In the State of Israel, everyone is deprived - the poor are deprived, those without apartments are deprived, young couples are deprived, single parents are deprived, women are deprived, the Bedouin are deprived, doctors are deprived and even the ultra-Orthodox and settlers feel they are deprived.
But there is one sector which all will unanimously agree is deprived. The discrimination against it cries out loud and clear. However, since it is not permitted to open its mouth, the country makes fun of it and exploits it in a disgraceful way.
We are talking about the conscripts to the Israel Defense Forces. They serve in the army (the boys for three years and the girls for two), endanger their health and their lives, and lose years of work and studies, but the IDF pays them peanuts - far less than they deserve.
The unwritten contract between the soldier and the IDF says that the conscript gives three years of his life and, in return, the army will take care of all his needs. In reality, the military carries out only the first part of the contract and tramples unmitigatedly on the second part. After all, it is clear that no soldier can make do with NIS 350 per month, which is the wage of a soldier who does not serve in a combat unit. It is also not possible to do very much with the NIS 650 monthly salary of a combat soldier. After all, these are young people who also want to live a little, have some fun, buy clothes now and then, eat out once in a while, or pay for their cellular telephone. So anyone who does not have parents who can support him is in a sorry and humiliating situation.
As a result of this, many soldiers are forced to work during their regular service. The IDF's manpower division receives a great many requests from conscripts who wish to take a special vacation in order to work because of "the difficult economic situation at home." There are even soldiers who desert so that they can go to work. The Hazit Ve'oref Lev Ehad (One Heart for Front and Hinterland ) non-profit organization says that dozens of soldiers apply every month for help in finding suitable work during a vacation. Is there anything more absurd than that?
It becomes even more annoying when it transpires that the ultra-Orthodox youngsters who evade military service get better conditions from the state than the soldiers. They receive a stipend of NIS 900 every month as well as NIS 2,500 directly from the Kolel [a yeshiva for married students], from a budget which comes mainly from the state. That is to say, young ultra-Orthodox men receive NIS 3,400, as opposed to conscripts who receive NIS 350 or NIS 650. Is there a greater scandal than that?
The state, which realizes the injustice, tries to find different ways to compensate the soldiers after their discharge. It gives them a certain exemption from tax as well as benefits and loans for housing and studies. That is a bad way to save one's conscience. That is paternalism on the part of the government. Because different people have different tastes and perhaps there is someone who does not want to study but would rather take a trip around the world? Would we agree to accept a parcel of products chosen by our employer instead of wages?
Therefore the only correct way is to pay every soldier, girl or boy, a decent salary every month. Those who serve longer should be paid more. Without bureaucracy and without paternalism. Simply a fair wage that should be derived from the minimum wage, which today stands at NIS 4,100 per month. It would be preferable for them to get a full minimum wage, but if that is impossible because of budgetary problems, let them get NIS 2,000 to NIS 3,000 per month. That sum would make it possible to live reasonably during their service and perhaps even to save up for the day when they are released.
Under the present conditions, conscripts both endanger their lives and lose a possible income. But the moment they get a fair wage, the onus on them will diminish. A decent income would also make military service more attractive and decrease the desire to want to evade it - and I am not referring only to the ultra-Orthodox.
A fair wage also has another advantage - it will lead the IDF to realize that a soldier is not some kind of merchandise that is almost free, and that it is worthwhile economizing on the number of soldiers in order to save money in the budget. Perhaps then there will be a proposal to shorten the service for both girls and boys - and that will indeed be a real economic gain for the economy that will find expression in a rise in the GDP.
This coming Monday, Manuel Trajtenberg is due to publish his report following the social protest. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for him to devote a few words also to the conscripts.
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