Hundreds of demonstrators and activists from 60 non-profit organizations set out Tuesday on a protest journey against the exemptions from military enlistment given to the ultra-Orthodox.
They departed from the Israel Defense Forces Induction Center in Tel Hashomer and over the next three days will make their way to Jerusalem, where they plan to hold a mass rally on Thursday.
The march was intended to simulate a military drill in which soldiers evacuate injured individuals from the field on gurneys. Among the marchers were widows of slain IDF soldiers, war veterans, youth movement members, students and others.
Dozens of haredim who arrived at the induction center to receive their exemptions from military service on the grounds that Torah study is their profession passed by the ceremony that kicked off the march.
'Go look for shirkers in Tel Aviv'
Police securing the area tried to prevent friction between the two sides, but were unable to quell one outburst. "Everything that we do was set in law even before the foundation of the State," one ultra-Orthodox man yelled at the marchers. "Why are you going only against us? Go find the shirking in the center of Tel Aviv, instead inciting hatred."
One of the leaders in the march, CEO of the Israeli Forum for the Promotion of Equal Share in the Burden Miri Brown, told Ynet that the time has come for the government to take notice of the silent majority's plea. "We have students here from the religious preparatory programs, who combine Torah study with IDF service," she said. "The government and Knesset's disregard is like a spit in the face of the entire Israeli society."
One of the marchers, former Israeli Air Force Commander Major-General (Res.) Amos Lapidot, said that "military service is a fundamental and basic issue in the Israeli society, which unfortunately has received a major blow with the establishment of the Tal Law. Every one in Israel needs to serve, whether it's in the military or in civil service."
MK Miri Regev (Likud), who attended the opening ceremony, got exclamations of contempt from the crowd. "Everyone, in his turn, should carry the gurney," she said in a speech. "I proposed a law to confiscate the driver's licenses from those who shirk their military service. Only with real condemnation and the placement of sanctions on the shirkers can we deal with the phenomenon."
MK Avi Dichter (Kadima), who was one of those carrying a gurney in the march, said that achieving a solution would come from unifying the society, not dividing it. "We must give love and treat warmly all the populations who don't participate in carrying the burden, in order to bring them closer to us," he said. "The hands that carry the huppah should also carry the gurney."
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) noted that while military service is a central Zionist value, more than 50% of 18-year-olds today don't serve in the army. "This situation cannot go on," he said.
'If nothing changes, we should rebel'
The actor Shlomo Vishinsky, who lost his son in a Gaza Strip confrontation, demanded a more aggressive approach towards those who do not do their part. "The army belongs to all of us," he said. "My dream is to see, even in a few years, a young Arab saying that the IDF is his as well."
He suggested that the government should provide incentives to those who serve - for example, pay their college tuition. He added that if the government's efforts to change the current state of affairs fail, the citizens should protest.
"If the situation goes on, I won't pay income taxes, also on the grounds of a mental exemption," he said.
Dozens of veterans who were handicapped during their military service did not shy away from the physical difficulty of the march. "We can't stand by while such a valuable activity takes place," said Danny Ben-Abu, who was critically injured in the Yom Kippur War. "I can't blame only the haredim, because military service shirking exists in the secular public as well. We have to return the embarrassment to the faces of those who don't enlist, they should be embarrassed before their friends and their families."