Raz Bar-David Varon's full CO decleration


I oppose oppression.

Oppression, going by the dictionary here at my side, means submission, forcing an individual or a population, disallowing free speech (and other rights). I oppose any form of oppression –whether it is practiced by a society against an individual member, by the whole of humanity against the other living species on this planet (I am a vegan because I want to avoid participating in the oppression and murder committed by the meat, egg, and dairy industries), by men against women, or by people who consider themselves to belong to one nation against those they associate with another nation. I refuse to accept acts of hatred and violence as legitimate in problem resolution, even if the problems themselves involve violence. When a society reacts with violence towards another society, I believe, it instills violent norms in its membership and in doing so it harms itself. As a result the need for vengeance and injustice in the other society mounts, thereby provoking more counter-violence against itself.

The violence – or, in other words, the terror – which the Israeli army, in the name of the state, inflicts on the Palestinian people, is not only excessive and – as history bears out – has not solved the conflict in our region: it actually escalates the conflict and entrenches oppression (directed against almost anyone) as a norm in Israeli society.

I use the word terror because a soldier who

* drops bombs on people in Gaza or on the West Bank from his fighter plane;
* demolishes homes;
* shoots at people and sows fear and enmity;
* enforces a tyrannical, undemocratic military regime;
* rules over (nearly) all aspects of the lives of three and a half million Palestinian men and women;
* stands guard at the army checkpoints which seriously limit Palestinians' freedom of movement;
* enters people's homes (with state permission) in order to conduct searches at any hour of the day or night;
* humiliates, at a whim and unsupervised, old people, children, men and women,

is indeed a terrorist, just like – if not more than – the Palestinian who blows himself up along with other people in a bus within the boundaries of the state called Israel. Perhaps more because a person who lives under an ongoing occupation and gets to meet only one type of Jewish citizen: the soldier; someone who has no future choice or hope – perhaps such a person can be said to have been cornered into this position (as he is exploited, both by Israel and by fundamentalist Islamic organizations, each for their own purposes). An Israeli soldier, on the other hand, whose background is often more affluent and comfortable and can, usually, look ahead to a future in which he is in control of his choices.

I don't think there is any justification for terrorism. The cynical use of the phrase "self-defense", widespread in Israel, is disgraceful in my opinion. No one should have the right – just because they wear a uniform and have signed up as members of a certain organization – to mess up or even destroy the lives of others, whatever their background or nationality. No one has the right to do such things. Occupation is not the same as self-defense. When emergency laws are activated in order to do things that run counter to Israel's professed democratic principles (the Nazis, too, by the way, used such laws in order to gain access to power) – this is not self-defense. Such acts are the outcome of the economic/personal interests of those who are financially and otherwise powerful. They are a choice and not dictated by necessity. We can always choose against violence and for peace.

The army, moreover, as an organization, is non-democratic. It is a hierarchical body which supports nationalist values (and hence, again, it is non-egalitarian); the army is patriarchal and believes in blind obedience and/or unlimited control over others, in traditionally "masculine" values such as aggression, abuse of power, and violence – all of which are seen as legitimate methods when problems need to be solved, and all of which negate alternative approaches, especially those that could be considered "feminine". The latter include sensitivity, conflict solution through dialogue, gentleness, and so on – modes of communication that are, on this view, inferior. As a result, there's a prevailing view of women (except those who prove they are "like a man") as subordinate (so, for instance, in the army the Hebrew for "female" is used to denigrate soldiers in training) and a generally chauvinist mindset among the young men and women who enlist for military service. (And the army then significantly contributes to their further development in life.)

While instilling and perpetuating these stereotypes, the army also causes those women who act according to them to feel inferior. This is why the majority of women in the army take marginal functions – they do secretarial or clerical work ; this is why during military service, women are much more likely to experience sexual harassment than in their civilian life; this is why women's surroundings become increasingly violent.

And since the army takes such a very central position in the civilian lives of Israelis, the above phenomena spill and spread beyond the army, into their daily existence: women are kept out of positions of power, they internalize masculine oppression and prejudice and learn to regard sexual harassment as a social norm.

It is because of these fundamental characteristics and activities of the army that I absolutely refuse to serve in it. They clash with my own principles and beliefs regarding equality and justice. Not only are the army's acts immoral and wrong, they also undermine peace and co-existence, the objectives for which I struggle.

This is why, as I mentioned at the start of my statement, I request to be exempted from mandatory military service on conscientious grounds and to do alternative national service. I ask, therefore, to appear before the military committee that authorizes such exemptions.

* Due to the inbuilt chauvinist tendency of both the Hebrew and English languages, this letter, even where using a "neutral" masculine, means to refer to a society that is heterogeneous and plural in terms of sex and gender.

November, 2008