Embodying Refusal: Resistance, Pathologization, and Mental Health Exemption in the Israel Defense Forces
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This paper examines the cultural elements of obtaining a mental health exemption from military service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This paper also examines the social inequalities that Israeli militarism creates within Israeli society which can motivate Israelis to avoid or refuse to complete mandatory military service. Often, an Israeli’s ethno-class affiliation influences why they might avoid or refuse to serve and affects how they refuse or attempt to gain an exemption from the military. I argue the IDF individualizes refusal and exemption as an attempt to mitigate social, political, and ethical claims and critiques about the military and Israeli society. Then, using findings from my field research, this paper discusses the practice of gaining a mental health exemption as a way to refuse military service. An individual seeking mental health exemption is required to embody the military’s interpretation of the “proper” symptoms of a pathologized mental disorder. I argue the military’s attempts to depoliticize mental health exemption by individualizing and pathologizing mental disorders as well as mental health exemption. I consider how mental health exemption can be resistance to militarism and military service. This paper examines how a military pathologizes mental health issues, depoliticizes avoidance and critique of the military, and informs how individuals practice resistance to military service by using the military’s own bureaucratic practices.