One, two, three, four, what are we guarding for?

By MATT ZALEN
May 6, 2010 16:47

An excerpt from a Magazine feature article on reservists reporting for duty.

3 minute read.



IDF reservists

IDF reservists 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Sitting in a dank, cramped room, in the middle of a tiny military base near Shavei Shomron in Samaria, Moti, a reserve soldier, voices his frustration.

“I hate miluim. It’s disgusting, it’s terrible,” the 28-year-old from the center of the country says, shifting on his creaking bed. “Whenever I put on the uniform of the army, I can’t take it.”

For Moti, such feelings of discontent have had plenty of time to fester. For nearly three weeks, he has spent most of his days wandering among the small cluster of buildings which make up his base, engaging in idle conversation with fellow reservists between a steady stream of naps, meals and – only infrequently – guard duty. Today, it seems the boredom has gotten the best of him.

“This is a waste of time,” he grumbles. “I suffer, I guard and I don’t like it at all.”

While Moti may reflect an extreme case of bitterness, conversations with a cross-section of reservists reveal a general despondency which permeates their ranks. Almost every Israeli may understand the need for mandatory service – a byproduct of the nearly constant existential threat which has hovered over the state since its very inception – but there is no denying that enthusiasm for fulfilling the national duty has most certainly waned. And nowhere is this more evident than in the reserves.

Reservists play an integral part in the survival of the country, and if recent legislation is any indicator, they continue to function as the backbone of the IDF. According to the preamble of the Reserve Duty Law, which was fully enacted on January 1, 2010, “The reservist draft is an indispensable part of the Israel Defense Forces, and constitutes a central layer upon which the army relies for the security needs of the state.”

Although the IDF prefers to keep exact figures detailing the strength of its fighting force a secret, a simple calculation reveals just how critical reservists are. The reserves are comprised of former soldiers who have finished compulsory service, and have yet to reach exemption age – 45 for officers, 40 for everybody else. The rest of the army is made up of conscripts – theoretically all Israelis between 18 and 21 – and career soldiers. It should therefore come as no surprise that the former group numerically eclipses the latter.

But such figures are hardly representative of reality. According to unofficial estimates – the only ones available given an army blackout on the issue – no more than 30 percent of reservists actually report for duty. And of that percentage, a far smaller number do so willingly.

Stemming from the Yom Kippur War, skepticism of the government has created an ideological revolution, which both directly and indirectly caused military policy to fuse with political considerations. Increasingly conscious of these changes, reservists became self-aware individuals rather than unquestioning members of a collective – and the result is a problem which threatens the very essence of the “citizen army” if it’s not fixed soon.

So what does it mean when the bulk of reservists which Israel relies on for its continued existence not only demonstrate a disdain for much of what is asked of them, but an eagerness to avoid the service altogether?

“IF YOU look around you, you don’t see anybody serving in the reserves – maybe one or two other people,” Roye Ron, chairman of the Baltam Organization for the Support of the Reserves Draft, explains. “Nobody in the army will give you [exact] numbers, but I will tell you that in closed meetings in which I took part, nobody contradicted what I’m about to say. They understand the reality of the situation.”

And the situation, he says, is dire. “If you take today’s population of those who fall within the age of reserve duty – that is between 20 and 45 – if you take all this potential of those who are meant to be serving the state, you’ll find that roughly 10 percent of them will show up for reserve duty each year. Further, you’ll see something like maybe 2% or 3% of that 10% actually does more than four days of reserve duty a year. That means that roughly one or two people out of every hundred does more than four days a year.”

Oddly enough, shouldering the burden of the majority is not what bothers Ron, but rather the operational duty which often translates to guarding settlements or remote outposts along the border.

The full article by Matt Zalen will appear in this Friday's Magazine.


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