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Letter from a Woman Draft Resister
Shani Werner, Israel
December 31, 2002
Shani Werner's letter, reproduced below, grew out of a broadening discussion of the experience of young women draft resisters in face of Israeli militarization. I think it offers an important and unknown understanding of how powerfully militarization and the sexism closely connected to it structure personal experiences, political action and citizenship in Israel.
As a result of an ongoing discussion in New Profile, epitomized in Shani's letter, the movement has begun to work on counteracting the silencing and marginalization of women's act of draft resistance. This will include highlighting the virtually unknown women's draft resistance movement. New Profile is collecting testimonies from
women draft resisters, planning a study day on the subject, and will
be doing its best to publicize the movement far and wide. As Israel
is currently the only country with mandatory conscription for
(Jewish, secular) women, the draft resistance of Israeli women is a
unique phenomenon. New Profile is the only organization in Israel
(besides the high school seniors themselves) systematically
supporting women's resistance and offering young women the
information and assistance they need to realize this legally
The seemingly basic and simple question, how big a movement is it?
is hard to answer. A press item from a few months ago cited a rise
in the number of women resisters exempted from service, but
stated that it was classified information. However, regardless of
statistics, this movement is clearly happening and growing. It is a
social process with a definite impact and importance, which Israeli
army and state authorities would rather conceal.óRela Mazali
When we wrote our first Seniorsí (Shministim) Open Letter (in the
summer of 2001), we wrote it all togetheróyoung women and men
draft resisters. It didnít occur to us then to ask ourselves whether
both kinds of resistance (womenís and menís) belonged together. We
were so convinced that womenís draft resistance is identical in
importance to menís, that we werenít even aware of the significance
we had given the letter in placing womenís and menís resistance on
the same plane. Personally, I only came to internalize this
significance when faced with peopleís responsesó"Whatís that
supposed to mean?" oró"Way to go!" I felt we had done something
special and important.
Itís been a long time now, over a year and a half. Gradually, I got
frustrated. I started feeling how inside our protective "hothouse,"
the Seniorsā in particular, and the Israeli Left, in general, had made a mirror-image of just what we set out to oppose. We had militarized draft resistance!
We hadnít changed the infuriating image we object to so strongly,
that of the good woman awaiting the return of "her" soldier from the
front, ironing his uniform. We had created her mirror-imageóa
woman hoping for the swift release from prison of the male draft
resister, meanwhile cheering him on from her vantage point on the
hill, opposite the military prison where we often hold demonstrations.
Of course, the resistance of the boys-men is very important. And we,
the girl-women resisters outside of prison, take care to support and
encourage the resisters doing time inside. But I think the pattern
of behavior initially arising from the fact that "the men are in
prison, and the women get exempted from service," has set and
hardened into certain patterns of thought.
Womenís draft resistance is no longer as meaningful to us as menís.
We donít dwell on the humiliation to which the conscience committee
subjects girls. Weíve stopped conducting an ongoing discussion of
the phenomenon of womenís draft resistance, and weíve almost totally
stopped trying to market it to others (in acquiescence with the
excuse that "the media isnít interested"). Meanwhile we discuss the
imprisoned men resisters over and over.
My refusal to enlist in the army, which I used to see as a
political-public act, has now become private. ("The personal is the
political"óthe mantra runs through my head. But the personal only
becomes political when it is allowed a voice!) As public discourse
is unaware of it, as the discourse of the Left ignores it, the draft
resistance of girls-women remains personal, not to say silenced.
Itís precisely as easy for us to ignore womenís draft resistance as
it is for the IDF to ignore womenís military service. If womenís
service in the army is seen, in any case, as desk work and serving
coffee, and given that the IDF allows girls exemptions from service
relatively easily, our resistance is treated like "coffee serving
resistance," which even the army accepts (and if the army doesnít
need us, unlike the imprisoned boys, then can our resistance have
The womenís draft resistance movement, a movement of dozens of
young, consciously feminist objectors of conscience, no longer
exists. Weíre no more than a team of cheerleaders. Accompanying the
boys as they go into and out of prison, formulating petitions and
letters, demonstrating, visiting the prisoners. Our singularity, as
girls who are actively resisting, has been obliterated. Like other
Leftist women, we are busy supporting the incarcerated resisters,
and our own action has lost its meaning. We were taught our roles
long ago, in kindergarten: the men fight at the front; the women
support them back home. While the male resisters donít fight, they
still spearhead the struggle. And the young women? Wearing our
civics we stay and offer support from behind. Just substitute "to
prison" for "flying," and "prisoners" for "fliers" in the old
saying, and youíll get: "The best men go to prison; the best chicks
go to the prisoners."
I still believe in the importance of my draft resistance, and in the
vital necessity of supporting imprisoned men resisters. But I donít
want to do a cheerleading act on the hill. Iím fed up with feeling
my voice is inaudible, and that I can only change things through the
acts of others, never through my own. Most of all, Iím frustrated
because instead of creating a new reality, we operate in the same
set patterns. Do I have no choice other than being someoneís "little
woman" (if not the military heroís, then the resister heroís)?
Translated from Hebrew by Rela Mazali and Tal Haran.
Shani Werner is a draft resister, who received her exemption from the Israeli army on grounds of conscience. She is one of the initiators and organizers of the
high school seniors group that wrote two open letters to the Prime
Minister declaring refusal to serve in the army. The last letter was
signed by some 300 young draft resisters.
Rela Mazali is a member of New Profile, an organization comprising feminist women, men and youth, which formed in recognition of the pervasive influence of militarism on Israeli society.