Israel: Sixty teens declare refusal to serve in the army

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Conscientious objectors Shahar Peretz (left) and Daniel Peldi at an anti-annexation protest in the city of Rosh Ha'ayin June 2020. (Oren Ziv)
Conscientious objectors Shahar Peretz (left) and Daniel Peldi at an anti-annexation protest in the city of Rosh Ha'ayin June 2020. (Oren Ziv / +972 Magazine)

On 5th January, sixty teenagers from Israel published an open letter declaring their refusal to serve in the army in protest of the policies of occupation and apartheid of the Israeli State.

In their letter, called the “Shministim Letter” (referring to the Hebrew term shministim used for high school seniors), the students say:

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.

Highlighting the role of the military in the occupation, the students explain how they have been exposed to militarism since their childhood:

...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.

The Shministim Letter also draws attention to the arms industry and the links between the military and 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.

Concluding their letter, the students call for all high school seniors of their age to join them in their refusal:

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.

Read the full Shministim Letter here.

Read an article on the Shministim Letter by +972 Magazine, including the background of the letter and comments by signatories here.

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