We are Israeli and we refuse to fight in the IDF

March 11, 2014
Sarah Benton

Common Dreams and JPost report the letter of refusal; a JPost article from 2013 reports a fall in willingness to join combat units.

Refusenik Dafna Rothstein Landman. “If necessary, I will go to jail.”

Israeli Youth: ‘We Refuse to Serve in the Occupation Army’

Sixty young people sign open letter to Netanyahu announcing their resistance to the draft in biggest wave of refusal since 2008

By Sarah Lazare, staff writer Common Dreams
March 10, 2014

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 and water.”

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 gender-based discrimination.”

“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 said.

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.”

Israeli teens to Netanyahu: As conscientious objectors, we won’t serve in IDF

By JPost
March 08, 2014

Dozens of Israeli teenagers soon to be eligible for conscription into the Israel Defense Forces signed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Saturday declaring their intention to refuse military service on the basis of conscientious objection.

“Their refusal is designed to protest the continuing occupation [in Judea and Samaria] and the intrusion of the military into civilian life, something which further entrenches chauvinism, militarism, violence, inequality, and racism,” the organizers of the letter said in a press release on Saturday.

“The military’s operations move us further away from finding a [diplomatic] solution and reaching peace, justice, and security,” said Mandy Kartner, a Tel Aviv native and one of the letter’s signatories. “My refusal is a way to express opposition to injustices committed by us and in our name every day.”

“The army is an instrument of society’s powerful and not of its citizens, who are just tools,” said another signatory, Shaked Harari of Bat Yam. “My friends and me refuse to be cannon fodder.”

The youths said the letter was written in solidarity with ultra-Orthodox and Arab youngsters who refuse to perform military service “and have no wish to take part in the cycle of killing and violence.”

“We call on all Israeli youths to carefully examine the significance of serving in the IDF,” the letter read.

IDF records drop in motivation among youths for combat service

70% expressed desire to serve in combat unit, compared to 79% in 2010; Modi’in in top place for percentage of recruits.

By Yaakov Lappin, JPost
November 07, 2013

The IDF’s Personnel Directorate recorded a drop in the motivation of Israeli youths to join combat units in the IDF, but stressed that the current level of motivation was in line with figures over the past decade.

Seventy percent of youths surveyed expressed a desire to serve in a combat unit, compared to 79% in 2010, according to figures unveiled on Thursday. Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the Personnel Directorate, said the figures for 2010 represented a spike in motivation caused by Israel’s conflict with Hamas which occurred shortly before the statistics were obtained.

Before Operation Cast Lead, in November 2008, 67.2% of youths said they would seek combat service.

The Personnel Directorate is however concerned over the long-term future of combat units, due to cuts to the national defense budget, and significant numbers of Israelis who continue to dodge the draft.

Underlining the concern is a perception among the general public of a drop in security threats to the state, due to the chaos reigning in Arab states around Israel. But the IDF’s Military Intelligence says that old threats have merely been replaced with new ones, and that the chances ofa sudden, multiple-front conflict erupting are on the rise due to regional instability. These shifts are accompanied by an increase in the accuracy of firepower among enemies like Hezbollah.

The IDF continues to view itself as a people’s army, and will seek to maintain the national ethos of combat service as a source of resilience, an army source stressed. The government’s recent decision to add 2.75 billion shekels to the defense budget has done little to allay long-term concerns, the source added. If more resources are not made available, the IDF may have to shut as many 10 regular service battalions by 2018.

Combat unit should take precedence over technological units that carry out tasks such as cyber warfare, the source argued.

To that end, the IDF plans to pressure the government to increase the defense budget and extend service time, while also holding outreach programs to high school pupils and maintaining the highest army salaries for combat soldiers.

At the same time, cooperation with the ministries of Education and Finance is planned to ensure a good flow of recruits to technological units.

The Personnel Directorate also remains highly concerned by the percentage of women avoiding military service, listed as 42.6% in 2013.

Around one quarter of men subject to the draft are not enlisted; 26.3 percent, according to this year’s figures. Fourteen percent of men are excused from service due to religious reasons, 6.2% because of medical issues, 3.1% live abroad, and 3% are not enlisted due to criminal backgrounds.

The Directorate has also set itself the goal of improving service conditions for Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers, who make up 3 percent of recruits, but 13% of whom end up in army prisons due to violation of IDF codes.

Steps to address the problem include an expansion of dialog with the Israeli-Ethiopian community, and with parents of recruits, to prepare the new soldiers for the military.

The Personnel Directorate plans to accompany Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers during their time in the IDF, ensure they have better solutions to individual issues, and speak to recruits before they join, to improve their experience. After their release, the Personnel Directorate will provide the soldiers assistance with higher education programs. “We’re working with the government, charities, and community representatives to improve this situation,” the source said.

The Directorate released a city by city league table showing the percentage of male draftees. Topping the table is Modi’in, which preserves its number one spot from previous years, with 92.8% of eligible youths drafted into the IDF, followed by Ros Ha’ayin (86.8%) and Yehud (91.8%).

Modi’in also holds the top spot for the city with the highest percentage of combat soldiers (59%). Jerusalem came in third place (55.7%).

According to Thursday’s figures, there has been a rise of Haredi soldiers in the army; 2000 joined in 2013, compared to 898 in 2011.

The IDF’s target is to recruit 3200 Haredi soldiers in 2016.

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