Ziv Barak is scheduled to start two weeks of reserve duty with the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank beginning Sunday.
“In the past when I have been called, it has been for drills,” said Barak, 26, who completed nearly four years of military service in September 1996. “This is the first time it will be for real [as a reservist].
“I was on duty during [Palestinian rioting] in 1996, and I saw a lot of action. One of the scariest moments was when bullets hit the ground next to my feet.”
But now as he prepares to again don his military uniform, Barak, a lieutenant in army intelligence, will have something else to worry about besides bullets — his studies as a third-year student at the Technion.
The IDF in the past has tried to accommodate students by calling them for reserve duty when it would least interfere with their studies. But because of the Palestinian violence that erupted in the territories in late September, such accommodation is not always possible.
“One of my friends, another student at the Technion, was called up in September and spent the next two months in the reserves,” said Barak. “He did 50 days in the army. That’s a lot. That’s the most I know of, but three weeks is very common.”
Those 21 days, he said, could force him to repeat the whole semester.
“Studies at the Technion are very technical. It’s not like learning history, where if you miss a chapter you can read it later. Here the study is like a wall of bricks — it builds one on the other,” Barak said. “If you don’t have the basics, you can’t go on.”
Alon Gany, dean of students at the Technion, said the school has 12,000 students, including 3,000 on the graduate level, and that about 70 percent of them are men, all of whom are subject to reserve duty.
“Because many of our students are officers or in combat units, they can be called up a few times a year,” he said. “In these days they may be called without any notice because of the [violence], and nowadays more of our students are being called for reserve duty.
“When they are called on an urgent basis, we [at the school] can’t do much about it. They have to go,” Gany said. “We can’t use the standard procedures [requesting deferments] anymore.”
Gany said he expects “a lot more calls for reserve duty this semester, and maybe next semester as well. We have already been told that they will serve longer periods. Usually the army tries to keep a student not more than 21 days during the academic year, but officers and those with special professions in the army serve longer, many more than 30 days.”
With the Technion’s high percentage of male students, Gany said the school is affected more than other universities. And because of the highly technical nature of the courses, he said the Technion is making a special effort to help those students who are called to duty during a semester. Each reservist is assigned a student who has already taken the course to provide individual tutoring. In addition, written copies of the lectures are provided to the students and, in some cases, the lectures are also made available free on video.
Students whose reserve duty exceeds 21 days per academic year are given a free summer course. Those who serve more than 30 days are given two free summer courses. Gany said he believes the Technion is the only university in Israel to make this offer, which was introduced last summer. About 60 students took advantage, he said.
But because of the increased call-up, Gany said he expects to see a 50 percent increase in the number of students taking the free summer courses. Students on reserve duty when final exams are given can take a make-up.
The dean of students at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Stuart Cohen, said that although students called for reserve duty can apply to his office for a deferment, he has not had an increase of such requests. But he said that may change as the IDF increases the reserve call-up.
“I meet with the student council representatives every week, and this issue has come up,” Cohen said. “We have prepared a guideline as to how to react in case of a massive call-up or an extended situation.”
The plan calls for recognizing that students who performed reserve duty may return with emotional problems, and that those who missed final exams are entitled to a make-up and to register for the next course level. It also provides students with access to class lectures via the Internet.
Cohen said that because the military is entitled to pay unemployed students a minimum wage, “it is cheaper for the army to call students rather than employed people. They are also young and qualified and so they are more likely than others to feel the pinch.”
Professor Avigdor Shinan, dean of students at the Hebrew University, said the university has set up special counseling groups for those who need psychological help when they return from duty.
“Not many students have used it, but the knowledge that we have such groups is very helpful,” he said.
In addition, he said the increasing number of students called for reserve duty has given the university the impetus to videotape more lectures, something it has “always wanted to do.” It also provides private tutors for some classes and gives the students money to copy articles, books and lectures.
Tal Lazmi, 27, of Sderot, a sophomore at Ben Gurion University in the Negev and a captain in the reserves, said he has been lucky with his reserve duty because so far he had only been called up for a weekend. Because of his rank, he said he has also been given a choice of when to serve and that he has been able to schedule it during the summer when there are no classes.