Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Israel -- A State "War" on Youth

Ratcheting up their campaign against so-called "shirkers", Israeli authorities have declared a new front in their "war" – as it is termed by the news item below – on Israeli youth.

Growing numbers of young men and women currently find themselves unable or unwilling to accept or trust the worn Israeli dictate: "There's no other choice". Four generations and over six decades of repeated, unending "military solutions" have engendered an expanding movement of young people who experience and express excruciating inner struggles and rifts in face of the legal duty to serve. Despite the attempt of state courts, both military and civilian, to compartmentalize such processes as either 'political', (very rarely) 'conscientious', or 'psychological', these internal conflicts are both emotional and ideological, combining views, feelings, convictions, ideas, beliefs, questions, personality, life experience and sense-of-self. For some young people, they also involve highly dangerous levels of personal distress and indeed, in recent years, suicide has claimed the lives of more Israeli soldiers than all other causes-of-death combined.

Rather than listening to the voice raised by these future citizens, rather than fathoming the social change it reflects and responding with changed, innovative policies, Israel's state institutions have chosen to wage a "war" against these youths and the developments they represent. Criminalizing the movement, state authorities will now attempt to seek out illegalities in open and legal resistance work, a move characteristic of a militarized state abusing its power in a bid to keep in place an old, cracking order.

The news item below reports on a criminal investigation now to be conducted into the activities of the "New Profile" movement. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has, the piece reports, ordered a probe into the actions of this movement, suspected among other things of "convincing [people] to obtain exemptions from service".

I have been an active member of "New Profile" since it was founded ten years ago. We are a feminist group of both women and men that has identified and recognized the existence of the unorganized social movement borne by youth today in Israel. "New Profile" acknowledges the major importance of this movement, responding to the need and rights of the young people involved to open discussion of the pressing questions they face, equipped with full and accurate information about their prospects – information with which the authorities are not forthcoming, to put it mildly. This is only one of many ways in which "New Profile" works to change the militarized thinking holding all of the people in Israel/Palestine hostage to the policy of use-of-force, implemented to date by virtually every Israeli government. While "New Profile" activities may enrage some, whether individuals or institutions, they are totally legal.

The short item below, however, written by Amos Harel, with contributions by Yuval Azoulay, is illustrative of the type of militarized justice and slanted exposure that state institutions and media tend to dispense in Israel to dissenting groups. Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan, whose letter the item quotes, has apparently upended the legal principle: 'innocent until proven guilty'. Investigation or none, on dispatching his instructions to conduct a probe he has already determined, "the severity of [New Profile's] incitement to draft evasion". Parroting rather than scrutinizing the claims of this state official, journalist Amos Harel also has no use for the yet-to-be-held investigation. He proceeds to convict "New Profile" casually, describing it – as if he were simply recounting facts – as a movement that "encourages draft dodging".

What "New Profile" encourages, in my experience of the movement, is posing, studying and openly discussing unobvious unorthodox questions, taking personal and collective responsibility for some of the answers, learning and creating ways to act on these through the exercise of civil, human and legal rights. I believe that we speak with and for a future that will not be silenced.

Rela Mazali



w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Last update - 09:45 15/09/2008

Web site for IDF draft dodgers faces criminal probe

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz recently ordered the police to open a criminal investigation against the New Profile organization - the first time a criminal probe has ever been launched against a group that encourages draft dodging.

The probe, launched in response to a request from the Israel Defense Forces, constitutes an intensification of the army's war on draft dodging. It was prompted by concern over the growing extent of this phenomenon. Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit asked Mazuz to order the probe in February, and earlier this month, Mazuz acceded to his request.

New Profile's Web site defines the group's purpose as supplying "detailed and reliable information about the procedures that enable one to obtain an exemption from military service," as well as "moral support" for those seeking such an exemption.

Under Israeli law, "incitement to draft dodging" is a crime in itself, though no group has ever before been investigated for this offense. In addition, however, New Profile is suspected of helping people secure exemptions fraudulently. "The severity of [New Profile's] incitement to draft evasion, which includes convincing [people] to obtain exemptions from service, necessitates opening up an investigation," Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan wrote in a statement informing Mendelblit of Mazuz's decision.

The main reason for the probe's launch is apparently the fact that New Profile's web site tells people what to say to IDF mental health officers to create the impression that they are psychologically unfit for service. In a document entitled "The goal: 21," it details various ways of getting army evaluators to assign the applicant a profile of 21, which is the IDF code for unfit to serve. Many teens say that such advice has helped them in obtaining draft exemptions.

Last summer, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi declared war on draft evasion, in response to data showing that in 2007, almost 28 percent of all draft-age males would not be drafted. Since then, the IDF has tried various tactics: media campaigns aimed at increasing motivation to serve, closer cooperation with high schools and municipalities, and barring artists who did not serve from performing for the troops.

The IDF's Personnel Directorate claims that these efforts, coupled with a stricter attitude on the part of the army's mental health officers, have begun to bear fruit: This year, the proportion of draft-age males who obtained mental-health exemptions fell to 5.1 percent, from 5.5 percent last year, and the number of soldiers who obtained mental-health exemptions during their service also dropped.

Army sources expressed satisfaction with Mazuz's decision. "Thorough legal treatment of this movement is very important to deter evaders and those who urge them to evade," explained one.

IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu termed the decision "another important step" in the war on draft dodging. This war, he added, "must be a joint effort by the IDF, the state authorities and Israeli society in general."

Yuval Azoulay adds: Sergei Sandler, one of New Profile's leaders, said in response: "Our activity is completely legal. We give information to young people about to be drafted about the various procedures open to them, which the army obviously has an interest in hiding. The decision to open an investigation against New Profile contains an element of persecution. Every such decision is ultimately a political decision aimed at shutting our mouths and protecting a certain kind of social order. But if they want to investigate, let them. Our activity is legal; we don't encourage fraud; and we're proud of our activity."

Related articles:

• Barak: Draft dodgers must face public scorn, carry 'mark of Cain'
• IDF chief: We must make draft dodgers 'blush with shame'
• Fox clothing chain, Bar Rafaeli to fight IDF draft-dodgers

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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