Another Tack: Not of Our Crowd

The authorities have allocated enormous sums to punish our most idealistic youth.

The cheery news is that the IDF - assuming it manages to adhere to its own schedule - will imminently make it more difficult for strapping recruits to draft-dodge via infamous "Clause 21." Once upon a long time ago, exemption for "psychological reasons" was deemed shameful and stigmatizing. Nowadays, however, Clause 21 is so disturbingly popular that even chronically self-satisfied generals wax uneasy. According to incomplete 2006 figures, 6 percent of all service-eligible males enlisted helpful shrinks to avoid conscription altogether. Among those who did join up up, another 11% managed subsequently to secure early psychiatric discharge. The vague "medical unsuitability" cited in Clause 21 hadn't embarrassed them. From hereon, therefore, "severe misconduct" will be stipulated as grounds for discharge. Theoretically that'll deter future shirkers. Yet the incontrovertible sad fact is that Israel's most privileged and influential tolerate draft-evasion to a degree that erases disgrace. Thus Lior, grandson of quintessential sabra-soldier Moshe Dayan, makes no bones about quitting after a mere cushy few months in a military PR unit. "I got out for utterly narcissistic motives," he crowed in an interview last year. "My only vacillation was between my ego and my trip." Not only did the above engender no indignation, but the Dayan scion is treated with affectionate indulgence, facilitating a showbiz career and allowing him to self-importantly impart the acerbic wisdom of his years and erudition in iconoclastic op-eds. Lior is one of the beautiful boys not perceived as inimical to our collective cohesion. The fashionable flock with which he flies isn't a fringe oddity. Lior's birds-of-a-feather, in fact, are the apples of the establishment's eye - its sons and daughters, the thought-molders' darlings. They're "Our Crowd's" naughty offspring, to be coddled despite nihilistic excesses (which are rationalized as the essence of bon-ton, broad-mindedness and intellectual profundity). In contrast, Yishai (not his real name) hails from the invariably denigrated "Orange Crowd." This handsome, clean-cut son of Anglo immigrants in one of Israel's nicest within-Green-Line towns, wears a tiny crocheted skullcap, received religious-Zionist education and graduated high school on the eve of disengagement. Unable to just watch the uprooting of fellow Jews on TV, he made his way to Gush Katif two weeks before its August 2005 evacuation. Like 10,000 other "outsiders," he succeeded in infiltrating after the area was closed off. He was among the 256 eventually arrested demonstrators barricaded on the roof of Kfar Darom's synagogue and accused of having doused charging troops with caustic soda. "We never aimed to injure but weren't going to hug those sent to destroy courageous Jewish communities. We knew we'd lose the fight, but felt resistance is crucial to create enough trauma to prevent any additional expulsions... So many thousands of expensively equipped, black-uniformed officers marched in, that the ground became invisible. They surrounded and hectored us. They hosed us down with so much blue paint and at such force that it's a miracle no one died. The paint pooled all around us and we used buckets to pour it right back on the policemen. "All that talk about acid was libel. Pictures of cops with alleged chemical burns were phony. The presence of corrosive substances was never substantiated, but the insinuations cynically inflamed public opinion," Yishai recalls. "We were eventually pushed into cages, handcuffed and mistreated. Our nostrils were violently pulled back and fingers were poked into our eyes." YISHAI SPENT a week in Beersheba's Dekel Prison before being granted bail: "We were teenagers threatened with imprisonment for 'attempted murder' but allowed no phone calls or legal representation." Unlike Lior, Yishai eagerly anticipated military service in the most prestigious and demanding of combat units, until "on November 2005 I was summoned to Tel Hashomer and found myself waiting among lots of thugs with long, frightening, felony rap-sheets. Some were considered too incorrigible for conscription. Others got conditional second chances. I was in the first category. The IDF wouldn't have me. I was devastated." It got worse. Of the original 256 roof-top protesters, 120 were selected arbitrarily for prosecution. No one knows why some were let off and others weren't, but Yishai was among the unlucky ones. If convicted of "grievously assaulting policemen," he could do hard time. He worked to help defray his lawyer's fees. Then very recently - out of the blue, nearly two years late - came call-up papers. Yishai is now completing basic training after all, though still facing prolonged court proceedings, exorbitant legal expenses, possibly years in prison and a criminal record. His trial, for which 15 sessions were provisionally earmarked to accommodate a whopping (and exceedingly rare) 80 state witnesses, would cost taxpayers (by conservative estimate) hundreds of thousands of shekels. When multiplied by 120, it emerges that the authorities have allocated enormous sums to punish our most idealistic youth, while failing to resettle disengagement's refugees or fund other worthy causes. Despite the utter disaster disengagement wrought, no leniency is shown those who are Our Crowd's anathema. Our Crowd - leery of anyone who considers his military stint a lofty mission - looks askance on those who put their lives on the line (like fallen "settler" hero Ro'i Klein), postpone personal gratification and manifest the dedication of Zionism's first pioneers. Our Crowd scorns patriots like Yishai, nowhere as endearing as the body-pierced, tattoo-sporting, trance-dancing, pot-smoking progeny of the preeminent ones. Wanton vindictiveness could well lead to the dampening of unspoiled altruistic spirits. But when the motivation of the most motivated is undermined and the souls of the selfless are seared, who will remain to give of themselves for Our Crowd's survival? Who'll defend the very existence of us all - Lior and his laid-back ilk included?