A summer camp for political dissenters in Israel
At Alternative Camp, draft dodgers and declared conscientious objectors hope to develop a new generation of young Israelis who refuse to fight.
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Since then, hundreds more have resisted the call to arms on moral grounds. Some refuse to serve in the occupied territories others refuse to serve at all. And while the vast majority of these objectors are reservists, the number of 18-year-old conscripts among their ranks has also grown, despite the general social stigma.Skip to next paragraph
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"The occupation is weighing down on everyone," said camp counselor Tali Lerner, who spent nine months in the air force before deserting. Eventually released on medical grounds, she became active in New Profile, an antimilitary movement that helps those who don't want to serve. New Profile – the name is a play of words on the profiling system used by the military to sort recruits into units – is an Alternative Camp sponsor.
"Israelis grow up fed the idea that serving is our ultimate responsibility to the state," said Ms. Lerner, shaking her shaved head. "And here we offer a weeklong break from that collective narrative."
Between 2005 and 2007, 42 draftees – both male and female – were recognized by a special military committee as conscientious objectors and given official exemptions. Dozens of others, who were not recognized as pacifists by the IDF, eventually went to jail for refusing the order to serve.
The number of objectors is relatively small, but also hard to verify, mainly because most do not go through the process of declaring themselves objectors but rather get out of serving by feigning physical or mental incompetence.
The IDF spokesman's office confirmed that 28 percent of 18-year-old men and 43 percent of the women did not join the army this year. The vast majority of those who are not drafted are ultra-Orthodox Jews – a large population that is legally exempt. Others are exempted on medical grounds, because they have low test scores, criminal records, or are living abroad. Israeli Arabs are also exempt from service, although they can volunteer.
"It's easier to lie and pretend you are nuts or get married or say you are religious or try to leave the country, but I wanted to take a moral stand," said Vardi, whose request for a conscientious exemption was rejected because her political activities were not deemed pacifist. "And if you go to prison, people listen to you."
Vardi will remain in jail until Sept. 1, when she'll be asked again to serve her term in the IDF. If she refuses, the state is expected to give her another weeklong sentence. If she continues to defy the state, Verdi could remain behind bars anywhere from 42 days to two years. Six other young Israelis are expected to choose jail time over service later this month.
When asked why they don't take their protest a step further and leave the country, the counselors at Alternative Camp were taken aback.
"I refuse to see the policy of the government and military in the territories as the sum total of society," said Mr. Matar. "Israel is a part of who I am."
"Leave? Why?" wondered Lerner. "We all belong here. Now let's talk about what kind of 'here' we want."