TEL AVIV (Feb. 19)
Several score of women reserve soldiers and their supporters demonstrated outside the Defense Ministry last Friday to protest the 24-hour imprisonment of Dino Gilad who had refused to report for military service, because of a new law that automatically exempts religious women from such duties. Ms. Gilad, who is not religious; was released Friday after she agreed to report for induction yesterday.
She said she had made her point which is that non-religious women are discriminated against by being required to serve while women claiming religious beliefs do not. The demonstrators took up the cry with signs reading “Dina is a Victim of the Coalition” and “Dina is in the Can While the Religious Ones are Free.”
One of the reservists said she would follow Gilad’s example and refuse to do service. “It is inconceivable that because some girls are exempted from service we have to carry the burden” she said. Another asked, “Why do these (religious) girls have the right to live in peace and security and let others make their security possible.?”
The Defense Ministry appeared embarrassed by the episode and Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori met with a deputation of protestors. The Ministry issued a statement Saturday night saying that there has been no increase in the proportion of eligible women exempted from military service since the new law went into effect last year.
The law was passed with government backing at the demand of the religious parties in the coalition. It grants exemption to any woman on her own declaration that she is religious. Previously, women claiming exemption on religious grounds were carefully screened and questioned by a panel to make sure they were bona fide.
According to the Defense Ministry, an average of between 20-40 percent of draft-age women were exempted from service over the last 10 years. Since the law took effect, the average exemptions on religious or other grounds has been 27 percent, a Ministry spokesman said. He said that at least five women who were exempted after declaring they were religious were found to have made false statements and will be prosecuted.