Al Jazeera World

Israel: The Pain Inside

After military service many young Israelis travel abroad to distance themselves from distressing experiences.

In Israel, military service is compulsory for most people over the age of 18 in Israel, with men serving three years and women two. 

Exemption from military service is a hotly debated issue in Israeli society and being a conscientious objector of military service is readily looked down upon. Many feel that military service is a matter of family obligation and loyalty to their ‘homeland’. 

For some, joining the army is about the connections they make throughout their service, with these relationships serving as building blocks towards potential careers and a better lifestyle.

Those who “choose” not to serve have no access to these privileges, faced with a barrier to life beyond the army “bubble” which is so heavily engrained in Israeli society.

We live in the Middle East but we refuse to accept the fact that we are part of it. I think this pretty much indicates that there is an identity crisis in Israel.

by Gabriel Moses, exempted from military service

People talk of the future of Israel “hanging by a thread”, therefore following their army stint, stressed, confused and looking for an identity they had been denied until this moment, thousands of ex-soldiers travel abroad to party, bond in a context outside of the Israeli shadow and find new meaning to life. 

As Israelis do not need a visa to enter Europe, many emigrate to cities like Berlin; India is another popular choice for young Israelis.  

For many, life in Israel – with its military conscription and occupation – is turning young people into what one Israeli interviewee describes as “monsters in a distorted reality”, revealing deep psychological issues which remain unaddressed.

“I feel that in Israel there is some sort of mechanism that makes you believe that what you are doing over there is necessary and you are protecting your country,” says Shahar Levi, a former sergeant in the army. “But you know, you grow older, and you start thinking about those things. Not only about those incidents. You start to think about the other. The other, the Palestinian. Their needs and their motives.”

There is a sense of a lost generation – of people who are deeply troubled and alienated from their own humanity. This film reveals this agitation in Israel, at times manifesting itself through exodus, which is the very opposite of the Zionist dream.