Youth jailed for refusing to serve on 'moral grounds'

Opponents warn: "If they keep this up, we won't have anything left to defend."

Udi Nir 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Udi Nir 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Several high school seniors who are refusing compulsory military service were dealt an initial blow this week, as a first member of their group was arrested and sent to a military jail. Udi Nir, 18, of Herzliya, was arrested on Tuesday, the day after his draft date, in a quick response from the army to his refusal to enlist on "moral grounds." Appearing before a military judge on Thursday, Nir was sentenced to 21 days in prison. But that sentence is only the first of Nir's legal woes, if he continues to refuse service. After being released from prison, Nir will be given the opportunity to be inducted again, and if he fails to show up at the induction center on his next draft date, the process will continue to repeat itself. Nir is by no means alone in his struggle to avoid army service. Dozens of his peers have also expressed their willingness to refuse enlistment orders, at all costs. "I'm willing to pay a price, even though I don't believe what I'm doing is wrong," said Sahar Vardi, one of Nir's colleagues, who told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that she too will defy her orders to be inducted on her draft date, which comes next week. "I don't want to be a part of the IDF's system of occupation," she said. "Our goal is to have a real dialogue with the Palestinians and to end the occupation. But the moment you take part in the army, you are agreeing with it." Vardi was returning from a protest on Thursday morning outside military headquarters in Tel Aviv, and said that 30 of her fellow conscientious objectors had joined her. "If we continue to voice our opposition to the government's policies and the occupation, I believe more people will join us," she said. While Vardi said she was open to doing national service, she said that so far she had not been given the options she wanted, and was therefore holding back on making a decision. Others were dismayed at the group's refusal to serve. Zohara Berger-Tzur, a spokeswoman for Shivyon, or The Israeli Forum for the Promotion of An Equal Share in the Burden, a group that lobbies for equal service in the army or national service, said the youths' actions were nothing short of a disaster for the country. "The situation is absurd," Berger-Tzur said on Thursday. "Suddenly everyone has a reason not to serve - the haredim have their reasons why they can't serve, and the pacifists have their reasons why they can't serve. It's demagoguery, that's what it is." Berger-Tzur also said that as the numbers stand today, only one in every three Israelis was serving in the army, a far cry from previous generations in which conscription was harder to skirt, and service was looked upon with pride and enthusiasm. "There are still some who serve with pride," she said. "But there are others who simply worry about themselves. If we keep it up, we won't have anything left to defend." "It also hurts me personally," Berger-Tzur continued. "I have a son in the army right now. So what are they saying? That I don't want peace for him? That I want him to go out to war?" Setting a different example, Uri Shterenbach said he was happy to serve the country, and then some. "I just finished a year of service before the army," said the 19-year-old Haifa resident. "I worked in an absorption center helping Ethiopian immigrants, and now I'm going to the Nahal for three years." Shterenbach said the young men and women, just a year younger than he, who have decided to refuse their service upset him. "It's sad," he said. "The fact is, our country is facing a lot of problems and we're needed. It's hard to see people getting out of their service while others do it proudly. It's really too bad."