“What are you here for?” The soldier at the gate asks me.
“I’m here to…” I breathe: Honesty. No games. Honesty. “I’m here to request a Conscience Committee [Hebrew: va’adat matzpoon].”
“A Conscience Committee.”
“What is that?”
“I refuse to serve the army [my draft date is in a bit under two months], and would like to be released on grounds of conscience.”
“Oh.” He blinks. “Show me your I.D. Card.”
I had forgotten my ID card. But I had printed out some papers, and I speak confidently. I showed him the papers, and told him I’d just be a second. It’s amazing what light skin, confidence and an Israeli Jewish accent (with or without an Anglo-twinge like mine) can do. I enter.
First I am sent to floor four. I am shaking a little bit. I am nervous. There is something scary about being alone in a building filled with soldiers, especially when I am there to tell them that I refuse to become a soldier.
“Hello,” I say. “I would like to request a Conscience Committee.”
The soldier at the desk has pale skin and green eyes. He looks at me. Blinks:
I go to room 446.
“Hello,” I say. “I would like to request a Conscience Com–”
“Room 220. Floor two,” the dark skinned soldier chewing gum behind her desk tells me.
I go down to floor two.
“Hello,” I say. “I would like to request a Cons–”
“Mador Prat, first floor,” the buzz-cut soldier grumbles without even looking at me.
I go down to Mador Prat, first floor.
“Hello,” I say. “I would like–”
“Tel Aviv,” the solider with thick, braided hair tells me before I get halfway through my sentence.
(Just kidding, although I had almost despaired of ever finding the right room at this point. She is actually very friendly and says:)
“How can I help you?”
“I would like to request a Conscience Committee.”
“Wait outside for a few minutes.”
I wait outside for a few minutes. She calls me back in:
“What was it you said you wanted?”
“To request a Conscience Committee.”
“A what?” She giggles.
“You know, a Conscience Committee. As in, I am refusing to join the army for reasons of Conscience.”
“You mean what we’re doing with The Arabs?”
“Yeah. That. And also ideological reasons in general.”
“What sort of reasons?”
“Well. Opposition to violence, for a one.”
She is still smiling: “The army’s not… violent.”
I blink. She blinks. We blink.
“Well, it is…”
“No, it’s not.”
We are both still smiling.
I say: “The purpose of an army is to enact violence.”
She says: “Well. I’ve never heard of a ‘Conscience Committee.’ Come with me.”
We go to the room next door. She tells the soliders there that I am looking for something called a “Conscience Committee.” They look at me. And then back at her:
“Yep. That’s yours. Mador Prat.”
We go back to the Mador Prat room. She smiles apologetically. I smile back. Two other soldiers, also women, come in. She explains the situation to them. They look at me. I smile and hold up my papers. “Shalom?”
One of the soldiers goes: “Well, I guess you can leave your number, and we’ll have our director call you…”
“Ok… Um. Can I leave these papers with you, then?” I ask, hoping to feel like my visit had at least counted for something.
“Oh, no no no,” all three say in unison. “Better that you just bring the papers when you come back in.”
“When do I come back in?”
They all shrug. “We don’t know. Our director will call you.”
“Don’t you have some kind of procedure for this stuff?”
“No,” one says, “it’s too rare to have a procedure.”
“Oh,” I say. “Well, thanks…”
“Sure,” they say. The soldier with the braid smiles again and laughs [uncomfortably? sympathetically?]: