At the end of August 2021 when many students, having just left school this summer, were excited about the prospect of starting University or commencing full-time employment, student Shahar Peretz in the town of Kfar Yona, Israel, was drafting a statement to present at the local army induction base. On the 31 August, she attended the Tel Hashomer base, refusing to enlist in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Her actions resulted in her being sentenced to be detained in a military prison.
Shahar,18, is one of 120 teenagers who signed the “Shministim Letter” (an initiative with the Hebrew nickname given to high school seniors) in January, in which they declared their refusal to serve in the Israeli army in protest of its policies of occupation and apartheid in Gaza and the West Bank.
While Shahar was drafting her statement Eran Aviv, 19 from Tel Aviv, was preparing for his fourth period of imprisonment as a conscientious objector.
"I do not want to wear a uniform that symbolises violence and pain"
In a recent interview, facilitated by the Refuser Solidarity Network (which supports organisations in Israel that assist Conscientious Objectors against the occupation in Gaza and the West Bank) both Shahar and Eran described how young people, from an early age, are habituated through school and the wider society to their joining the IDF. They described seeing uniforms or machine guns being carried on buses as a natural part of the public arena, which they argued has resulted in a space that sanctifies soldiers, death, and dead heroes and where streets are named after commanders.
Shahar remarked that she had decided to refuse to join the army after participating in a summer camp between Palestinians and Israelis. She said that she could not become part of system that oppresses them and their families daily. “I do not want to wear a uniform that symbolises violence and pain. I do not want to become their enemy”
Eran expressed the view that there are two systems in Israel and the Occupied Territories (OTP), Israeli civil law and Israeli military law and that Palestinians live everyday subjected to military law. He described how conscripts in the military service are taught that the only way to protect Jewish people is through force. They are therefore expected to practice violence and of course many Palestinians object and are violent in return. He believes that this environment of violence perpetuates not only the behaviour of young conscripts but Israeli society in general, reinforcing the narrative that there will never be peace and consequently all violence is justified to protect Israeli citizens.
Shahar concurred with Eran’s view by describing witnessing, whilst volunteering to assist Palestinian farmers in the Hebron hills in the West Bank, Palestinian children being attacked and harassed by Israeli soldiers as they walked to school.
Conscientious objection as a way of standing for peace
Both Shahar and Eran have found their immediate families supportive of their actions, but many in the local community have expressed criticism accusing them of negating their national and civic duty to undertake military service. However, Shahar appears to have experienced more verbal abuse through social media and at times has felt fearful for both herself and her family though has not been threatened with physical violence. Eran expressed the view that he has experienced more criticism whilst in prison than from his community, even though some soldiers he has met in prison were there because they had gone AWOL due to their dislike of the army and their experiences in it.
Having taken the decision to become a conscientious objector, Shahar remarked she could have attended the conscience committee (which evaluates the applications for the conscientious objection status) in order to seek an exemption, but they would only consider her case if she does not mention the Israeli occupation as her reason for objection. “I refuse to do this and would rather go to jail in the hope it will make people think about what we are doing”
Both Eran and Shahar described feeling unafraid about the prospect of going to prison, though Eran states that after three separate periods of imprisonment he does not look forward to the long monotonous days and having to get up at 5.30 a.m. They both remain resolute because they feel they are being true to their beliefs and values. Shahar stated that she has already spoken to other conscientious objectors who have been imprisoned and they have provided advice on how to cope.
Shahar described the process of attending the IDF induction base where she will be subjected to numerous interviews at which there will be attempts to persuade her to enlist. As she intends to refuse there will subsequently be a trial at the base where they will decide her sentence, which is likely to be between 10- and 14-days detention.
After her release Shahar intends to refuse again and will undergo another trial and be sent back to prison. She remarked “I know this is likely to be a recurring scenario for many months and I am likely to be celebrating my 19th birthday in jail”.
In concluding our interviews both Eran and Shahar admitted that their prospects may be adversely affected by their decision, but both passionately expressed their need to be an active contributor to the struggle to make conscientious objection a legitimate option and to work towards peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. Both hope their stance will encourage public debate and consideration of a different approach to resolving issues with greater co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians.
Send your messages of solidarity to Eran and Shahar
Shahar Peretz was sentenced to 10 days in a military prison on 1st September after refusing to join the Israeli army. She has subsequently served a second term of imprisonment, during which she had her 19th birthday and on 24th October was imprisoned for a third time for 30 days. Shahar reports being denied her own writing material in prison being given a pen for 10 minutes a day. Anything she writes is scrutinized by the prison guards. She has remarked that as the “Establishment in Israel strive daily to hide the truth about the occupation it is unsurprising that they wish to also silence those of us who oppose it”
You can send a support letter to Shahar via this link:
Eran Aviv returned to a military prison on 1st September and was recently sentenced for a 6th term of imprisonment on 24th October. He has now completed a total of 114 days in jail and there are recent concerns expressed by his supporters that he is finding his time in prison increasingly difficult.
You can send a support letter to Eran via this link:
You can sign up for monthly updates at https://www.refuser.org
I would like to thank Ayala Olier, International Co-ordinator of a joint project between the Refusers Solidarity Network (US NGO) and Mesarvot (Israeli NGO) in both facilitating these interviews and being a translator.