By law, Israeli citizens designated for conscription have to enlist even if they live abroad and even if they haven’t ever stepped foot in Israel. However, Israeli citizens who were born and live abroad, or who emigrated from Israel at a young age, can adjust their status vis-a-vis the military, so they won’t be required to enlist and won’t be at risk of detention and imprisonment if visiting Israel, so long as they live abroad and meet the conditions detailed below.
The information presented here might change due to amendments in military regulations. For up-to-date information, we suggest you read the Israeli Military’s website and websites of lawyers who deal with this issue (though we cannot guarantee the precision and credibility of these sources).
The military defines the category of those who can adjust their status as following:
A Child of Immigrants: a person with an Israeli citizenship, who was born abroad or has left Israel for the purpose of immigration accompanied by his/her parents before reaching age 16.
Sometimes Israel allows those holding dual citizenship to serve in the military of the country they live in and doesn’t require enlistment to the Israeli Military in addition. It seems that this is determined in agreements between the states in question.
If you are not exempt from military service and will not act to adjust your “child of immigrants” status vis-a-vis the military, the law will treat you like any other citizen designated for military service. You will receive an order for preliminary military checkups and later will be assigned a date for enlistment. If during this period you’ll stay abroad and ignore it, shortly after your enlistment date, the military will see you as a deserter. From that moment, if you try to enter Israel, you may be detained and sent to military prison (read on to see what can be done in this situation). In addition, Israel will not agree to renew your Israeli passport. If you don’t have citizenship or permanent residency in your country of residence, you may be deported to Israel and sent to military prison when your Israeli passport expires.
It is important to note that only a small number of children of immigrants who arrived in Israel for the first time after their enlistment date were sent to jail. However, when there is a repeated attempt to enter Israel without adjusting one’s status, the situation may have a different outcome.
If you have status of permanent residency in your country of residence, no one will try to arrest you and to bring you to Israel by force. Seemingly, you can keep living your life without disruption. But in most cases, you would still have family and friends in Israel, whom you could not visit without risking imprisonment. We ran into cases in which people could not visit dying relatives because they emigrated from Israel without adjusting their status vis-a-vis the military. It is a risk which will resume at least into your 40s and perhaps later. Legally, it is not clear what would happen to a deserter who would try to visit Israel after the age of exemption from reserve duty, as defined by Israeli law.
Please note that you cannot give away your Israeli citizenship without an approval of the military that you don’t have to enlist, unless you were born abroad and haven’t reached the age of 15. We have even seen a case in which the military tried to insist on the conscription of a daughter of an Israeli citizen who was born abroad though her parents renounced her Israeli citizenship in her childhood, and despite there being no legal justification for conscription in this case.
Every Israeli citizen designated for security service, who is permanently abroad in any status, is required to report to the consulate near their current place of residence upon reaching the age of 16 and 4 months, in order to adjust their status. It is done by filling a form and presenting documents attesting that one’s center of life is abroad, such as an official letter from a school.
If you moved abroad before the age of 16, and you meet all other criteria for gaining the status of children of immigrants, but didn’t get to handle it on time, you may still go to the nearest Israeli embassy or consulate and try to do it. We don’t have clear information regarding the length of delay the authorities are willing to handle, but it is worth trying, and also insisting if you face an initial refusal.
Another option is to submit a request for postponement of your enlistment, which is usually given for completing studies in school or in an academic institution. If you think to draft a request for postponement for other reasons, you can contact New Profile’s Counseling Network, which can support you in your communication with the military. You can submit such a request at least several weeks prior to your enlistment date, if you have one fixed. The earlier you submit it, the better the chances are that you will receive a positive outcome. The military is not obliged to accept your request, but it has a good chance to be approved, mainly in the context of studies. Yet, note that this is only postponement of conscription through which you can gain more time, but it won’t exempt you from military service for good.
For those who are not recognized as children of immigrants and do not intend to serve in the military, the only legal way to avoid service is to receive an exemption. If you are not defined as a deserter, you can arrive in Israel and deal with the process of receiving exemption during your visit.
Another option, which is usually more complicated, is to try to get exempted by correspondence from abroad. If you are pacifist interested in recognition by the military’s consciousness committee (Hebrew), the process begins by sending letters. In order to meet the committee, you will probably have to fly to Israel. If you are pregnant or a mother, it is very likely the military will agree to receive documents from abroad. Regarding marriage, note that marriage abroad will be valid for getting exemption only after registration as married in your Israeli ID (see here in Hebrew).
An attempt to receive an exemption from afar based on mental health grounds will most likely face opposition and delays. A lawyer whose expertise is Israeli military law may be able to promote the process in this case, but it is a very expensive service and we cannot estimate the chances of success. In order to get this kind of exemption, you may need to arrive in Israel.
In any case, the military views medical documents from abroad with suspicion, so it is important to translate them into Hebrew and back up any medical diagnosis you have from abroad with a parallel one from civil medical officials in Israel.
You are welcome to contact us for further information.
If your enlistment date has passed and you are abroad, the military will see you as AWOL and, from a certain point, as a deserter. From that moment on, any uncoordinated entry to Israel is supposed to result in detention at the border. Your options vis-a-vis the military will decrease significantly, but there are still several channels of action open to you:
If none of this works, you can check the option of receiving permanent status in your country of residence. We know of attempts to receive political asylum in this context (most of them failed, though some succeeded), and of gaining legal status following marriage. Please note that permanent status in another country will not prevent you from being detained while arriving in Israel.
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