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With at least 70 percent of reservists annually failing to report for duty – some with legitimate reasons, others illegally – it might be tempting to join the majority and just ignore the call-up notice when it arrives as registered mail. But before doing so, it’s worth hearing what one officer with vast experience dealing with draft-dodgers says about the consequences of such a decision.
“There are a couple of different types of draft-dodging,” Oren Bukshtein, commander of an artillery company explains. “First of all, if a soldier doesn’t show up on the appointed day – and he didn’t receive [proper] permission to do this – then he’s considered ‘absentee.’ For two weeks the soldier is considered ‘absentee,’ and if after that time he still hasn’t shown up for duty, he’s considered a ‘deserter.’
“The big difference here is that the unit deals with absentees, and those who are considered deserters are automatically ‘discharged’ from the unit and placed under the authority of the Military Police.
“From the moment a person is considered a deserter, he’s suddenly extremely restricted. His name is suddenly flagged in the computers of the Interior Ministry. He can no longer leave the country. If he was overseas at the time, when he returns, they’ll arrest him at the airport. He will not be able to renew his driver’s license, nor will he be able to take his car for a yearly test – which must be done once a year – without being caught.
“In short, there are a lot of limitations placed on him. Should he try to bypass them – [he’ll be caught].”
But normally the military isn’t just satisfied waiting until a deserter shows up on the grid.
“In addition to [the restrictions], the Military Police will begin to look for him,” Bukshtein explains. “The moment he’s considered a deserter, he has about two, three weeks until the Military Police show up at his house. Of course, [there’s a chance that] the police could show up and he’s not home. But if he is there, then they’ll arrest him on the spot.
“If a person is a deserter and they’re caught, that person will be tried by the Military Police. However, as long as a person is considered absentee, the unit will be responsible for trying him. In these cases, the battalion commander determines what the punishment will be,” Bukshtein says.
Punishments for absentees vary in severity. Although the maximum monetary penalty is NIS 1,200, and the maximum physical penalty is 14 days in a military jail, most absentees don’t incur such harsh reprimands. Often the fines are less and the jail time is given as a suspended sentence, where if the soldier once again repeats his actions and fails to report for duty, he will be forced – once caught – to go to jail.
The prospects for a deserter are worse. Deserters fall under the jurisdiction of military courts, and such courts are far less limited when it comes to penalties.
“A military court could give a 14 day jail term, 30 days or even 40 days,” Bukshtein says. “But yes, they too have their limits.”
Jail time, even for absentees, is often enough to prevent repeat offenders.
“We had one soldier who was sentenced three years ago to 14 days in a jail. Since then he’s decided never to make trouble, never to be late for duty. He doesn’t do anything wrong anymore,” Bukshtein says.
And yet, even with such harsh tools, the system still has cracks – one of them being the units themselves.
“[Classifying a soldier as a deserter] depends a lot on the unit,” Bukshtein admits. “It depends on how much pressure the unit applies to get the relevant authorities to take care of the guy. There are some units which, the moment a few weeks have passed from reserve duty, it’s all forgotten.
"Our unit, of course, is not like that. I can tell you that at least
once a month we check up to see what’s going on with the deserters. And
the moment the liaison officer of the unit checks with the Military
Police about the issue, the police once again jump on the
Sometimes, however, even the most proactive units have their limitations.
“There are the draft-dodgers who know all of the laws and who exploit
them by simultaneously using their connections,” Bukshtein says,
pointing to sick leave as an example. “[Some draft-dodgers] become part
of Ram 2 [the ‘unit’ a soldier becomes a part of when he is admitted
into the hospital], or they go visit a doctor... who will
unquestioningly give them a notice for sick leave.”
According to Bukshtein, while the army knows about doctors giving automatic sick leave notices, its hands are tied.
“I had a soldier who did this. His dad was a big-shot career soldier
who knew somebody in Ram 2... and in this case there wasn’t anything we
could do,” Bukshtein says. “It’s what you call ‘legal draft-dodging.’”