60 Israeli high school teenagers issue a letter declaring that they will not serve in Israel’s Army of ethnic cleansing
60 Israeli high school teenagers issue a letter declaring that they will not serve in Israel’s Army of ethnic cleansing
60 Israeli high school teenagers issue a letter declaring that they will not serve in Israel’s Army of ethnic cleansing
Unlike Starmer, a ‘Zionist (i.e. a racist) Without Qualification’ it’s the Shministim who we should be supporting
Last week 60 Israeli high school students issued a letter declaring that they would not serve in the Israeli army which they declared was not there to defend Israel but to ‘exercise control over a civilian population’.
Unlike previous declarations they did not confine their objections to serving in the West Bank but declared that the Palestinians had ‘lived under violent occupation for 72 years’. This is a major political advance over all previous declarations because it recognises that the occupation of Palestine did not begin in 1967 as ‘liberal’ Zionists declare but in 1948 with the Nakba and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
It takes apart the loyal Zionist opposition in Israel, represented by Meretz (and formerly Mapam) that in order to criticise the occupation you have to loyally serve in the army. They ask ‘How does it make sense that in order to protest against systemic violence and racism, we have to first be part of the very system of oppression we are criticizing?’
The army is the institution in Israel which has the highest rate of approval. These youngers relate how they ‘grew up in the shadow of the symbolic ideal of the heroic soldier’ and describe the military not merely as serving the occupation but being the occupation. In sharp break with the normative adulation of the military they describe it as ‘a violent, corrupt, and corrupting institution to the core’.
Quite remarkably they describe how they are ordered to put on the
‘blood stained military uniform and preserve the legacy of the Nakba and of occupation. Israeli society has been built upon these rotten roots, and it is apparent in all facets of life: in the racism, the hateful political discourse, the police brutality, and more.’
This is a narrative which breaks from the narrative of the ‘war against terrorism’ and describes how the siege of Gaza has resulted in ‘no drinkable water nor electricity in Gaza for most hours of the day’.
The military is presented as a ‘melting pot’ in Israel, the place where divisions of race and class are erased. The Shministim argue that on the contrary the military reinforces these divisions as ‘soldiers from upper-middle class are channelled into positions with economic and civilian prospects, while soldiers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are channelled into positions which have high mental and physical risk’.
The Israeli army is presented as a bastion of (Israeli Jewish) womens equality and freedom. How, they ask ‘does it make sense that the struggle against gender inequality is achieved through the oppression of Palestinian women?’ It is a question that Zionist feminists in the West would do well to ponder as they try to subvert the struggle of women’s liberation into justifying imperialism and racism.
The letter ends with a call for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees thus challenging the Jewish nature of the Israeli state. This is indeed a remarkable letter and it is one that all socialists and supporters of freedom should support.
By way of contrast we should note how the miserable automaton who leads the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, by describing himself as a ‘Zionist without qualification’ has placed himself on the side of the racists and the ethnic cleansers, the military rather than their opponents.
These young people are incredibly brave as it isolates them within Israel’s settler colonial society. They include Hallel Rabin who served 56 days in prison, Brand-Feigenbaum who will have serve 27 days in prison and Roman Levin who has spent over 70 days in military prison.
Below are a number of articles including a letter from the parents of Yair Tal, who is also refusing to serve in the Israeli army.
We are a group of Israeli 18-year-olds at a crossroads. The Israeli state is demanding our conscription into the military. Allegedly, a defense force which is supposed to safeguard the existence of the State of Israel. In reality, the goal of the Israeli military is not to defend itself from hostile militaries, but to exercise control over a civilian population. In other words, our conscription to the Israeli military has political context and implications. It has implications, first and foremost on the lives of the Palestinian people who have lived under violent occupation for 72 years. Indeed, the Zionist policy of brutal violence towards and expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and lands began in 1948 and has not stopped since. The occupation is also poisoning Israeli society–it is violent, militaristic, oppressive, and chauvinistic. It is our duty to oppose this destructive reality by uniting our struggles and refusing to serve these violent systems–chief among them the military. Our refusal to enlist to the military is not an act of turning our backs on Israeli society. On the contrary, our refusal is an act of taking responsibility over our actions and their repercussions.
The military is not only serving the occupation, the military is the occupation. Pilots, intelligence units, bureaucratic clerks, combat soldiers, all are executing the occupation. One does it with a keyboard and the other with a machine gun at a checkpoint. Despite all of this, we grew up in the shadow of the symbolic ideal of the heroic soldier. We prepared food baskets for him in the high holidays, we visited the tank he fought in, we pretended we were him in the pre-military programs in high school, and we revered his death on memorial day. The fact that we are all accustomed to this reality does not make it apolitical. Enlistment, no less than refusal, is a political act.
We are used to hearing that it is legitimate to criticize the occupation only if we took an active part in enforcing it. How does it make sense that in order to protest against systemic violence and racism, we have to first be part of the very system of oppression we are criticizing?
The track upon which we embark at infancy, of an education teaching violence and claims over land, reaches its peak at age 18, with the enlistment in the military. We are ordered to put on the bloodstained military uniform and preserve the legacy of the Nakba and of occupation. Israeli society has been built upon these rotten roots, and it is apparent in all facets of life: in the racism, the hateful political discourse, the police brutality, and more.
This military oppression goes hand in hand with economic oppression. While the citizens of the Occupied Palestinian Territories are impoverished, wealthy elites become richer at their expense. Palestinian workers are systematically exploited, and the weapons industry uses the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a testing ground and as a showcase to bolster its sales. When the government chooses to uphold the occupation, it is acting against our interest as citizens– large portions of taxpayer money is funding the “security” industry and the development of settlements instead of welfare, education, and health.
The military is a violent, corrupt, and corrupting institution to the core. But its worst crime is enforcing the destructive policy of the occupation of Palestine. Young people our age are required to take part in enforcing closures as a means of “collective punishment,” arresting and jailing minors, blackmailing to recruit “collaborators” and more– all of these are war crimes which are executed and covered up every day. Violent military rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is enforced through policies of apartheid entailing two different legal systems: one for Palestinians and the other for Jews. The Palestinians are constantly faced with undemocratic and violent measures, while Jewish settlers who commit violent crimes– first and foremost against Palestinians but also against soldiers- are “rewarded” by the Israeli military turning a blind eye and covering up these transgressions. The military has been enforcing a siege on Gaza for over ten years. This siege has created a massive humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and is one of the main factors which perpetuates the cycle of violence of Israel and Hamas. Because of the siege, there is no drinkable water nor electricity in Gaza for most hours of the day. Unemployment and poverty are pervasive and the healthcare system lacks the most basic means. This reality serves as the foundation on top of which the disaster of COVID-19 has only made things worse in Gaza.
It is important to emphasize that these injustices are not a one-time slippage or straying away from the path. These injustices are not a mistake or a symptom, they are the policy and the disease. The actions of the Israeli military in 2020 are nothing but a continuation and upholding of the legacy of massacre, expulsion of families, and land theft, the legacy which “enabled” the establishment of the State of Israel, as a proper democratic state, for Jews only.
Historically, the military has been seen as a tool which serves the “melting pot” policy, as an institution which crosscuts social class and gender divides in Israeli society. In reality, this could not be further from the truth. The military is enacting a clear program of ‘channeling’; soldiers from upper-middle class are channelled into positions with economic and civilian prospects, while soldiers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are channelled into positions which have high mental and physical risk and which do not provide the same head start in civil society. Simultaneously, women’s representation in violent positions such as pilots, tank commanders, combat soldiers, and intelligence officers, is being marketed as feminist achievement. How does it make sense that the struggle against gender inequality is achieved through the oppression of Palestinian women? These “achievements” sidestep solidarity with the struggle of Palestinian women. The military is cementing these power relations and the oppression of marginalized communities through a cynical co-opting of their struggles.
We are calling for high school seniors (shministiyot) our age to ask themselves: What and who are we serving when we enlist in the military? Why do we enlist? What reality do we create by serving in the military of the occupation? We want peace, and real peace requires justice. Justice requires acknowledgment of the historical and present injustices, and of the continuing Nakba. Justice requires reform in the form of the end of the occupation, the end of the siege on Gaza, and recognition of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Justice demands solidarity, joint struggle, and refusal.
The letter is addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Education Minister Yoav Galant.
Sixty Israeli teenagers published an open letter addressed to top Israeli officials on Tuesday morning, in which they declared their refusal to serve in the army in protest of its policies of occupation and apartheid.
The so-called “Shministim Letter” (an initiative with the Hebrew nickname given to high school seniors) decries Israel’s military control of Palestinians in the occupied territories, referring to the regime in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem as an “apartheid” system entailing “two different systems of law; one for for Palestinians and another for Jews.”
“It is our duty to oppose this destructive reality by uniting our struggles and refusing to serve these violent systems–chief among them the military,” reads the letter, which was addressed to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Education Minister Yoav Galant, and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.
“Our refusal to enlist to the military is not an act of turning our backs on Israeli society,” the letter continues. “On the contrary, our refusal is an act of taking responsibility over our actions and their repercussions. Enlistment, no less than refusal, is a political act. How does it make sense that in order to protest against systemic violence and racism, we have to first be part of the very system of oppression we are criticizing?”
The public refusenik letter is the first of its kind to go beyond the occupation and refer to the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 war: “We are ordered to put on the bloodstained military uniform and preserve the legacy of the Nakba and of occupation. Israeli society has been built upon these rotten roots, and it is apparent in all facets of life: in the racism, the hateful political discourse, the police brutality, and more.”
The letter further emphasizes the connection between Israel’s neoliberal and military policies:
“While the citizens of the Occupied Palestinian Territories are impoverished, wealthy elites become richer at their expense. Palestinian workers are systematically exploited, and the weapons industry uses the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a testing ground and as a showcase to bolster its sales. When the government chooses to uphold the occupation, it is acting against our interest as citizens– large portions of taxpayer money is funding the “security” industry and the development of settlements instead of welfare, education, and health.”
Some of the signatories are expected to appear before the IDF conscientious objectors’ committee and be sent to military prison, while others have found ways to avoid army service. Among the signatories is Hallel Rabin, who was released from prison in November 2020 after serving 56 days behind bars. A number of the signatories also signed an open letter last June demanding that Israel stop the annexation of the West Bank.
‘Who are we actually protecting?’
Israelis have published a number of refusal letters ever since Israel took control of the occupied territories in 1967. While for decades the letters predominantly referred to opposing service in the occupied territories specifically, the last two Shministim Letters, published in 2001 and 2005, respectively, included signatories who refused to serve in the army altogether.
“The reality is that the army commits war crimes on a daily basis — this is a reality I cannot stand behind, and I feel I must shout as loud as I can that the occupation is never justified,”
says Neve Shabtai Levin, 16, from Hod Hasharon. Levin, now in 11th grade, plans to refuse army service after graduation, even if it means going to prison.
“The desire not to enlist in the IDF is something I have been thinking about since I was eight,” Levin continues. “I did not know there was an option to refuse until around last year, when I spoke to people about not wanting to enlist, and they asked me if I was planning to refuse. I began to do some research, and that’s how I got to the letter.”
Levin adds that he signed the letter
“because I believe it can do good and hopefully reach out to teenagers who, like me, do not want to enlist but do not know about the option, or will raise questions for them.”
Shahar Peretz, 18, from Kfar Yona, is planning on refusing this summer. “For me, the letter is addressed to teenagers, to those who are going to enlist in another year or those who have already enlisted,” she says.
“The point is to reach out to those who are now wearing uniforms and are actually on the ground occupying a civilian population, and to provide them with a mirror that will make them ask questions such as ‘who am I serving? What is the result of the decision to enlist? What interests am I serving? Who are we actually protecting when we wear uniforms, hold weapons, and detain Palestinians at checkpoints, invade houses, or arrest children?’”
Peretz recalls her own experiences that changed her thinking around enlistment:
“[My] encounter with Palestinians in summer camps was the first time I was personally and humanly exposed to the occupation. After meeting them, I realized that the army is a big part of this equation, in its influence over the lives of Palestinians under Israeli rule. This led me to understand that I am not prepared to take a direct or indirect part in the occupation of millions of people.”
Yael Amber, 19, from Hod Hasharon, is mindful of the difficulties her peers may encounter with such a decision.
“The letter is not a personal criticism of 18-year-old boys and girls who enlist. Refusing to enlist is very complicated, and in many ways it is a privilege. The letter is a call to action for young people prior to enlistment, but it is mainly a demand for [young people] to take a critical look at a system that requires us to take part in immoral acts toward another people.”
Amber, who was discharged from the army on medical grounds, now lives in Jerusalem and volunteers in the civil service.
“I have quite a few friends who oppose the occupation, define themselves as left-wing, and still serve in the army. This is not a criticism of people, but of a system that puts 18-year-olds in such a position, which does not leave [them] too many choices.”
While conscientious objection has historically been understood as a decision to go to prison, the signatories emphasize that there are various methods that one can refuse, and that finding ways to eschew military service can itself be considered a form of refusal. “We understand that going to jail is a price that not everyone has the privilege of paying, both on a material level, time, and criticism from one’s surroundings,” Amber says.
‘Part of the legacy of the Nakba’
The signatories note that they hope the political atmosphere created in recent months by the nationwide anti-Netanyahu protests — known as the “Balfour protests” for the street address of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem — will allow them to talk about the occupation.
“It’s the best momentum,” says Amber. “We have the infrastructure of Balfour, the beginning of change, and this generation is proving its political potential. We thought about it a lot in the letter — there is a group that is very interested in politics, but how do you get them to think about the occupation?”
Levin also believes that it is possible to appeal to young Israelis, particularly those who go to the anti-Bibi protests.
“With all the talk about corruption and the social structure of the country, we must not forget that the foundations here are rotten. Many say the military is an important process [Israelis] go through, that it will make you feel like you are part of and contributing to the country. But it is not really any of these things. The army forces 18-year-olds to commit war crimes. The army makes people see Palestinians as enemies, as a target that should be harmed.”
As the students emphasize in the letter, the act of refusal is intended to assert their responsibility to their fellow Israelis rather than disengage from them. “It is much more convenient not to think about the occupation and the Palestinians,” says Amber.
“[But] Writing the letter and making this kind of discourse accessible is a service to my society. If I wanted to be different or did not care, I would not choose to put myself in a public position that receives a lot of criticism. We all pay a certain price because we care.”
“This is activism that comes from a place of solidarity,” echoes Daniel Paldi, 18, who plans to appear before the conscientious objectors’ committee. “Although the letter is first and foremost an act of protest against occupation, racism, and militarism, it is accessible. We want to make the refusal less taboo.” Paldi notes that if the committee rejects his request, he is willing to sit in jail.
“We tried not to demonize either side, including the soldiers, who, in all of its absurdity, are our friends or people our age,” he notes. “We believe that the first step in any process is the recognition of the issues that are not discussed in Israeli society.”
The signatories of the latest Shministim Letter differed from previous versions in that they touched on one of the most sensitive subjects in Israeli history: the expulsion and flight of Palestinians during the Nakba in 1948. “The message of the letter is to take responsibility for the injustices we have committed, and to talk about the Nakba and the end of the occupation,” says Shabtai Levy. “It’s a discourse that has disappeared from the public sphere and must come back.”
“It’s impossible to talk about a peace agreement without understanding that all this is a direct result of 1948,” Levy continued. “The occupation of 1967 is part of the legacy of the Nakba. It’s all part of the same manifestations of occupation, these are not different things.”
Adding to this point, Paldi concludes:
“As long as we are the occupying side, we must not determine the narrative of what does or doesn’t constitute occupation or whether it began in 1967. In Israel, language is political. The prohibition against saying ‘Nakba’ does not refer to the word itself, but rather the erasure of history, mourning, and pain.”
As Hallel Rabin stood before the IDF conscientious objectors committee two weeks ago, the military body that decides whether or not she would be sent back to prison for refusing to serve in the army, she was asked the strangest of questions: “Would you agree to wear the army uniform if it were pink?”
“I don’t have an issue with the color,” she responded, “I have an issue with wearing an army uniform — regardless of the army.” A conscientious objector, Rabin was still in military prison for refusing to serve due to the army’s occupation policies. On November 20, Rabin’s fourth stint in military prison came to an end; a day later the army officially gave her the discharge she had wanted. She served a total of 56 days behind bars.
Rabin, 19, from Kibbutz Harduf in northern Israel, was first imprisoned in August after appearing before the committee to appeal for an exemption. She was tried and sentenced to two different periods of incarceration, including during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Upon her release last week, Rabin thought she would be going home for a brief stint before another sentencing. But when she turned on her phone, she received a message from her attorney, Adv. Asaf Weitzen, who informed her that the committee had accepted her request and that she was being released.
As she told Orly Noy in October, Rabin was raised by a mother who taught civics, and began asking herself questions about the reality in Israel from a young age. By the age of 15 she knew she wouldn’t be able to enlist in the army, since doing so goes “against my most basic ideals, and that I cannot support such violent policies.”
Less than a week after her release, Rabin has yet to get used to life outside prison. She wakes up every day at six, as is required on the inside, and answers the hundreds of messages she regularly receives from across the world. I met her this week in Harduf for a conversation about refusing to serve in the army, her time behind bars, and the possibility of talking to young Israelis about refusal.
How did you end up in prison? What did your refusal look like?
“On the day of my enlistment, I arrived at the conscription base knowing that I was going to jail. That was my goal, but I didn’t really understand how to go about it. I started the conscription process but did not know whom to turn to [to refuse]. I sat down on a chair and loudly proclaimed: “I need you to bring someone who will know to tell me what to do. I am a conscientious objector and I need to go to prison and I will not become a soldier.
“Finally, a nice woman took me to an office where I signed a paper saying I was refusing to serve. I found it amusing that my goal was to go to jail, and that once I was there I would be in the right place.”
Rabin was initially sentenced to seven days and was sent to the women’s ward of Prison Six, a military prison in northern Israel. “It was the longest, most exhausting day of my life,” she recounts. “It took me three days to understand what was going on, how to respond [to the prison authorities], how to get around. I learned fast.”
What was your time in jail like?
“It was a crazy experience. I was in a cell with a Border Police officer, a woman who served at a checkpoint, two women who refused to serve as surveillance monitoring operators, one woman who had attacked her commander, and a military police officer who went AWOL. We were six in total.
“The first question they asked me was ‘why are you here?’ I told them, hesitantly, ‘I am a conscientious objector.’ They immediately began asking all the well-known questions: ‘Are you a leftist? Are you pro-Palestinian?’ During my first sentence I learned how to live as a conscientious objector. Every time there was a new group of girls or I went back [to prison], the subject would stir controversy and a great deal of discussion.”
Did the soldiers and commanders in jail talk to you about your decision to refuse?
“There is not one soldier who didn’t hear my story. Even the commanders were interested. There was one officer who told me that she appreciates my decision and even praised me. That was one of the important conversations I had — someone from inside the system understood why I did what I did and had an appreciation for it.
“I didn’t fight with anyone in jail. It was practice for my ego, for my ability to have a conversation, for my ability to be socially flexible. To be in a position in which people disagree with me and in which I feel uncomfortable — almost threatened — but to be okay with that.”
Rabin was released after five days and sent home, where she spent the next 2.5 weeks. “It takes longer to get used to home. In jail there is order in everything, then all of a sudden you’re released. It’s confusing,” she says. “The hardest thing about going back home is returning to jail.”
When she returned to the conscription base in Tel Hashomer, she was sentenced to another two weeks in prison — one week for refusal to serve and another for absenteeism. Like other conscientious objectors, after each stint in prison she received another summons to the base and was repeatedly sentenced.
How did you pass the time?
“I read eight books, including ‘Feminism is for Everybody’ [by bell hooks] and ‘Nonviolence Explained to My Children’ [by Jacques Semelin]. My friends Hillel and Tamar, also conscientious objectors, told me half-jokingly that my homework was to find similarities between feminism and conscientious objection.”
Before her third stint in jail, Rabin decided to go public about her refusal with the help of Mesarvot, a grassroots network that brings together individuals and groups who refuse to enlist in the IDF in protest of the occupation. “At first, I hoped that there wouldn’t be any good reason for me to turn to the media. I had hoped to be discharged by the conscientious objectors committee. I thought it would all come to an end after my first sentence,” she explains.
Even before her enlistment date, Rabin tried to approach the conscience objectors committee, which promptly rejected her request for an exemption. During her first period of incarceration, she filed an appeal and waited for the military to return with its reasons for jailing her. When the arguments were late in coming, she decided to go to the media. After her third time in prison, Mesarvot organized a demonstration in support of Rabin outside the conscription base. She was sentenced to 25 days. Between the third and fourth incarceration periods, Rabin was scheduled to have her second hearing before the IDF conscientious objectors committee.
What was the difference between the first and second committee?
“The second time around was longer, they went deep into the details. The first committee asked me questions to try and prove that my refusal was political and based on conscientious objection rather than on pacifism [the IDF has historically made a distinction between conscripts who can prove they are “non-political pacifists,” and those who refuse to serve over what the army deems “political” reasons, such as specific opposition to the Israeli occupation. Despite the difficulties of doing so, conscripts who can prove they are the former have a higher chance of receiving exemptions].
“In the second committee hearing they asked me why I wasn’t wearing my army uniform. I explained that I had come from my home and that in any case I had refused to enlist as a conscientious objector, which is why I never received a uniform in the first place. Even if they demanded I wear it, I would never put on a uniform. They are trying to understand whether your refusal is political or driven by pacifism, how you respond to situations of violence, and what your lifestyle looks like.”
What did you say?
“I was more prepared [the second time around]. Fifty days in prison, daily conversations on the topic, and interviews with the media helped me explain myself.
“I said that I was not willing to take part in any way in a system whose very essence is based on fighting and violent oppression. I believe that this needs to change, and this is my way to make change. This is my small act. I added that I have been vegetarian my entire life, buy second-hand clothing, and am against exploitation, capitalism, and sexism.”
Did you feel that the committee understood that a pacifist objector who opposes violence will also be against the occupation?
“It upsets them. It’s hard for them. They are four members of the army and a civics professor. All of them are 50 years old or older and have dedicated their lives to reaching high positions [in the IDF], and I’m a 19-year-old girl who tells them ‘this is not okay.’ I am sure that it is personally hard for them. I would not enlist in the Swiss army, but I live here and am supposed to serve in the army that commits these acts. I oppose the occupation because it is violent, oppressive, and racist.”
During her second committee hearing, the members showed Rabin a photo of herself taking part in the Mesarvot protest outside the conscription base, which took place just before she was jailed for the third time. The photo showed her holding a sign that read “Mesarvot” [Hebrew for the feminine form of “refusers”] and “Refusing the occupation is democracy.”
“They asked me what the sign meant,” Rabin says. “I said that it is legitimate to oppose issues that have turned into taboo subjects — that opposing them is democratic.”
Activists in Mesarvot told +972 that over the past half year, the conscientious objectors committee has made it much harder to receive an exemption on conscientious grounds as well as to receive explanations when requests for discharge are denied. The organization hopes that Rabin’s discharge will bring about a change in this policy.
Do you feel it is possible to talk to teenagers about the occupation?
“It’s not about age. I don’t need to wait until half my life is behind me to fight for my principles… it is not a bad thing that I say out loud that going to the conscientious objectors committee is a legitimate option and that it is possible to think for oneself. Even prison isn’t bad. It is exhausting but I did not leave with a feeling of anxiety or wanting to die.”
What kind of responses did you receive after your release?
“A lot of people reached out from Israel and across the world. Some people cursed me. Others wrote that [my refusal] was inspirational and brings hope that there are teenagers who stand up for what they believe. Palestinians also wrote to me after [my story] was published in Turkey. Someone from Tulkarem wrote that he appreciates my act and hopes that one day we’ll drink coffee together and talk about life.”
Conscientious objector Maya Brand-Feigenbaum will serve another 20 days behind bars for her refusal to serve in the Israeli army due to its policies of occupation.By +972 Magazine Staff
Israeli conscientious objector Maya Brand-Feigenbaum. ‘I am aware that we need an army to protect us against real threats. But at the same time, there is a need for people who fight for a reality free of war.’ (Ido Ramon/Mesarvot)
An IDF disciplinary body sentenced 18-year-old Israeli conscientious objector Maya Brand-Feigenbaum to 20 days in military prison on Tuesday over her refusal to serve in the military.
This is the second time Brand-Feigenbaum, from the northern town of Tivon, has been sentenced for refusing to serve since she her conscription date on July 14. Upon completing her sentence, will have spent a total of 27 days behind bars. Military conscription is mandatory for most Jewish Israelis.
“I refuse to serve in the army because I believe that this is the best and most meaningful way for me to promote my anti-war principles and help put an end to the occupation,” Brand-Feigenbaum wrote in a statement published prior to her first stint in military prison.
“The decades-long control over a nation compromises the security of the State of Israel,” continues the statement.
“As a woman who loves this country, whose landscapes and people are a part of me, I cannot take part in maintaining this situation. I am aware that in our reality we need an army to protect us against real threats, but at the same time, there is a need for people who fight for a reality free of war. Anti-war activities will benefit both the country and the world to bring long-term security. Taking action to resolve the conflict and end the occupation will benefit of all residents of the land, whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian.”
Prior to her first appearance before the IDF’s conscientious objectors committee, Brand-Feigenbaum received a visit by Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh at her home in Tivon, who called Brand-Feigenbaum and her fellow conscientious objectors a “ray of humanity that lights the way toward ending the occupation and promoting peace.”
Meanwhile, the army has yet to release 20-year-old conscientious objector Roman Levin from military prison, despite a recommendation by the conscientious objector’s committee to do so. Levin has spent over 70 days in military prison. Both Levin and Brand-Feigenbaum are supported by Mesarvot — Refusing to Serve the Occupation, a grassroots network that brings together individuals and groups who refuse to enlist in the IDF in protest at the occupation.
Levin, from the city of Bat Yam just south of Tel Aviv, immigrated to Israel with a few members of his family from Ukraine when he was 3 years old. He initially believed his service would contribute to society and fulfill his duties as a citizen.
“I refuse to continue my military service,” Levin said. “My refusal is an act of protest against an occupation that has lasted more than 50 years and of solidarity with the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza.”
This is the fourth time Levin has been sentenced for refusing to serve in the army. He was previously jailed twice after a year and a half of service in the IDF as a truck driver.
The group’s members say in a letter their stance comes from ‘taking responsibility for our actions and their implications,’ and accuse the education system of ignoring the Palestinian narrative.
Sixty Israelis of eligible draft age have signed a letter declaring their refusal to serve in the military because of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Departing from previous letters of this kind, the signatories call out the country’s education system for various issues, such as encouraging enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces and emphasizing the Jewish narrative in Bible and history classes.
They also draw attention to issues they say the curriculum ignores, such as the expulsion of Arabs in 1948 and the current violation of human rights in the occupied territories.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the defense and education ministries and to the IDF chief of staff, the teens wrote:
“The state demands that we enlist into an army that is ostensibly meant to ensure the existence of the state. But in practice, army operations are not directed mainly at defending against enemy armies, but at subjugating a civilian population. Thus, our mobilization has a context and implications.” They say their refusal to enlist is not an act of disengagement or turning away from Israeli society, but rather “the taking of responsibility for our actions and their implications.”
They added: “We grew up with the ideal of the heroic soldier, we sent them care packages, we visited the tanks they fought in, we dressed up as soldiers in premilitary training camps and we elevated their deaths on memorial days. The fact that this is the reality we’re all used to does not make it a-political. Enlistment is a political act, no less than refusal to do so.” The letter later refers to “the policy of apartheid as expressed in two separate legal systems, one for Palestinians and one for Jews” and “to the heritage of the Nakba [Arabic for “Catastrophe,” when more than 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1947-49 Israeli War of Independence] and the occupation, as expressed in “societal racism, an inflammatory political discourse and police violence.”
One of the signatories, Daniel Paldi of Tel Aviv, said: “From a very young age we are raised to be soldiers. Civic classes don’t do much to change the one-directional course of the school system, its pinnacle arriving with the preparations for enlistment in high school.”
“Why is refusal to enlist perceived as a political action, but school activities meant to encourage enlistment seen as self-evident? It starts with school trips to Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, in which no political contexts are discussed. We’re only told about the battles. There’s an elephant in the room that no one is talking about.”
Paldi notes that on a school trip to southern Israel, the guides warned that “If we don’t work the land, someone else will take it.”
The state school curriculum does mention the issue of Palestinian refugees, but many schools prefer not to teach the subject. Paldi says:
“Until we talk about the Nakba in class, how it happened that most of the Palestinians who lived here fled or were expelled, or about the theft of their possessions, we won’t understand how much the problem remains part of our lives. This is sweeping history under the rug. When I began to understand this, I immediately started thinking about what else we were ‘sold’ in school.”
After a struggle lasting months, including spending 56 days in a military prison, one of the signatories of the letter, Hallel Rabin of Kibbutz Harduf, was awarded an exemption from military service as a conscientious objector.
Rabin says the schools only teach the Jewish narrative. In history and civics classes, they present a zero-sum game, in which the right and justification for Jews to live freely automatically denies the rights of the other population.” She adds: “Ultimately, even in schools that try to broaden the picture, in matriculation tests pupils will write what they were told to.” The present letter stems from an understanding of how much schools affect the shaping of our consciousness, she says.
As parents of a boy destined for enlistment, we decided to take responsibility and refuse to send our son to serve in the IDF.
The following letter was sent to the IDF authorities.
We, the undersigned – Dori and Sivan Tal – refuse to send our son Yair Tal to serve in the IDF. Our refusal is due to reasons of conscience, as will be detailed below.
It’s commonly argued that the decision to refuse to enlist to the IDF is a political decision. We agree with this statement. Furthermore, the logical conclusion of it is that the decision to enlist to the IDF is also a political decision. It is also commonly argued that 18 is too young an age for a political decision of this importance. Here we intervene as parents and claim responsibility for the political decisions of our young son, and our decision is – NO!
Since the decision to enlist or to refuse enlisting the IDF is a political decision, it is crucial to learn the background, the historical facts, the political reality, and the different views on the topic – in order to formulate a political position for making such a decision. Unfortunately, the formal education that our son receives, like all teenagers in the Israeli education system, does not meet any criteria of responsible civic education. In fact, our son was pushed and encouraged to willingly enlist to the IDF in every step of the way. In schools, the history of the country is not truthfully told, and instead only a distorted narrative of it is built through the years to paint an imaginary reality of a peaceful state persecuted by evil-doers seeking to destroy it. All while the country itself is carrying out ethnic cleansing in order to control the land, and anti-democratically and inhumanely persecutes the opponents to the occupation and seeks to exclude and expel the native people of this country – the Palestinian people.
Our son will not be a part of the conquests of the extreme right government controlling the country. We will not allow him to die for the occupation of land and for causing the suffering of others. It is a despicable purpose to die for.
Yair is not religious, nor does he suffer from mental issues or other things that would have granted him exempt. He is healthy in his body and mind and we wish for him to stay that way. We have raised him with love, protected him, supported and educated him for 18 years to the universal values that we believe in. Serving in the IDF stands in stark contrast to these values. Yair is not the property of the state, and the state does not have a moral right to forcibly recruit him to an organization that consistently violates international human rights conventions. We believe that it is our moral duty to oppose his enlistment to the IDF. It is our responsibility as parents.
Additionally, we do not recognise the “conscience committee” of the IDF as the authority to judge in these questions of conscience and morality regarding enlistment and refusal. Our conscience is clear, and we are not asking for the validation and approval of the IDF.
We are certain in our stance that the IDF operations in Gaza and the West Bank are war crimes and crimes against humanity. They severely harm the local population and are a blatant violation of human rights, and do not meet any moral standards. Moreover, they also harm the chance for future coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Beyond the severe harm to the Palestinian population, these operations also hurt the soldiers – at least those whose hearts are not sealed to the suffering of other human beings and are being forced to cause suffering and injustice.
Even the other operations of the IDF that do not directly deal with the occupation and control of the Palestinians, mainly deal with fighting the forces that resist the Israeli occupation. In the current political climate where the prime minister is accused in court for crimes and his actions are motivated solely by his personal considerations, there is a grave concern that the IDF is called upon to enact unnecessary military operations in order to escalate regional conflicts, taking human lives on both sides. In these conditions, we refuse to have our son be used as a pawn by a system designed to preserve conflict and dangers for political interests.
The IDF acknowledges the right of parents of a single child to refuse the enlistment of him to combat units, or in the case of bereaved families, but we claim our right to refuse the enlistment of all our children. We don’t “give our first child for free”. For the reasons we have detailed above, we claim our right and duty to protect all our children, from the eldest to the youngest.
Just as we have a responsibility towards our son in the context of criminal behaviour, we also have a responsibility towards his actions in the military context. We would not rid ourselves of responsibility if our son would commit a crime such as theft or physical violence in the civic world. This responsibility does not diminish if the crimes are committed in uniform. Political backing of the everyday crimes the IDF commits does not justify or excuse them – just the opposite. Our responsibility as parents is to say – no more. Enlistment to the IDF – not on our watch!