IDF draft officials have been accused of harassment and extreme insensitivity after relatives of a teenager dying from cancer faced demands by the army that their son leave his hospital bed and report to the local draft board.
About two weeks ago, Avraham Cohen, an 18-year-old haredi yeshiva student from Jerusalem, passed away after a year-long bout with cancer.
Because of his age, Cohen was required to either file for a draft deferment, granted to full-time yeshiva students, or be drafted into the army. Last year, the army ordered Cohen to report to the local draft office in order to either establish his status as a yeshiva student, or begin the enlistment process.
In light of his condition, however, Cohen’s father, Akiva Cohen, filed an appeal in his son’s name requesting that the army waive its demand that Avraham appear before the local draft board.
Over the course of the last year, Haredim 10 reported, Akiva Cohen sent multiple requests, backed up by reports from doctors, including a written statement by Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center’s oncology ward which stated that “Due to his ongoing illness and treatments, [Cohen] will not be able to go to the draft office. In addition, due to his neurological condition, caused by the [cancerous] tumor, he cannot be brought [to the draft office].”
Despite his efforts, however, Akiva Cohen says the army refused to accept their request, and continued to demand that Avraham show up in person at the local draft office, calling the family regularly to reiterate its demands.
In one recorded conversation, Ynet reported, a draft office representative warned Akiva Cohen shortly before his son died, that if he did not show up in person, he could lose his draft deferment and be recruited into the army.
"I just want to make sure that you know that if he gives up his status, he cannot get it back,” the draft board representative said.
When Akiva Cohen replied that his son “won’t need to get it back” and explained that his son was in the hospital and “unable to lift his hands or his head,” the draft official declared that he was “cancelling his [draft exempt] status.”
In another call, a draft board representative informed Akiva Cohen that because the requests for an exemption on medical grounds were not sent by Avraham himself, the army “cannot accept it”, adding that the letters had been rejected.
“You can read the regulations yourself,” she continued, “the prospective recruit must identify himself and file the request himself.”
The harassment, Akiva Cohen says, only ended when the family finally received a call from the draft board, informing them that the army’s medical board had approved his request for an exemption – only after Avraham Cohen had already passed away. The call notifying the family of the exemption came during the seven-day mourning period after their son was laid to rest.
After the army’s handling of Avraham Cohen’s case sparked outrage in the haredi community, the director of the local draft office reached out to the family to offer his apology.
“I’m willing to agree that we could have shown more sensitivity in the early stages [of handling the case]. But explanations don’t matter now. It won’t matter if I try to explain things at this point. I don’t think that there is any reason to try to explain it. I just called to apologize. I read the transcripts [of the calls]… I’m very sorry.”
An army spokesperson later released a statement regretting how Avraham Cohen’s case was handled.