The Children's Rights Committee held a hearing Wednesday, scheduled in the shadow of IDF Capt. Assaf Ramon's death last month, to examine the question of okaying combat service for children of bereaved families.
The hearing was entitled "The Assaf Ramon Dilemma," in reference to the problem faced not only by the young army captain, but by his mother, Rona Ramon - the widow of Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster.
Assaf Ramon asked his mother to provide the parental signature necessary for a child of a bereaved family to serve in a combat role. The Knesset panel had convened to debate whether this procedure should continue, or whether a youth old enough to serve in the IDF should be allowed to decide for himself.
Committee chairman MK Danny Danon said at the beginning of the hearing that he recognized that the committee was discussing a "sensitive and painful topic."
"We all are here not of our own accord, brothers in the family of bereavement, and the goal of the hearing is to find a solution that will be agreed upon by everyone on the topic, while taking into consideration all of the factors," said Danon, himself an IDF orphan.
This year alone, 202 children whose parents or siblings were killed in the line of duty or in terror attacks reached conscription age. The Defense Ministry, however, did not release the number of children of bereaved families who were allowed into combat units - information the committee had requested.
Danon, who is also the head of the Knesset caucus for IDF widows and orphans, announced that the committee would establish a "public commission including participants from the world of academia, representatives of bereaved families, Defense Ministry representatives and professionals, that will submit its findings by January 2010. The committee will reach a conclusion on this sensitive question that will be accepted by all of the different sides in this issue."
Col. Yair Ben-Shalom, the IDF's Chief Casualties Officer told the committee that "a study that was conducted in 2005 among bereaved families whose children served in the IDF, [in which] 60% expressed their support for maintaining the current policy. In spite of that, the IDF is currently discussing this topic within an internal IDF committee."
But Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan replied that the study was slanted "because it was carried out while the children were in the midst of their IDF service. If it had been held before their service, the majority would have opposed the signature."
The testimony of parents who attended the hearing reinforced Dayan's statements.
Hadasi Shamir, told the committee that she and her husband Dubi, who had been a deputy battalion commander in the reserves when he was killed in a training accident, had "three children whom we raised with values of loving their homeland and giving to their country.
"When my son Eren reached draft age, I signed his waiver without any difficulty," she said. "Eren was killed during his IDF service 20 years after my husband Dubi was killed.
"Today, I understand the hardship that mothers face regarding signing, and I think that the decision should be taken out of their hands. If the son wants to go in the footsteps of his father's legacy and to volunteer for combat service, it is impossible to prevent him from doing so. And it is not possible to place this upon mothers' consciences."
IDF orphan David Mintz, 18, told the committee that for him, there was no choice other than to follow in his father's footsteps.
"I am the son of Lt.-Col. Yair Mintz, who was one of the people who reestablished the Givati Brigade. My father was killed when I was two-and-a-half," he said. "In another two months, I will be drafted into the Givati Brigade. I was forced to ask my mother to sign for me, and it placed both me and her in an unpleasant situation.
"I can testify that nothing would have stopped me from enlisting in Givati, because the desire to do so was burning within me, and from my perspective it connects me to the father I never knew. The matter of the signature is unnecessary and created unnecessary tension at home."
David Mintz's mother, Adi, explained that she had signed "because I understood that if I didn't sign the form, I would sleep well at night, but my son would not sleep at night for the rest of his life, because he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps.
"Every mother knows that if the choice is between herself and her son, she will definitely choose her son. Do not ask me to choose and to stand before the local IDF officer and sign that terrible paper."
"I have two sons who serve today in the Golani Brigade," said Hagit Rein, whose son Benaya was killed in the Second Lebanon War. "The first sentence that my son said when we finished the mourning period for Benaya was, 'Remember you have to sign for me.'
"From my perspective, the boy was already grown up and could decide for himself - and the procedure of standing in front of the local officer is degrading. Don't require mothers to sign!"
When Yad Labanim chairman Eli Ben-Shem's son Kobi was killed, "I couldn't sleep at night because I blamed myself for signing the waiver," he recalled. "I overcame thatâ€¦ but there are parents who do not, and as a result face depression for the rest of their lives."
At the end of the meeting, Danon declared that "the current situation in which the 'conscientious' responsibility for the well-being of the child is placed upon the mother is unbearable and should be ended."