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I’m set to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces but I have the option to exempt from the military if I wish to. So I’m in a big moral dilemma on whether I should serve or not, I’m currently leaning towards not serving being the morally right decision, but I want to be very certain that it is because if I don’t serve, a lot of my family and friends will also hate and shame me for it. So if I would be certain that I did the right thing it would really help me cope with the hatred and disappointment. Therefore, if you could help me reach a moral conclusion on whether to serve or not I would be very grateful. So I would say that I believe it’s immoral to serve in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) if given the option not to because if I serve I’m contributing towards unjustified harm towards Palestinians (even if I don't serve in a combat role, I would still be indirectly contributing to unjustified harm) E.G. IDF is used as a tool to make new Israeli settlements in Palestinian land which definitely cause unjust harm to Palestinians. If the IDF had less power, Israel would have fewer resources to force settlements therefore reducing the harm.

But I also do believe that a military for Israel is necessary for preventing serious harm that might be caused by a lack of protection. And a problem might arise when I acknowledge that a byproduct of my goal/career in life is becoming a public person which would undoubtedly amplify the impact of whatever choice I make. In other words, If I become an influential figure and I choose to not serve I will inevitably impact other people to not serve as well. And if enough people don’t serve it will cause a problem because of the lack of protection in the military that will occur. It might be relevant to state that I also genuinely believe that given my current opportunities I will probably rise to be somewhat of a public figure so you could say that (even if I’m delusional) I’m acknowledging that my decision will likely have an amplified impact. So the new problem is that there is now a likelihood that me not serving will cause enough other people to not serve that it would cause a war or a fight big enough that it would result in more harm done than there would have been if I had served instead.

But if I had to estimate, I would say the odds of that happening are pretty small considering the power of the IDF which could be estimated by the sheer statistics of Palestinian/Israeli deaths (3465/68). On top of that, I also know for certain that if I don’t serve (and I assume others would follow) I will be preventing unjustified harm towards Palestinians and I can conclude that by the factual evidence of unjust harm that the IDF is contributing to. So would it be correct for me to say that since I know with good likelihood that me not serving has positive consequences for society and since I think the odds of the negative outcomes are quite low (even if they could be really bad) then me not serving would be morally right from my point of view?

Because on the second hand, if we take the settlements that are built on Palestinian land as the example of unjust harm towards Palestinians, if I claim that the IDF is so strong, wouldn’t it mean that not serving wouldn’t help because the IDF could just gather other troops to do the settlement work since they’re so strong?

To counter that you could say that even if they did gather other troops, it would still make the process harder so you would still contribute to preventing harm. Therefore, even if it’s very little the action of not serving would still be in the moral side rather than the immoral.

But then you could counter this by saying that in that case, since not serving only prevents very little harm it might be better to serve and protect Israel from a war or a big fight because even if the odds of that happening are very small (since the IDF is so strong), it is still the right thing to do because if something bad would happen it could end up being disastrous so it’s better to take even the small chance of that happening in to account because there aren’t major drawbacks to do so. In the same way that if we found out that an asteroid has a 1/10,000 chance of hitting earth, we would still do our best to take that into account and take measurements to prevent it.

Based on all these conclusions, I can’t really say that serving is immoral as much as it sounds like it is. So I’m worried that I’m just overthinking and that these points don’t make sense, or that I’m grasping at straws because unconsciously I’m scared of the hate I will receive if I don’t serve. I really just don’t know what to do, if I do serve I’ll feel like I was probably just justifying it in my head and I’m actually morally wrong in doing so. And if I don’t serve, since I’m still internally unsure whether it’s moral or not, I won’t be able to "deflect" and overcome the hate and disappointment from my family, friends and society. So if you could in some way validate/invalidate some of these thought processes and help me reach a conclusion on this moral conflict it would mean the world to me.

closed as primarily opinion-based by curiousdannii, Conifold, Swami Vishwananda, christo183, wolf-revo-cats Oct 21 at 18:14

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12 Answers 12

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Your question is a revival of the classic debate between Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Should we obey even corrupt governments, or should we revolt and create a new government?

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

To have a political obligation is to have a moral duty to obey the laws of one's country or state. On that point there is almost complete agreement among political philosophers.

Political Obligation

If political philosophers are really in nearly unanimous agreement on that point, then that echoes my observation that philosophy has been heavily infiltrated by propagandists. I would expect a more balanced, middle-of-the-road opinion.

For whatever it's worth, I served in the U.S. military. I was young and stupid when I enlisted (1974). Most of my relatives were right-wing and encouraged me to join. I knew nothing about politics at that time, but I still sensed that the U.S. military wasn't a noble institution.

So I joined - and I got scr*wed. It was my introduction to political corruption.

Today, I'm not proud of the fact that I served in the U.S. military, but I don't hang my head in shame, either; I was young and stupid.

In the end, only you can decide what the proper choice is. As you've already discovered, it can be a surprisingly complex decision, and the stakes can be very high.

If I read your question correctly, you have the option of not serving in the military. If you have a choice, then that puts more pressure on you to make the correct choice. If you were drafted, things would obviously be much more difficult.

Some people who have served have made some contributions by taking notes and blowing the whistle after they're discharged.

It is very important to do your homework (as you're doing), though. If you opt out, then you're going to have be ready to defend yourself from critics. Your question makes me realize how clueless I was when I enlisted. ;)

Best wishes.

P.S. I reread your question, and realized you're being drafted. Like I said, that makes things a lot tougher.

P.P.S. I may have also misread the quote I posted. Instead of arguing that everyone should obey their government, the argument could be if you have a political obligation, you should obey the government. I might even argue that point, but that's going a little far astray for now.

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    That's exactly how I would of described the situation mainly. Unfortunately today most armies in most countries no longer serve the interests of the countries they belong to so in shot, in today's context, I'd say pass. – Overmind Oct 21 at 7:34
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Welcome, Mimikyu

Your second and third paragraphs concern only a remote contingency, as you acknowledge. They are, I think it's safe to say, practically discountable.

The position appears to be that you regard the IDF as necessary for the defence of Israel. However, your not serving will not put Israel at risk but it will very likely involve you in (what you regard as) the IDF's harmful and unjustifiable activities against Palestinians. Not serving will prevent any risk of complicity in such activities, and this provides one moral reason for not serving.

On the other hand, if you don't serve 'a lot of my family and friends will ... hate and shame me for it'. This is not, I should say, a moral consideration though it is plainly a personal consequence which you have to take into account.

You are at a point where you have to define the kind of person you are. You might decide that you place such value on your family and friends that you cannot hurt them; or you may decide that avoiding complicity in causing unjustifiable harm to Palestinians is the more stringent requirement.

You might find it helpful to read Jean-Paul Sartre's 'Existentialism is a Humanism', a short book that explores just the kind of dilemma of self-definition in which you are caught up. The key passage is the case of the student who in wartime France (early 1940s) does not know whether to stay with his mother, who needs him, or to join the Free French forces who are combatting the Germans. The Free French are a larger cause but his role with them might be negligible. There is no answer 'out there'. He has to decide his commitments.

  • (1/4) I don't have enough characters to answer so I'll write my answer in multiple comments :) These are some good points, and thank you for the book recommendation! I'm not sure that if something can't be predicted with good accuracy, it necessarily means it should be disregarded. I believe I gave a rough, general estimation of the odds based on fairly reasonable premises. But on a second thought, you might have a point. Because it would be really hard for me to draw the line on where my estimated probability is. – Mimikyu Oct 20 at 23:57
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    (2/4) And you could argue that I have to draw some line because otherwise I could justify tons of bad stuff E.G. throwing a bottle in the ocean is fine because there's some chance that a guy finds it and gets furious and then it inspires him to become the president and he wins the election one day he substantially improves the world. That example might be a little extreme but it shows the point, I think? how do you decide if a statement is a contingency? – Mimikyu Oct 20 at 23:57
  • (3/4) because surely the example I gave is less likely to happen than the arguments in my second and third paragraph. I feel like this could be a whole philosophical discussion by itself. Let's say though for the sake of the argument that the second and third paragraphs are discountable. So I know that me serving will cause some unjustified harm, but I also know that since I'm an individual, the harm that will be caused just by me is very small. – Mimikyu Oct 20 at 23:59
  • (4/4) Contrary to that, the harm that would be caused to me if I don't serve might be very big (family, friends and a portion of society hating me), so you could still be able to argue that me serving isn't morally wrong because the harm it would inflict to myself would overwhelm the harm my action would inflict on others, right? – Mimikyu Oct 20 at 23:59
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    If you don't serve but continue to live in a country whose existence can only be guaranteed by the actions of those who do serve, does this not make you just as culpable? (This is a thing I often wonder about people who criticise my working in the weapons industry.) – RedSonja Oct 21 at 11:14
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Morality is a subjective thing that changes by culture, political allignment, religion and many other parameters. By the standards of the right-wing patriotic voting block of Israel, yes you are highly immoral if you refuse to serve. By the standards of left-wing pacifist Israelis, no, in fact they would regard it as immoral to serve!

So the real question is what are the moral standards you hold yourself to? How about your family, friends and wider community?

In Israel you will certainly face some serious societal judgement, at least from the majority of the country, as immoral for refusing to serve, whereas just across the border in an Arab country the majority consensus would regard your decision not to serve as highly moral!

You need to weigh out exactly what matters to you. Objective morality does not exist.

There exist many compelling arguments on both sides of this. My personal opinion shouldn't be what influences you, but I can say this: the IDF is large and beaurocratic as an organisation. Unless you serve in an elite unit, or in any case as a soldier that does a meaningful role, your contribution (or lack of contribution) is unlikely to have any observable impact. The majority of IDF conscripts neither kill Palestinians, nor provide any vital protection for the country. They are almost morally neutral.

Worst comes to worst, there are options for doing civil service instead, such as working for the ambulance or other roles that mean you will be unquestionably helping your country's people, without having to be in any controversial conflict situation. Of course, convincing the Israeli government to let you do this, as a conscientious objector, is easier said than done.

You may find yourself better off simply doing a boring non-combat role for the army, or aiming for a role such as search and rescue or working in military hospitals.

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    "The majority of IDF conscripts neither kill Palestinians, nor provide any vital protection for the country. They are almost morally neutral." This recalls a famous maxim: An army marches on its stomach. Military personnel who don't actively kill still support those who do kill, in one way or another. So that particular argument becomes a little hollow. Then again, one could argue that even civilians who simply pay taxes (without protesting) are supporting their military, corrupt or not. – David Blomstrom Oct 20 at 21:01
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    Why would the IDF care about lawns? Could is have anything to do with public relations? Same thing for recycling. Or recycling could simply be a way to save money which can be spent on weapons instead. Everyone in uniform has the same mission, regardless of their job title. Merely wearing "the uniform" is a potent form of propaganda. Visit a VA hospital and count the times you hear patients brag about having worn "the uniform." – David Blomstrom Oct 20 at 21:21
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    I believe we're dealing with a moot point here, but I will nonetheless acknowledge that you do have a very valid (and seemingly educated and well thought out) point of view. Ultimately it all boils down to one thing; not only is morality completely subjective, but also its application to everyday life is highly subjective too. – Alex Oct 20 at 22:06
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    Bingo. For example, I've long plead with young people to NOT enlist in the U.S. military. Some people call me a hypocrite because I enlisted myself. I counter that we learn from our mistakes. – David Blomstrom Oct 20 at 22:09
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    @DavidBlomstrom all citizens of Israel are, in some sense, supporting the IDF in immoral actions against Palestinians because they pay taxes that fund the IDF. If some janitor in an IDF headquarters could be considered to be supporting the IDF, so too must every taxpayer. – Ryan_L Oct 21 at 17:19
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Since you say you are "set to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces but I have the option to exempt" I say your entry status is voluntary. Immoral, no but when you enter you commit. There are factions of military service elsewhere where the troops get to vote on actions and details - If you propose to use your voluntary status to undermine your commander's orders then you do not belong and immoral, yes, since you put everyone at risk. Commit and get in it is a great life for those who make it through training. Push yourself, be your best, that is some advice. If you cannot commit then wash it from your mind. And, may the conduct of your service be commendable.

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You bring up valid points. But also remember that you can enroll into the military(because as you say there are valid reasons for a military, namely defense), but deny to perform immoral acts(Like occupying, attacking). The thing with this approsch is, that you will probably have to live with the consequences; be thrown into military prison or otherwise get punished. This approach can have the benefit of solving both problems of yours and also shed public attention on the issue internally. Especially if you work with the news and explain your position publicly. The father of a friend did this in the 60 with quite some sucess. But be warned this approach takes a lot of effort and endurance, with little personal gain, besides a clear concsious of having tried to do the right thing.

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There would be so many people who think like you.

So let us verify some of your views to take a stern moral decision:

I have the option to exempt from the military if I wish to.

if I don’t serve, a lot of my family and friends will also hate and shame me for it.

if I serve I’m contributing towards unjustified harm towards Palestinians.

IDF is used as a tool to make new Israeli settlements in Palestinian land which definitely cause unjust harm to Palestinians.

If I become an influential figure and I choose to not serve I will inevitably impact other people to not serve as well.

if enough people don’t serve it will cause a problem because of the lack of protection in the military that will occur.

I also know for certain that if I don’t serve, I will be preventing unjustified harm towards Palestinians and I can conclude that by the factual evidence of unjust harm that the IDF is contributing to.

If you have the option to exempt from the military why do you jump into a complicated situation? You could certainly abstain from joining it. In this case this is not because of one reason. Not some, all your views lead you to go to that direction.

Before taking a decision, the main thing you should remember is that a duty you are assigned can be moral or immoral. The action you are assigned (to do for your authority) is duty only...and a duty need not necessarily be moral. But for a good society it must be moral.

You have not a bit of hatred towards Palestinians. Each of your action that is done against innocent people will make you feel regretted. in such case, your actions will not be according to your government's wish.

You said you would inevitably impact other people to not serve as well.
Do you believe serving your nation can only be done through weapons/hatred? So, you can ignore this with positive thought.

You said, "if I don’t serve, a lot of my family and friends will also hate and shame me for it." Does it imply "all people"? Then why do you bother about it? If you verify this view more carefully you would certainly understand that their (those who blame you) path is not of love. So, ignore that also.

You said. "If I become an influential figure and I choose to not serve I will inevitably impact other people to not serve as well." & "If enough people don’t serve it will cause a problem because of the lack of protection in the military that will occur." Please don't think that everybody's views and attitudes are the same as yours in all cases. People are different in their views, attitudes and abilities. Because it is not for a bad thing, in this case, you needn't ponder over other's future. If they get motivation from anywhere (intrinsically or extrinsically) that will act as a motive force to proceed. So you needn't bother about that also.

The world (everybody who is for humanity) wants to settle your issues in a peaceful way. It must end up today or tomorrow. Even though there are very great technologies IT CAN NEVER BE SETTLED THROUGH WAR.

Your confusion is about minute issues regarding morality. So, (in this case) in my opinion, you'd better exempt from the military. No religion will teach you the path of hatred. If it teaches hatred, abstain from it always. Morality always leans towards love. BUT THAT LOVE IS NEVER FOR SELFISHNESS. If selfishness is the driving force of your action, you can make sure that it is immoral.

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It is already up to you, to serve or not to serve in the IDF. To serve is moral, not to serve is also moral, since you have the choice to serve or not to serve.

Since your country is not at war, thus you should be of resting mind, not afraid of remorse or mind conscience.

There is no Immorality at all for choosing not to serve, it's all up to you. This is from Philosophical view.

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To me, these are the conflicting points.

If you join the army:

  • you will be contributing to unjust harm of Palestinians

If you do not join:

  • you will not be protecting Israel in the unlikely event there is a war

  • you will be shamed by your friends and family.

However consider this: If Israel is invaded, or gets involved in a war that you do perceive as just, will they not be recruiting anyway? So you will have plenty of opportunity to volunteer at that point. That would seem to mean you can discount this point.

The question therefore is, are you willing to bear the shame from your friends and family in order to not contribute to unjust harm of Palestinians?

You seem to have already reconciled this, however at a more personal level, you may risk insulting them by giving this as a reason, considering they have all presumably either served or have volunteered if they feel OK shaming you about it.

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It depends whose acceptance you value most

Disclaimer: I appreciate this will be a disputed answer, as it intuitively goes against most people's moral compass. I am posting it not to persuade you, but to provide another angle to consider. I also appreciate, that this answer effectively splits people into "two camps", despite there being the clear potential for many other points of view - this is simply that it would be unfeasible to consider all world views in a single answer (but it does not make them less valid either).


It's worth looking at why we consider things to be moral or immoral in the first place. From there, it can be easier to determine what the correct course is for you.


Firstly, there are people who believe in a higher power with absolute morality. That is, there are unwritten rules, determined by a system outside our control (and to some, outside our knowledge), which will in some way categorize your actions into "moral" and "immoral" actions.

In general, this would be religion for many people. The belief that god(s) of some kind, will by some manner determine the morality of your actions.

If this applies to you, the answer is fairly straight forward. Follow the guidance you have, to the best of your knowledge, that will lead you to take moral actions in the eyes of whichever system you believe in.

If that is to be peaceful and avoid conflict, avoiding the draft would in all likelyhood be valued as a "moral" choice. But perhaps the system you believe exist values the opposite. I'm sure if you do have a belief in such a system existing; you will be best placed to judge what does and does not adhere to that morality.

Note, if you believe multiple judgement systems exist; you may wish to seek guidance on deciding which of these is most beneficial for you to follow, if any. That's outside the scope of this answer.


The other type of system to consider, is if you do not believe in the existence of a morally-absolute judge. That is, if you believe morals are a human made system on which only other humans will judge you.

Note also, that if you do not believe in any moral system - that is the same as a human-made one in which you simply disregard the opinion of any other human.

If this is your belief, then the value of your choices will only matter in so far as other humans judge you. At this point you need to weigh up the advantages to your life, of being seen as a "moral" character by the various groups who will judge you.

One of these groups for you, is your family and friends - who you say will view you badly for avoiding the draft. To them, you can consider it a "moral" action to join the draft - adhering to this, may, gain you favor with them (the extent of which is for you to determine).

However, there are the wider communities on earth, that you also take part in. These include people from other countries that you interact with, including this stack exchange and it's community. For much of the world, the actions of the IDF are seen as "immoral", and as such - to gain favor with these people, it would be a rational choice to avoid the draft.

Furthermore, there are the people who you do not yet interact with, and those who change their opinion in the future. You need to determine the what role you expect these people to have in your life in future, and the likelyhood your decisions now will be viewed as "moral" or "immoral".

Importantly though - you need to weigh up the costs and benefits of the choice.

For example, being seen as "immoral" by your family may reduce your support network, access to funds and accommodation and for some people - it may actual endanger them.

However, you may be expecting that you will move to a heavily pacifist country - in which case, the views of those people may be that avoiding the draft makes you more "moral"; helping you gain friends, further your career, or otherwise benefit you.

One of your goals is to become an influential person. It would be wise to consider what people you will need the support of, and how this choice will fit into that goal.


The simple conclusion is; this is your choice. You need to determine who you think will be judging your choice here - and what the consequences are of the choice.

Whether that's a divine judgement or family and friends - you need to consider who will judge your morality, and what impact that will have on your life (or afterlife if your views are such).

  • Apologies, I believe I have misused the term "morally-absolute" here, which I realize has a specific meaning - and not the one intended. If somebody can either comment, or edit the correct term I meant (meaning: "a system of morals that is judged by some form of absolute/divine power"), I would appreciate it. – Bilkokuya Oct 21 at 15:26
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Let's take this reasoning to its logical extreme and see if it helps you find the answer.

I'm going to start by focusing on some things you state in the question, specifically this bit (emphasis added by me):

So I would say that I believe it’s immoral to serve in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) if given the option not to because if I serve I’m contributing towards unjustified harm towards Palestinians (even if I don't serve in a combat role, I would still be indirectly contributing to unjustified harm) E.G. IDF is used as a tool to make new Israeli settlements in Palestinian land which definitely cause unjust harm to Palestinians. If the IDF had less power, Israel would have fewer resources to force settlements therefore reducing the harm.

One doesn't need to be in the IDF to contribute "unjustified harm" to Palestinians indirectly, and conscripted military personnel are not the only "resource to force settlements". The Israeli government, like any other government on Earth, collects taxes to pay for the activities it engages in. Those activities include the "unjustified harm" that you speak of.

I do not know if you pay taxes in Israel at present, because I have no idea about how that works in Israel. But you also state in your question:

And a problem might arise when I acknowledge that a byproduct of my goal/career in life is becoming a public person which would undoubtedly amplify the impact of whatever choice I make. In other words, If I become an influential figure and I choose to not serve I will inevitably impact other people to not serve as well. And if enough people don’t serve it will cause a problem because of the lack of protection in the military that will occur. It might be relevant to state that I also genuinely believe that given my current opportunities I will probably rise to be somewhat of a public figure so you could say that (even if I’m delusional) I’m acknowledging that my decision will likely have an amplified impact.

I assume when you say "public person", you mean a public person within Israel. That means you have decided that you will continue living there in a way consistent with the laws of that society (you don't mention how you will be able to decline military service, but the way I read the question is that it is through some legal method, even if it is not necessarily one that will be looked favorably upon). Which means, you have already made a decision to contribute indirectly to the harm that you consider unjustified. That contribution is no doubt smaller, more indirect, and different in nature from military service, but it is a contribution nonetheless.

We can take this logic to a more dramatic extreme by considering any form of productive economic activity within Israel to be indirect support for harm against the Palestinians. Indeed, there are activists who do this, and try to suggest that other people in other countries do not purchase goods made in Israel or make investments there. If you accept this logic (which I don't, and I assume you don't either), then you shouldn't even live in Israel if you want to avoid contributing indirectly to unjustified Palestinian harm.

I suspect that you will find the conclusion above to be extreme to the point of absurdity, and that you have already rejected it, just because you don't mention emigration or tax protesting as future plans in your question. So in order figure out if doing your military service is immoral or not, you should think very clearly about what makes it different from continuing to live in Israel at all. That is where you will find your answer on whether or not doing the military service is immoral.

I personally would not find much difference between paying taxes and being drafted unless I was directly, willingly participating in something immoral, but I also have no idea how likely that actually is in the IDF, and I live in a country that does not currently conscript people.

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You will not change the system from the outside. If you do not serve you will have much less power to initiate change later. Since almost everyone else serves, your chances at public service will be hampered significantly if you choose not to serve.

So... 1- You need to have military service to achieve your political goals. 2- You need an insiders understanding of the military to gain a full understanding of what needs to be changed and how it will affect the organization if you ever get into a position where you can effect the change you see needed. You will not have nearly as much power as an outsider.

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[This not professional and/or legal advice, this is philosophy.

There is a lot going on in the OP's question, so please be careful. Please stay calm.]

First: Ask yourself if analytical philosophy is the right place to get advice on this topic.


Alternative Options:--

There other options available to you. You can sign up as a medic. Also, the medic training will be useful when you return to civilian life.

Some objectors can accept: non-combatant role. Others cannot. You will have to think, but know that there are many options open to you.


Ethics and Philosophy:--

The morality of this topic is complex. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. It is difficult to provide neutral interpretation on such a charged topic!

The Israel-Palestine situation (or howsoever to properly refer to it) is one of the most charged, complex, intense, and thus controversial topics.

(Supposed) Neutral Information:--

Wikipedia attempts to be neutral on the topic:--

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscientious_objector)


Academic Resources:--

(https://mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/912/conscientious-objection-to-military-service)

Academic papers on this topic can be found here:--

(https://www.academia.edu/Documents/in/Conscientious_Objection_Draft_Resistance)

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