“We Won’t Participate in the Occupation”: The Israeli Army’s Conscientious Objectors
Sixty-three young people signed a letter stating that they refuse to serve in the military. They denounce the Israeli army as an occupying force.
December 31, 2017
This article is based on a piece in La Izquierda Diario
This Thursday a letter was sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from a group of young people who refuse to join the army. According to statement by the organization Mesarvot (Hebrew for “those who refuse”), the letter is an expression of their condemnation of the military occupation of Palestinian territory. The objectors come from various parts of Israel but stand unified in their refusal.
They accuse the Netanyahu-led government of inciting hatred against Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. "We therefore have decided not to take part in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, which separates people into two hostile camps," said the youths in the letter. “Because as long as people live under occupation that denies them human rights and national rights we will not be able to achieve peace.”
In Israel, military service is compulsory for men and women when they reach the age of 18, with the exception of Arabs with Israeli nationality and ultra-Orthodox Jews who may request not to enlist for religious reasons. Due to their age, the signatories of the recent letter are due to be drafted into Israeli military service, but they “refuse to enlist and serve in the Army because of [their] commitment to the values of peace, justice and freedom, because [they] know that there is another reality we can create together.”
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the signatories include 20-year-old Matan Helman, who was arrested and is serving time in jail for refusing to be drafted into the army. The letter was also addressed to others including Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett.
The letter comes amidst anxiety in upper levels of the Israeli government and military about falling rates of enlistment despite the draft. In September, the Israeli High Court struck down an exemption for “ultra-Orthodox” yeshiva students. After two yeshiva students were arrested for refusing to report to the draft offices, 58 people were arrested during the resulting protests. Then, in early December, the Ministry of Education and the Army decided they would be using high school classrooms to recruit students to combat service. Currently, the enlistment rates are falling and the abandonment rate is over 7,000 soldiers annually.
The students who signed the letter have announced that they will seek more signatures, and more objectors.
Their refusal to serve takes place in the broader context ofincreased repression of Palestinian communities at the hands of the Israeli military since Donald Trump announced the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and its recognition as the capital of Israel. The announcement indicates a strong validation on the part of the United States of the occupation of Palestinian territory (which has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations) and a provocation of Palestinian anger.
An example of the way in which this repression has manifested itself recently is the case of Ahed Tamimi. This 16-year-old has become the face of Palestinian resistance. And as the international campaign for the freedom of the young activist grows, the military court of Israel decided on Tuesday to extend her detention so that prosecutors have further opportunity to prepare a case against her.
The recent letter demonstrates that the oppression of Palestinians and their continued displacement is causing the Israeli Defense Forces to lose the support of Israeli youth.