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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 recognized right.

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 any significance?).

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.