Israeli Woman Jailed for Deserting Army 7 Years After Discharged as Unfit

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Israeli soldier walks away from camera in military prison, 2014
Israeli soldier walks away from camera in military prison, 2014Credit: Dudi Izental, Bamahane Magazine

A 27-year-old Holon woman has been in a military prison for two months on grounds that she deserted the army in 2011, even though she was discharged that year with a profile of 21, meaning she was deemed unfit for military service.

When Danielle (a pseudonym) was 16, she suffered a trauma that led to her being treated in a mental health ward. As a result, before she was conscripted she received a letter from the army saying she would not be drafted because of unsuitability and a medical opinion.

When she turned 18 and saw her friends being drafted, Danielle approached the army asking to enlist, and the Israel Defense Forces agreed to draft her as a special trainee on Base 80.

During her basic training she approached her commanders and explained that she had a fear of weapons and wouldn’t be able to do weapons training. As a result, the army moved her to a different training program, but there, too, she refused to do weapons training. In February 2011, after being home for a month, Danielle tried a third time to get through basic training, but when she again could not perform on the firing range, she was called to a meeting with the mental health officer, who had asked her father to be present.

“I came to the meeting with the mental health officer on Base 80,” recalls the father. “We were told explicitly by that officer that a soldier who can’t shoot a weapon can’t be an IDF soldier, and as far as she was concerned she was telling [Danielle] that she was releasing her from the army.”

Danielle accepted the decision, went to the Tel Hashomer base to return her equipment and her military ID card, but did not wait for any document confirming her discharge. “She was certain they would send her something in the mail. Her mistake was in not waiting for a confirmation there,” said the father.

During the ensuing six years, Danielle worked in a company that she opened with her brother and that has since closed. The company was registered in her name, she made National Insurance payments, paid income taxes and VAT, yet at no point did anyone flag her for desertion. In 2016 she was arrested for a minor offense along with a number of friends, and was released without the police saying anything about desertion. She is an amateur photographer and for the past three years has been volunteering with sick children.

“During all these years we didn’t hear anything from anyone,” the father said. “We never got a letter from the army or the police summoning her. There were times when she was stopped for a routine check of her driver’s license and it wasn’t written anywhere that she was a deserter.”

On March 24, Danielle and four friends were at the airport with plans to fly to Georgia to do some landscape photography. But though her friends got through passport control with no problem, she was stopped and told she was blocked from leaving the country and that the police would have to be called. A short while after she was taken to the police station, military policemen arrived and arrested her for desertion. Within two hours she found herself in Military Prison No. 4.

She is still there today, awaiting trial. At first the prosecution asked for an 18-month prison term, then came down to 11 months until finally agreeing to ask for eight months.

“This is a young woman who did not know she was a deserter,” said Danielle’s attorney. “She arrived at the airport with a round-trip ticket so she had no intention of fleeing the country. We will prove that in those years she had never been approached by the Military Police and no document was sent to her informing her that she was a deserter. This is not a young woman who was living in hiding. She was known to all the authorities as a business owner.”

The IDF Spokesperson said, “The accused was recently arrested for being a deserter for six-and-a-half years. The material collected in her case shows that she was conscripted legally and that after she was rejected twice from basic training she deserted from service. In contrast to her claims, she was not given a profile of 21 during her service and she was not discharged from the IDF. Only recently, after her arrest, when she was 26, was she found unfit to serve for medical reasons.

“In April the military prosecution filed an indictment against her for desertion. Her detention was periodically extended in view of the evidence and the grounds for her arrest. [] The defense has asked for mediation and the prosecution has been asked for its position on this.”

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