Speakers Discuss Israeli Conscription Policies, Culture

Israeli citizens Khaled Farrag and Yasmin Yablonko defended their refusal to serve in the Israel Defense Forces because of the Israeli government’s treatment of the Druze and Palestinian communities during an event in White-Gravenor on Monday, April 18.

The event, which was sponsored by J Street Georgetown, featured Farrag, a 34-year-old Palestinian Druze and Israeli citizen, and Yablonko, a 23-year-old Israeli, who both refused to serve in the Israel Defense Forces because of their ideological objections.

The Druze is a religious minority found mostly in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Originated from Islam in the 11th Century, the Druze today is considered an independent religion. The Druze is the only Palestinian community required by law to serve in the Israeli army.

All other non-Arab Israeli citizens are required to serve in the military after turning 18.

Historically, refusing military service has been one of the most prevalent ways that Israelis resist occupation from within. As a result, in spite of ‘compulsory’ conscription, less than 50 percent of Israelis and 64 percent of the Jewish-Israeli population serve in the IDF. Approximately 75 percent of the Israeli population identifies as Jewish and 21 percent identifies as Arab.

While both Farrag and Yablonko have focused on helping other youth follow in their footsteps by partnering with various organizations, their efforts primarily go toward aiding Israeli Jews and the Druze.

Through her work with Mesarvot, a network of Israeli organizations resisting occupation, Yablonko aims to offer young Jewish citizens assistance and help them organize their own efforts to refuse to serve. Farrag’s movement, Urfod, asks Israel to end compulsory military service for Druze.

According to Farrag, Israel uses the education system to isolate the Druze and pressure them to join the military. The curricula and the content in the Druze schools aim to erase any rebellious qualities in the Druze communities.

“I think the most dangerous tool they used was imposed in the 1970’s where total separation of the educational systems was done for the Druze,” Farrag said. “They created a Druze curriculum which means that the content they taught in schools that have a majority of Druze was just different from any other Arab school. This is the most dangerous one because this is the one that actually works.”

Yablonko agreed with Farrag’s assessment of the education system as perpetuating the illusion that everyone enlists and increasing social pressure to join the military.

“It seems to everyone in Israel ,and I think also outside of it, that everyone is going to the military in Israel. The truth is it’s not like that, and I think that the right question to ask is ‘how come that’s the situation; how come everyone thinks that the military’s obviously something you have to do?’” Yablonko said. “I think that the major answer to that would be the education system.”

According to Yablonko, in Israel the pressure to become a soldier starts as early as kindergarten. Then, in tenth grade, students are ordered to come to the military and start testing. The whole education system is geared toward helping students determine which job in the military they will get.

“There is no question about will I go, just what will I do there?” Yablonko said.

Beyond preparation in school, the immense social stigma imposed on those who refuse ensures that young Israelis enlist in the military.

“When you’re seventeen, eighteen years old and all your friends are going and doing something, it’s really hard not to do it, especially when this something is so obviously the next thing you should do,” Yablonko said.

According to Yablonko, pressure to join the military not only comes from peers but also from parents.

As a result, according to Farrag, many Druze today serving in the IDF no longer connect to their Palestinian or Arab identity. Farrag said he hopes the Ufrod movement, which advocates eliminating conscription for Druze, will work to connect the Druze men refusing military conscription with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, two historically-linked groups.

“When [Palestinians] see a Druze who’s not a soldier first of all and then talks just like they do and is part of the Palestinian struggle for liberation, they are very inspired and happy to know that there are other voices,” Farrag said.

 

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