Lettre d’Igor Bakal, anarcho-communiste et réfuznik israélien, adressée aux autorités d’Israël
I, Yigal Levin (or Igor Bakal, reserves Lieutenant, military id number 7714506, as the official documents have it), herby declare my refusal to continue my service in the ranks of the Israeli army.
The reasons for my refusal are the following:
1. The lies, promoted by the Israeli military’s official propaganda and by the State of Israel. The Israeli army is commonly considered to be “the people’s army”, an army of the people protecting the people. The same view is also imposed upon newly minted conscripts, after their forced recruitment (which already contradicts the principles of a truly popular armed force), for the two or three years of their conscription term. But in fact, the Israeli army is simply a bourgeois army – a tool in the hands of a small clique, which does not give a damn about what the people, i.e. all those living in the part of the Middle East under its control, think. The official propaganda does not even try to hide this. In the course of their military service, soldiers are told that they (the army) are a tool in the hands of those in power (the state) and therefore they should not think for themselves, but only act in compliance with the orders they are given. And this army, this inanimate instrument, calls itself a people’s army?
2. Unwillingness to collaborate with the organizational structures and the institutions of the state. The state cannot be identified with society or with the people. State institutions are a tick on the “body” of the people. It mutilates and deforms society. And as the Israeli military is a tool in the hands of the state, it similarly works against the people’s interests.
In view of the above, I consider my continued service in the military to be immoral. Not willing to remain a mere tool, a traitor, and a hypocrite, I decided to terminate my participation in it.
Four young Israelis refuse army draft in new refusenik wave
In the coming weeks, three young Israelis are expected to go to prison for their refusal to enlist in the Israeli army, and a forth conscientious objector received an exemption from service yesterday. Together they form the first group of refuseniks in Israel in the past three years. These are their stories.
“Since December, I’ve been considering using my refusal to make a statement, but I felt alone, and it felt pointless doing this without partners. When I saw your +972 interview with Noam Gur I felt less alone. I contacted her, and very soon realized it would be best for us to refuse together. We even have the same draft date, or prison date at that.” (Alon Gurman)
Two weeks ago, Noam Gur seemed like a sole pioneer, taking on the cause of reviving the refusal movement in Israel. After almost a decade of high school student initiatives against the draft and the occupation (starting in 2001, with a petition I myself co-signed) there have been no such collective acts of refusal since 2009.
Now it appears that Gur is not as alone as she thought. Since the interview was published, Gur was contacted by three more conscientious objectors, and the four have started coordinating their actions. One is resisting the draft because of the occupation, a second was an officer who switched sides and refuses to return to his reserves service and the third a pacifist. While the latter has been exempt from service, the first two will most likely enter prison with Gur.
‘My refusal is an act of solidarity with our Palestinian comrades fighting for freedom, justice and equality’
Alon Gurman, 18, from Tel Aviv was certain that he would enlist until he first went to the West Bank. During his last year in school, he started reading about the Palestinian popular struggle, and went to hear a lecture by “Solidarity” activists.
“I started going to demonstrations thinking that while certain policies might be wrong, they can be changed, and changed from the inside, and so I went on with the pre-draft procedures as expected of me,” says Gurman. “Only after the first time I went to the occupied territories did I realize that I could never be a part of the army. I saw house demolitions; I saw unbelievable levels of violence used against civilian protest, and all in the name of colonialism. I was especially traumatized when I was arrested in a demonstration in Al-Walaja, just as we were starting to disperse. The soldiers were my age, my peers, and I saw the effect of the service on them. You can’t be moral in an immoral situation.”
In recent months, Gurman has been attending the Friday demonstrations in the West Bank on a regular basis, and during the last escalation in Gaza, he organized a protest in Tel Aviv, before and during which he received personal threats. The exposure to all of this violence strengthened his decision to refuse, but it was only after hearing of Noam Gur that he was persuaded to do it openly, risk prison, and not avoid the draft quietly.
In a statement he prepared ahead of his expected imprisonment on April 16, Gurman writes: “My refusal to enlist is not only one to partake in occupation and apartheid, it is an act of solidarity with our Palestinian comrades fighting for freedom, justice and equality… My hope is that by refusing I can have some influence on society, and encourage others to do the same,” he says.
‘I saw officers raping their secretaries, soldiers tormenting Sudanese refugees at the border, and an army setting a city in flames’
Yigal Levin, 25, is far from your typical conscientious objector. Born in Ukraine, Levin’s family has a tradition of combat service tracing all the way back to the Napoleonic Wars. Growing up in Bat Yam, Levin was taught that a man’s role is to protect his family and homeland. “I used to be a Mussolini-styled fascist,” he explains, “not the local kind of religious fascists who want the land because of some divine promise, but the kind who believes that the spoils go to the winner. I knew I would be an officer when I joined the army, and having snipers shoot at me in Gaza in 2005 made me even more of an extremist.”
But then things began to change, especially during the Second Lebanon War. “Part of my ideology was that the state has to be wise, responsible, decent and protective. In Lebanon, I saw a war that started for no clear reason, where soldiers died in vain while also committing a massacre against the Lebanese. Reading more about Mussolini, I found out he was a Marxist in his youth, and started going that way.”
In the years that followed, after he became an officer, he went further to the left. Levin says he witnessed officers raping their female subordinates, soldiers tormenting Sudanese refugees who crossed the border from Egypt, and during operation “Cast Lead” he was shocked to see the army bombarding the civilian population and setting Gaza aflame. These factors broke his faith in making a difference from within the ranks.
After the attack on Gaza, Levin finished his service, and inspired by Lev Tolstoy, he became an anarchist. He joined the Israeli Anarchist Communist Front and toured Ukraine and Germany with comrades. When he recently received an order to show up for his reserve service, he ignored it, and is thus now considered a deserter. Having heard of Gur and Gurman, he decided to turn himself in on the day of their refusal.
“The Israeli army is commonly considered to be ‘the people’s army’, an army of the people protecting the people,” writes Levin in his own statement. “But in fact, the Israeli army is simply a bourgeois army – a tool in the hands of a small clique, which does not give a damn about the people… Not willing to remain a mere tool, a traitor, and a hypocrite, I decided to terminate my participation in it.”
‘Even if we refuse for different reasons – it’s better to work as a group’
Ilya Fox too was not born in Israel, and he too traces his decision to refuse the draft back to Tolstoy. Fox, 18, was born in Belarus, raised in Jerusalem, and says he never gave too much thought to politics or the army. Ironically, it was his school’s campaign to encourage would-be draftees that pushed him towards thoughts of refusal. “They started giving us basic military training in school [‘Gadna’], classes with soldier-teachers – a whole system of indoctrination that doesn’t even disguise itself as something else,” says Fox. “I felt uneasy with all of it, and decided that if I like living in Israel, I should learn a little about what’s going on around me. I got around to reading all sorts of blogs, and went to a Jewish-Arab youth workshop, where I met people who live 15 minutes from my home but were always late because they were detained by the army. That’s how I started resisting the occupation.”
But Fox didn’t stop with the occupation, and started asking himself bigger questions on armies and violence on the whole, after which he decided to resist all forms of hierarchy and uses of force. “Tolstoy describes the essence of human beings as living and not killing anyone else. I find that beautiful, and that’s how I became a conscientious objector.”
While military authorities deny exemptions to those who refuse because of the occupation, “total pacifists” such as Fox are treated differently. Yesterday (Thursday), three days before his draft date, he was notified that he is exempt from service. “Of course I’m very happy with this decision. The other three and I are in somewhat different positions, but we still cooperate. Even if we refuse for different reasons – it’s better to work as a group.”
Haggai Matar – 972mag.com, 22 mars 2012
J’accuse: Israeli youth headed to prison for refusing the draft
Noam Gur was just another teenage girl from the northern town of Nahariya. She grew up in a family that was not politically involved, went to the same school as everyone else, and still doesn’t understand why she’s the only one who sees what her peers are missing. In a month’s time she will refuse to enlist in the Israeli army because of the occupation, and will most likely be imprisoned. An interview.
“For years I have been told that the control over the Palestinian people is supposed to protect me, but information about the suffering caused due to the terrorizing of the Palestinian population was omitted from that story. The road to dismantling this apartheid and achieving true and just peace is long, and hard, but as I see it, actions taken by the Israeli army only push it further away. Over this past decade, the Palestinian people have been increasingly choosing the path of nonviolent resistance, and I choose to join this path and to turn to a popular, nonviolent struggle in Palestine, rather than to serve in the Israeli army and continue the violence.”
These words were recently put down by Noam Gur, 18, as a kind of “imprisonment statement,” which is now beginning to be circulated in mailing lists and social networks in Hebrew, Arabic and English. A couple of week ago, Gur was informed that her request to obtain conscientious objector status from the relevant military committee was scrapped, and that she is obliged to report for mandatory service on April 16. On that day, she intends to refuse the draft, at which point she will most likely be sentenced immediately to between two and four weeks in military prison, at the end of which she will be forced to refuse again, sent back to prison, and so on for a couple of months. After that, she will probably be released on a mental health clause, as most conscientious objectors have been in recent years.
‘I refuse to support a long and preventable cycle of violence’
“My family was never politically active or anything, both my parents went to the army, and my older sister served in the Border Police. I grew up seeing myself as a devoted Zionist-leftist, the kind that believes in human rights and in the possibility of maintaining an ‘enlightened occupation’ without harming anyone,” Gur told me. “I have no idea how I drifted so far away from most of my friends. From a very young age I remember having soldiers in school and day trips to military camps (a regular part of Israeli school system curriculum, H.M.), and it was supposed to be obvious that everybody goes to the army – no question about it. I remember that even before I learned anything about the occupation I thought it was weird and somewhat fucked up that you can’t even raise questions on the notion of the mandatory draft.”
The apparent natural inclination to challenge the obvious got Gur searching for materials on the Palestinian Nakba, and then Palestinian and Israeli soldiers’ testimonies about life under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. By 16, she knew she wouldn’t enlist due to what she defines in her statement as “population-transfer, murder of non-violent demonstrators, the apartheid wall, the massacre operations that the Israeli army chooses to carry out, and the rest of the daily violations of the human rights of the Palestinians, [which] have led, and continue to lead, to a long, indefinite, and preventable cycle of bloodshed.”
“It took a while before I broke my decision to my mother, and my high school friends know where I stand, but it’s not something I talk about too much,” says Gur. “I go to West Bank demonstrations occasionally, but I’m not active with any specific group. I was actually really hoping to obtain the CO status, and was surprised when they refused to even see me.”
‘Israeli crimes are out of public sight’
IDF regulations specify the conditions under which a would-be recruit may be found eligible for conscientious objector status. These focus mainly on the demand that the refusal to join the army would be “generally pacifist,” that is – a refusal to partake in any and all sorts of violence, not only those by the Israeli army. That is why Gur stressed broader issues than just the occupation in her letter to military authorities; she wrote of the chauvinism and sexism inherent in armies throughout the world, of the tendency to solve political problems with the use of arms and of the way armies enhance national divisions between people. Gur also wrote that experiencing the Second Lebanon War and the 2008-9 attack on Gaza as a teenager had a deep influence on her life, and strengthened her belief in non-violence. However, the army rejected her petition, and the road to prison was laid out.
“I actually think prison is not going to be too bad. After all – it’s just a couple of months,” Gur estimates. While the first decade of the third millennium was dotted with refusal movements in Israel, in recent years these have slowly fallen off the map, and aside from the random reserve-soldier-turned-CO – Gur is the first draft objector to go prison in quite some time (full disclosure: I myself refused the draft in 2002 with several friends, and spent two years in prison). “The political reality has changed since the large refusal initiatives. At the time people, were refusing when Israeli crimes were plain to see – during the Intifada and the wars on Lebanon and Gaza. Now the same crimes are out of public sight. However I’m glad to say that while I’m going to prison by myself, I’ve had a lot of support in recent days, mainly from abroad and from Palestinians, and that means a lot.
“I know my refusal won’t end the occupation or change the world, but perhaps it’ll have some small effect on even a single person or two. Perhaps more Palestinians will hear of it and will be happy to see that not all Israelis are the criminals at the checkpoint or the soldiers shooting tears gas canisters at them in demonstrations. But general goals aside, I just want to feel right about myself. I want to know that I did all that I could, and that I did try to make a difference – or at least that I was not a partner in crime.”
Haggai Matar – 972mag.com, 12 mars 2012