Broadening the concept of resistance in Israel

IssueMarch - May 2003
Feature by Ruth Hiller, Sergeiy Sandler

It is a little known fact that Israel is the only country with mandatory conscription for women. This makes the draft resistance of Israeli women, which is undoubtedly a major component of the entire resistance movement, into a unique phenomenon.

As the total numbers of draft resisters rise, the numbers of young women requesting exemption from military service on grounds of conscience also continue to remain very high.

Hidden resistance

Female conscripts are traditionally given supporting roles at desk jobs or as educators within the Israeli military and often also within the public school system.
Male resisters, who are in many cases perceived as being candidates for frontline action, pay for voicing their opposition to the military and present military practice with the price of imprisonment. Women, on the other hand, are released from service by a special committee relatively easily. Since they are quietly sent home, the impact of their resistance is not publicised and is virtually unknown. Often, caught up within the personal commitment to the resistance movement, these young women find themselves once more in a supporting role where all focus and energy is directed to the incarcerated young male resisters. Consequently the importance and impact of their own resistance is perpetually marginalised.

Replicating gender norms

Gender constructs in Israel are rigid. The centrality of the military in Israel creates an undemocratic hierarchical society where able-bodied Jewish men are more highly valued and have better access to educational, economic and political resources than other groups, affording them a greater share of power.

Thus, while many sectors of the population are devalued - such as the Israeli Palestinian population, the Ethiopian immigrants, Foreign workers, the gay population and the disabled - the female population too is traditionally subjected to discrimination and is discredited for its capabilities and the importance of its actions. This familiar gender-focused concept also finds its way into the resistance movement.

Focusing attention

Currently, New Profile's efforts are channelled into changing public opinion about militarised gender roles and the dominant role of the military in Israeli society. We also focus on how these roles continue into civilian life and concepts. There is an emphasis on learning how to generate and maintain an equal civil society.

We also realise that in order to counter the gender structure imposed even on the resistance movement by the Israeli military (supported by the deep military mindsets of the Israeli public), we must make a special effort in bringing the movement of young women objectors to centre stage. It is for this reason that we have committed ourselves to making a special endeavour and are using our resources to document and publicise this movement. This in addition to focusing our work with the public and broadening the acceptable range of femininity.