland (France), Bertrand Russell (England),
Henriette Roland Holst (Netherlands), Upton Sinclair
(U.S.A.), Rabindranath Tagore (India), H.G. Wells