High-school students decry 'occupation'

Group of high school con

IDF draft dodgers 248 88 (photo credit: Ron Freiedman)
IDF draft dodgers 248 88
(photo credit: Ron Freiedman)
Claiming to represent over 80 of their peers, four high school seniors on Monday publicly announced their refusal to serve in the IDF because of what they termed the "occupation and oppression in the occupied territories." Holding microphones at a press conference in Tel Aviv, the new "conscientious objectors" read a letter they had sent to the prime minister, the chief of staff and the ministers of defense and education, in which they denounced the IDF as an occupying and oppressing force. The letter was signed by 84 high school students. "We, male and female Jews and Arabs from all across the country whose signatures are below, declare that we will take action against the Israeli government's policy of occupation and oppression in the conquered territories and in Israel, and therefore refuse to take part in those actions, which are done in our names by the Israel Defense Forces," read the letter. The four, who said they were aware that refusing to enlist would land them in jail, said they were acting out of loyalty to their values and those of the society they live in. "Out of responsibility and concern for the two nations who live in this country, we cannot stand aside. We were born into the reality of the occupation and many in our generation see it as something 'natural.' For most of society it is obvious that at the age of 18, every young man and woman must join the Israeli army. "But we cannot ignore the truth - the occupation is a violent, racist, inhumane, illegal, undemocratic, immoral and an extreme condition that presents a mortal danger to both peoples. We, who were educated on the values of liberty, justice, honesty and peace, cannot accept it." Similar letters have been publicized over the years by high school seniors slated to enlist ever since the first one was written in 1979. The four who attended the press conference said that most of the other signatories were looking for alternative ways to get out of the mandatory service, but that they wanted to make their blunt refusal public. "We are ready to face the criticisms that we know will follow the statement, these are comments we hear every day," said Or Ben-David, a 19-year-old from Jerusalem, who is up for enlistment at the beginning of November. Ben-David said that she had reached her convictions at the age of 15. "I opened my eyes to what was around me and became critical of the Israeli society. I visited in the West Bank and met with Palestinians, it changed my view of things." When asked whether she would do a different kind of public service, like the national service many young women do instead of going to the army, Amelia Marcovich, from Moshav Avichail, said she considered public service and volunteering to be a lifelong activity and not just something that you do for two or three years because you have to. "I hope that sitting in jail won't dampen my desire to contribute to the society and that I'll keep on volunteering afterward," she said. Eighteen-year-old Effie Brenner from Rishon Lezion said that he is refusing against his parent's wishes. "My parents reacted really badly when I told them I wouldn't join the army. They threatened to kick me out of house." When asked if he was worried that people would view them as spoiled, Brenner said he thought it was easier to do three years of military service than to stand up and make a statement and even sit in prison for what you believe in. "One of the reasons I refuse to join is because I want the Palestinians to know that not all Israelis are in favor of the occupation and that some people are willing to make a sacrifice to end it," said Brenner. "Palestinians who have heard of what I'm doing have expressed thanks and encouragement." Signatories of last year's letter are currently touring the world and speaking to communities about the occupation and their choices. Three of them called for a boycott of Israel in a recent public talk that took place in Cape Town, South Africa. Ben-David said that the group reached out to other teenagers using social networking Web sites and online forums. "Facebook is a great tool for that," she said. She also said they went to different high schools around the country in an effort to raise awareness to their cause. A new Web site is planned to go online in the next few days. Brenner said that the group had already employed legal representation and they were ready to face the military trials awaiting them. The seniors, or "Shministim," receive assistance from several human rights groups including Yesh Gvul, New Profile and Zochrot. Ben-David said that the organizations give them guidance and moral support and help them prepare for the times ahead. According to the Israeli Forum for the Promotion of Equal Share in the Burden, only 57% of all candidates for military service complete a full service. Of those who don't serve at all 39% are Haredi, 18% receive a discharge based on mental evaluations, 16% don't join because they have a criminal record, 15% don't join because they are living abroad, 7% receive a medical discharge and 5% do not pass the military's basic requirements.