At a September 2 ceremony honoring the invaluable role played by reservist units
in the IDF, President Shimon Peres called upon all citizens to assume their
share of the responsibility for the country’s defense. “All of us,” he said,
“have an obligation to take part in building the nation, and all of us have an
obligation to take part in defending it.”
How I wish President Peres
really meant what he said! The one group that is always excluded from this “all
must serve” mantra is Israelis with disabilities.
The IDF considers
people with disabilities automatically eligible for exemption from mandatory
service, even if they are found to be kshirim, or fit for duty. By absolving the
disabled of the obligation to share in the country’s defense, the IDF reinforces
their marginalization as well as the notion that people with disabilities are
necessarily helpless, non-contributing burdens on society, who deserve our
compassion and kid-glove treatment rather than be compelled to serve.
reject the IDF’s dogmatic equation of disability with inability. The London 2012
Paralympic Games now daily on our television screens should convince us beyond
any reasonable doubt that people with disabilities are every bit as capable of
performing non-combat duties in the military as any non-disabled recruit. Inbal
Pezaro, who has so far won two paralympic medals (an achievement far surpassing
that of any of our Olympic athletes), was herself reportedly exempted from
mandatory military service. What could possibly have been the rationale for such
a decision? The IDF does offer to people with disabilities, who are found to be
kshirim and who, to their credit, insist on serving, as did Inbal Pezaro, the
option of voluntary enlistment, and assigns them to meaningful jobs, even
sensitive jobs requiring the handling of classified information. However,
voluntary enlistment, too, is far from satisfactory. It is a patronizing
alternative which implicitly labels recruits with disabilities as different,
second class, and only there thanks to the IDF’s charitable impulses. Given the
dangers facing Israel, military service should not be a matter of personal
preference for anyone, disabled or non-disabled.
I urge the Defense
Ministry to revise its policy with respect to people with disabilities so as to
include the following procedure:
a) mandatory call-up of people with
disabilities at induction centers accessible to them,
b) assessment of the full
range of capabilities of each disabled candidate, including the willingness to
make the accommodations necessary to maximize the candidate’s performance, and
mandatory assignment of every person with a disability found to be kashir to a
suitable non-combat military unit.
The criteria for judging the soundness
of any public policy regarding people with disabilities should surely be the
extent to which it dispels the stigma attached to disability, promotes equality
of opportunity for the disabled, advances their full integration into the labor
market and wider society, and encourages people with disabilities themselves not
only to claim their equal rights but also to share equally in the
responsibilities of citizenship. Compulsory military service will go a long way
toward achieving all those goals.
I myself was automatically exempted
from military service because of my blindness, and was not even offered the
option to volunteer. As a result, I was excluded from what is a vital experience
for every young Israeli, and a fundamental component of Israeli culture. Let us
stop harming the future prospects of young Israelis with disabilities in this
way, and cease turning them into outsiders in their own land.
is a blind person. A former diplomat, he retired from the US Foreign Service in
2007 and now resides in Tel Aviv.