Israel’s Holy Warriors

Eyal Press in Foreign Policy:

ScreenHunter_03 May. 15 08.47 Until recently, displays of disobedience in the Israeli army were mainly carried out by so-called “refuseniks” on the left who risked being branded traitors (and sent to prison) to avoid serving in the occupied territories. The refuseniks making noise today come from Israel's religious right, and they want to preserve the occupation, not end it. “Today, over a quarter of young officers wear skullcaps,”an Israeli general recently told the International Crisis Group, which devoted part of a July 2009 report to the trend. “In the combat units, their presence is two or three times their demographic weight. In the Special Forces it's even higher.”

Some of these soldiers enter the military after attending pre-army Torah colleges, state-funded preparatory schools where high school graduates enroll for one year of “spiritual fortification” before joining their peers. Others go to places like the Birkat Yosef Hesder Yeshiva, a religious academy funded by the government under a formal arrangement with the Ministry of Defense, where roughly 250 students divide their time between Torah instruction and military service over a five-year period. The first hesder yeshiva opened its doors in 1965: around 50 such institutions are spread across Israel and the West Bank today.

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