THE BLOG

Israel - A Country Without A Conscience?

22/07/2014 10:16 BST | Updated 20/09/2014 10:59 BST

This March saw the passing of the "Equal Service Bill" by the Israeli Parliament ending the exemption of Haredi Jews from national service. Haredim, which means "those who tremble before God" in Hebrew, make up about 10 percent of Israel's population of eight million.

This is part of a gradual erosion of exemptions for people to undergo military service in Israel. Exemptions remain for Arab-Israelis and women. We should all be uncomfortable that race and gender are given greater legal authority than ethical considerations.

Successfully resisting military services in Israel still comes at an enormous personal cost. Israeli Conscientious Objectors (COs) face jail time before even being considered for a release from military service (which is almost never granted).

COs will be used to being called draft-dodging cowards but it reaches a new level when you are trolled on Facebook by Yair Lapid, the Israeli Finance Minister.

The material cost is far worse - if you want a career or a university education after receiving a military exemption your best option is to probably emigrate. University scholarships, loans and accommodation costs are amongst a slew of state benefits only open to those who have undertaken military service.

Post-University job and even mortgage applications will be scrutinised for national service. Preferential rates only given to those who have completed their national service - there are no exceptions for those who may have excluded themselves legally.

This has done nothing to silence the conscientious objection movement in Israel. Earlier this year 70 secondary school age children wrote to Benjamin Netanyahu to declare their intention not to undergo national service. Omar Sa'ad has recently served his fifth jail term for refusing to serve because military service is incompatible with his Druze principles, stating:

"I demand the respect for my faith and not to be obliged to do things that contradict with my conscience and principles. I want my freedom."

Omar is likely to suffer repeated detention spells indefinitely until he either leaves Israel or undergoes national service. Whilst serving time in military prison Omar is not allowed legal counsel or visitors.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights ratified in 1948, in the same year of Israeli Independence, ensured member states would have freedom of Conscience. This right was made explicit as the "right to refuse to kill" in 1978. In 1998 the Human Rights Commission stipulated member state should no longer undertake the repeated incarceration of COs.

This wouldn't be the first time Israel has flouted international law - the difference is that it is now committing human rights abuses against its own citizens. In the words of Senator Ron Paul -

"Justifying conscription to promote the cause of liberty is one of the most bizarre notions ever conceived by man"

Democracy is only as legitimate as the freedom it guarantees its citizens. Freedom of thought, body and conscience are denied to Israelis as long as it continues to force unwilling teenagers towards war.