"If necessary, I will go to jail."
Those are the words of 17-year-old Dafna Rothstein Landman, one of 60 and counting Israeli youth
who signed an open letter sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu over the weekend declaring their refusal of compulsory service
in the Israeli military — the biggest wave of conscientious objection
the country has seen since 2008.
Under the banner of Shministim — Hebrew for 12th graders — the group
of conscientious objectors condemns the dehumanization of Palestinians
living under occupation. In the Palestinian territories, "human rights
are violated, and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are
perpetuated on a daily basis," their letter states. "These include
assassinations (extrajudicial killings), the construction of settlements
on occupied lands, administrative detentions, torture, collective
punishment and the unequal allocation of resources such as electricity
Entitled We Refuse to Serve in the Occupation Army,
the letter charges that this dehumanization hurts Israelis as well.
"The problem with the army does not begin or end with the damage it
inflicts on Palestinian society. It infiltrates everyday life in Israeli
society too: it shapes the educational system, our workforce
opportunities, while fostering racism, violence and ethnic, national and
"We refuse to forsake our principles as a condition to being accepted
in our society," reads the joint letter, penned by people aged 16 to 20
who are eligible for compulsory service in the Army. "We have thought
about our refusal deeply and we stand by our decisions."
Dafna, who helped write the letter, told Common Dreams she
was only 15 years old when she began questioning her military service — a
process she says was catalyzed when she reflected on the imprint of
Israeli militarism on her own schooling experience. "I realized to what
extent the education system is geared towards the Army and not towards
further education, the job market, personal interests, etcetera," she
Soon after, she began traveling from her home in Tel Aviv to the West
Bank, where she participated in Palestinian demonstrations against
Israeli occupation. Here, she witnessed the "violence of the Army"
first-hand. "I met people from those Palestinian villages," she said.
"That meant that instead of names in a newspaper they became people,
with faces and personalities."
She added that she became aware of the way "the Army perpetuates an ideal of male violence," within Israeli society.
When she and her friends began receiving letters about their Army
draft around last summer, they became "worried" and began taking steps
towards their joint refusal.
This year's crop of public resisters follows a history of joint draft
refusal in Israel, which has been waged since 1970, when a group of
students declared their refusal of the draft in an open letter to
then-Prime Minister Golda Meir. The term Shministim caught on in 2008 when 100 young people signed an open letter refusing the draft, and the years since have seen waves of conscientious objection.
This includes resisters from the Druze religious community — a conscientious objection movement that is reportedly growing, as well as ultra-orthodox draft refusers. According to
the Committee for the Druze Initiative, a Druze organization that
supports conscientious objectors, since compulsory service was imposed
on Druze men in 1956, approximately 5,000 have been imprisoned for
refusing to serve in the Army.
“We stand in solidarity with the ultra-orthodox youth and the Arab
youth – Christian and Druze, some of whom are currently in an army
prison,” said Roni Lax, a 20 year old signatory from Bnei Brak, in a
statement about the letter emailed to Common Dreams.
The Israeli military makes it near-impossible to declare
conscientious objector status, and refusers are often jailed for
multiple consecutive terms for refusing an order. Meanwhile, many Druze
resisters face horrific conditions in prison, including religious and ethnic discrimination. Several Palestinian citizens of Israel from the Druze community are currently incarcerated for refusing the draft.
"The Army serves the people in power and not the civilians, who are only a tool," said Shaked Harari, a 17-year-old signatory from Bat Yam. "My friends and I refuse to be cannon fodder."
"My refusal is a way of expressing my opposition to the wrongs done
daily in our name and through us," said Mandy Cartner, a 16-year-old
signatory from Tel Aviv.
Says Dafna, "In a society where Army service is taken for granted, we
wanted to shake this concept and make people think about the
implications of serving in the Army."
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