Glorifying Inaction

This is in response to an article in the New York Times by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, titled “Why I Won’t Serve Israel,” where he explains in detail why he won’t serve in the IDF:

I have a problem with people who glorify inaction. I take issue with those who point out a problem and offer no solution. People who claim to act out of ideology and belief, when those things are only disguising selfishness. This is my problem with Moriel Rothman-Zecher and his article, “Why I Won’t Serve Israel.”

I used to have an extremely harsh attitude towards those who didn’t enlist in the military. I wouldn’t speak to them because I couldn’t accept them breaking the social contract we were all born into and that existed between us. I gave my sweat and blood, almost my life, so they can be safe. So they can go to malls and ride on buses and not blow up. That’s not an abstract notion, it’s literal. But you’re not allowed to live in our country under the safety and freedom I, and every other soldier, provide, and not extend the same courtesy. That’s not how our system works, whether you believe in that system or not.

In time I adjusted my view. I realized military service wasn’t for everyone. When I was preparing for my enlistment in 2000, the issue was whether you would go to combat or get a desk job; today the issue is whether you even enlist or not. And enlistment doesn’t suit everyone, I accept that. But in the end, we’re selfish creatures by nature. Everything we do is selfish on some level. Even my enlisting into the Navy Seals was selfish — I wanted to get the most out of my service, I knew I would acquire life skills, I wanted the glory, I wanted the experience. As much as my service was based in ideology, there was a level of self interest. And so it is with non-enlistment. I don’t doubt conscientious objectors, such as Zecher, believe what they say. But not serving is also cloaked in selfishness and self interest: it’s easier not to serve. It’s easier to start your life three years earlier and not waste them in uniform. It’s easier to not do those things and hide behind ideology and write articles and a book about what a brave choice that really was. But I wish just once, people like Zecher would admit that it’s a selfish choice, and not a choice done in the name of millions of oppressed Palestinians who they otherwise don’t care about.

I agree the occupation is “bad.” It’s a problem. It doesn’t offer a long-term solution. Things need to change and I’m not sure the current Israeli government is the one to change them. Okay. But here’s the reality: rockets are fired into Israel; terrorists want to kill Israeli civilians and actively attempt to do so and sometimes succeed. Without the IDF and its soldiers, no matter how much “evil” they perpetrate, Israel wouldn’t exist. And that’s not hyperbole.

Yes, bad things happen in the occupied territories. Not every soldier who enlists is a high-quality, educated person. Some soldiers enter the army with preconceptions and bias. Some succumb to peer pressure, other to real-time pressure of the circumstances of their service. Bad things happen. So you have a problem with the occupation? You have a problem, for instance, with soldiers mistreating Palestinians at checkpoints? Mistreating Palestinians in their homes in the West Bank? Why not enlist into the education corps and focus on working with soldiers during basic training, teaching them about values and how to treat people? Teach them how to defy an illegal order. The military is a large organization. The “Occupation” isn’t the only thing the military does. Not everyone fights. You don’t want to be part of that organization in any kind of way because you feel the organization is immoral? That means you think the government is immoral, since the government gives the orders. If you think the military and government are immoral, then the country is immoral. In which case, it’s hard for me to understand what you’re still doing in Israel.

Zecher says in his article, “But some hope for a less violent, more decent future lies with the real traitors, the disregarded millions of Israeli citizens who have refused to serve in the army.” By saying that a less violent future lies with those who don’t enlist, Zecher seems to imply that discharged soldiers have no hope of establishing a “less violent, more decent future.” As if, by being a soldier, I’m inherently violent, don’t want peace, and wish for things to continue as they are. But I consider myself a pacifist. I want peace. I don’t want to kill or hurt anyone. But I’m also realistic and I understand the reality in which I live. I know that certain things need to be done, and if I don’t do them, no one will. And Mr. Zecher would not have the privilege of being the kind of “traitor” that’s Israel’s only hope.

Zecher, don’t just write an article telling me what’s wrong and what you refuse to do. Also tell me how it can be improved and show me your commitment and plan to making our country better. Anyone can say, “Fuck this, I’m not serving, I don’t believe in it,” go to jail for a few weeks, extract a mental profile “21” out of the military, go home, write an article, and work on a book describing your heroic and extraneous experience. What good are you if that’s all you do? The occupation is bad? Show an alternative. Find one. Fight for one. Fight for something other than yourself. You don’t want to enlist, but what about national service? Why not work with mentally challenged children, blind people, or any one of hundreds of opportunities for national service that exist. Give something back to your country, and it doesn’t have to be in the form of being a combat soldier implicit in the occupation. But what you have done, Zecher, isn’t heroic. It’s selfish and cowardly. And if you’re going to do that, then at least shut up about it and don’t write a book.

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