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Resistance and Efforts for Peace

“A sane individual must rise up against the system that makes the ongoing oppression possible”

To the Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz
From Daniel Tsal, ID 7-20015889
Re: My refusal to enlist in the IDF

I hereby request to be exempted from obligatory service in the IDF due to reasons of conscience, and to allow me, instead, to do alternative service outside the army. If I should not be enabled to be thus exempted I shall be obliged to refuse service.

I considered this decision in the course of the past half year and made it after much hesitation, with a growing understanding that no decision I make will be perfect and only as good as possible, given the complicated current situation of our country. In-depth study of what has happened and is happening in our region has led me to see that this step of refusal is legitimate and even necessary. It is not an act of subversion aimed against the very foundations of democracy. The principles of the “only democracy in the Middle East” have become void of meaning as a result of the trampling of the rights of about three million people, and more indirectly, due to the ongoing destruction of the foundations on which the State of Israel is supposed to be built.

Two years ago, when I received my first call-up for military service, it was quite clear to me that I would enlist in the IDF. Obviously, I was quite critical about the military system but I didn’t consider refusal or draft dodging an option. In my parents’ house I was raised on values of equality and tolerance. The importance of accepting the “other” was firmly implanted. But because until a year ago I did not have a firm grasp of the nature of the Israeli occupation, its severity and its impact on the two nations involved, I could not see the military system as a tool that, as it is now, clashes head-on with the values my parents passed on to me. When I was still in high school I watched Muhammad Bachri’s film Jenin, Jenin. This film deeply affected me. It moved me and scared me because I understood what the Israeli occupation consists of and what it means. And yet, at this stage, I still meant to enlist. Since then, I have read a great deal on the issue, visited the occupied territories a number of times, volunteered for Halonot – an organization that enables cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian youth and carries out humanitarian work in the occupied territories. I also participated in some Ta’ayush activities and have witnessed my mother’s work with Machsom Watch [Checkpoint Watch]. Once I witnessed the daily routines of the occupation I realized that I was not living in a civilized country, which is waging a legitimate war upon its enemy, but rather, in a country that ethnically segregates between populations, so that some enjoy basic rights while the others are deprived of the most fundamental rights.

In a sense, when visiting checkpoints, I had a harder time watching a “well functioning” one than being present at a “problem” spot, where IDF soldiers acted more violently than usual and prompted intervention from human rights activists. When I saw a boy who had only just finished high school calling the next in line, and, with a condescending expression, telling the person to open his bag, I perceived the silent truth, the truth of the occupation: Nineteen year old boys who dominate an entire population, men, women and children.

The crimes about which we hear, from time to time, when a soldier acts in this or that way – they are nothing but the inevitable consequence of the occupation. The worst crime in the country, today, is the domination and oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli people. The 18 year old soldier who decides, on his own accord, how and when to check whom, the same 18-year-old soldier who points his rifle at a helpless population – this is what constitutes the real crime, the crime committed by the state, against which I protest.

One experience that gave me an insight into the disdain and racism with which we act came in the form of a conversation I had with a soldier at a checkpoint in Qalqilya. Unlike others, he seemed humane, not aggressive. I was curious to hear his opinions. He said that he was at this checkpoint in order for “things to happen in a more humane way”. He said that he did not concern himself with the reasons why the state had him posted at this checkpoint and that he addressed the Palestinian population with great respect. And then he added a sentence that shocked me: When he spoke respectfully to a Palestinian father, he said, the Palestinian’s children would learn how to respect him. In other words: Palestinian children need IDF soldiers to teach them how to act respectfully toward their parents.

There is no justification, under no circumstances and in no case, for the domination of one nation of another, i.e., for occupation.

In such historical times, a sane individual must rise up against the system that makes the ongoing oppression possible. I have a moral obligation – not a choice but an obligation to refuse to participate in the occupation and to struggle against the institutions that cancel such basic human rights. Any sane person, who has not yet been wholly overcome by fear and racism, must by dint of his basic humanity refuse to be part of an occupying and oppressive system such as the IDF has become.

I don’t care what the Palestinians believe, I don’t care what regime they support, I don’t care to what extent they support human rights – I don’t have the right to control them and I am not allowed to oppress them.

I think we find it quite easy to see Arabs suffer. Really, just as simple as that. I think that the same reasons, the same narrow-mindedness and hatred with which I was fed by the media, also caused me, for a long time, for too long, not to understand the connection between the occupation and Israel. I did not understand the severity of the actions my country undertakes against the Palestinian people. I did not understand the majority of the Palestinian people only knows a life dominated by checkpoints, bulldozers, the uprooting of trees, humiliation and killings. Only when I visited the checkpoints and the occupied territories I understood that these were simply human beings, just like myself. And even I, having been educated to believe that all humans are equal and having been told by my parents that “not all Arabs are terrorists”, did not really deeply understand it. Until, that is, I got to the occupied territories and saw what was going on there.

I believe that if more Israeli girls and boys before conscription would come to the Palestinian villages under the Israeli occupation the number of refusers would increase. A lot more people would realize how one-sided their education through the schools and media has been. A lot less people would accept military enlistment as our obvious duty, and they would, perhaps, see that this army is no longer a “defense force” but has become an occupying force.

In the course of 37 years of occupation we have become gradually more violent, superior and racist toward Arab culture. A few months ago I listened to Irit Linur on the radio. She was responding to Rogel Alper’s TV criticism in Ha’aretz. Alper was saying that foreign networks like CNN or the BBC do not pronounce Arab names correctly. He argued that this was the result of a condescending attitude toward Arab culture. Irit Linur, in response to this, asked in her program to what culture, exactly, Alper was referring. According to her, Arab culture is not simply inferior to Western culture – it simply does not exist at all. Sadly, it seems to me that Linur’s opinion reflects what many of us quietly think but don’t dare to voice.

In some way, I think, I too have been affected by the illness of fear – the illness that leads to racism and even to violence. But because I grew up in a relatively humane home and environment, the illness was dormant – until I saw with my own eyes how the people of Palestine are living.

When I first visited the occupied territories, during a tour of two villages, I and the group of people with whom I was traveling, were received with great joy, like a sort of emissaries. The atmosphere was very good and the local people treated us warmly. School kids even presented a show especially for us. One family gave us a hot meal, they got us cars to drive around in, and the whole visit passed without incidents. Nevertheless, I was quite scared to begin with. I was scared of the Palestinian flag that was flying there. I was scared of the Arab faces. It took almost two hours until I felt relaxed and able to talk uninhibitedly with the local people. I remember very well how one of the boys hugged me, once we got acquainted, and wanted to show me something. I refused to come with him. I refused politely, but I refused. I was afraid.

I suppose that part of my fear was connected to my feeling of shock there, observing the destruction and the suffering that they experience. But mainly it was my fear of what is different. In spite of my parents’ education, in spite of the values I myself held and practiced, I was touched by that dangerous disease. I think this disease cannot be avoided: It comes to us via the media, educational institutions, the Israeli environment, and from the heavy shadow cast by generations of Israeli governments who have steeped us in this terrible racism. We are all infected by this same disease, which allows us to be serene in the face of the Israeli occupation.

Many people use terror attacks as a pretext for the occupation. As if the Palestinians were terrorists and we are forced to go on with this collective punishment for the sake of Israel’s security. I don’t think my commentaries are needed to clarify how the security, social and economical conditions of the country are being corroded and how the occupation is one of the central factors in this process of decline.

I would like to say, in this context, that every country has all kinds of organizations, some of them moderate, others radical. The Palestinian terror organizations could be compared to the Israeli settlers, to Kahane, or to the Herut movement. In civilized countries, it is the moderate organizations that gain most public sympathy. But it is likely that in a country under occupation radical organizations will gain strength.

Like among other nations, radical organizations exist among the Palestinians too. The question is not why do they exist, but why do they gain such power? To me it seems that this is the result of a situation in which a population suffers from an occupation. Many of the people who undergo daily humiliation will then grow frustrated and turn to violence, or at least, they will support it. Obviously, in such a state of affairs, the support for peace and the resistance to war will dwindle.

When a young man my age – or even younger – is ready to put on an explosives belt and commit suicide, thereby killing many other, innocent people, I have to ask why. Why does he so much want to kill me, an Israeli, and why is he prepared to commit suicide for this? For this young man still has his whole life ahead of him. Yet, while I can look ahead toward years in which I can travel, fall in love, learn and become educated, this young man has already no hope. His life is a story known in advance. It is a life of daily, ongoing suffering. A life under occupation.

I don’t, in any way, approve of such action, nor do I want it to be justified. What I am asking for is reflection in the face of its very existence, to try and understand how it becomes possible, and to try and understand the origins of this great hatred towards us among the people of Palestine.

A frequent argument against the draft resisters is that their act is political and hence not allowed. It is true that all these issues carry political significance, but this does not justify the continued occupation.

During last summer I visited two Palestinian villages with the Halonot organization. On this visit, I witnessed a terrifying, totally inhuman spectacle. The houses were destroyed, I saw children play with the stones that remained from the houses bulldozed by the IDF, and other than the sunset, which reached even this place, everything seemed totally black.

We were there both to bring equipment and to convey our condolences. In the first village we visited, five people had been killed by IDF fire for no justifiable reason. One of them was a 13 year old boy, another a mother of seven girls. While we were being received in one of the houses, I suddenly heard shouts from outside. I didn’t understand what was going on. When I looked out of the window I saw lots of children running for cover, climbing fences and roofs. First I couldn’t understand why, but then I saw that an IDF jeep had entered the area. There was no shooting from the jeep nor did the soldiers order the population to get into their houses, but for those children the jeep was the enemy, the occupier who could do almost anything it wanted. That fear caused simply by the appearance of a jeep showed me something about the daily reality in which the Palestinian people currently live.

I assume that the State of Israel has never attached the same importance to Palestinian blood as it does to Israeli blood. But now Palestinian blood has no value to us. Not to the government, not to the soldiers, not to most of the public. Palestinian blood is of absolutely no importance.

Since we, as the occupying nation, carry a significant responsibility for the lives of millions of Palestinians, and because we don’t attach importance to the value of their lives, the real outcome for the inhabitants of Palestine is obvious. How much blood has been spilled, and how much responsibility do I, as an Israeli citizen, carry for this bloodshed? [quote Camus]

In an article in Ha’aretz, Zeev Sternhall writes the following:

There is no doubt that Israel is responsible for dropping a bomb weighing a ton on a residential building, but this does not make it a legitimate act nor does it remove concerns about perpetrating state sponsored criminal acts. In such a situation, a person has no choice but to revert to the very foundations of his culture… This culture rests, among other things, on the belief that, beyond man-made legislation, there are norms of natural justice. The concept of human rights, too, expresses the belief that every human being has natural rights by virtue of his very being and that no one has the right to deprive him of them.

Over the years I always intended to enlist in the IDF and I never questioned this. But now I know that Israel’s government is acting undemocratically and immorally and I am unable to participate in a system that serves the oppression of another nation. The moral obligation to refrain from participating in these crimes exceeds my obligation, as a citizen, to serve in the army. Moreover, as a law abiding citizen I am obliged to give priority to the values on which I was raised – the values of democracy – over the values of the current government. I am even obliged to examine whether the values, which I was taught in my textbooks, cohere with the reality in which we live.

In this context I would like to quote Albert Camus from a speech he delivered upon receiving the Nobel Prize: [quote Camus]

And Zeev Sternhall also says in the above-mentioned article:

Our political culture has been, and in many respects remains, a culture of the herd. The instinctive Israeli need to be part of society, one of “the guys”, and to unquestioningly accept the norms of the relevant group – however destructive these norms may turn out to be – is a regular pattern of behavior.

When it comes to these things, I must trust only myself. That is to say – I cannot uncritically accept a demand (conscription) that is considered obvious just because it has been imposed on me by the government or just because “society” has decided that this is the right thing to do. We have witnessed, in the past, more terrifying acts than the current occupation. These acts were committed on behalf of a government and with public approval, with society’s support. That does not mean that the acts were therefore legitimate, normal, allowed, etc.

In his speech, Albert Camus says, with regard to this: [quote Camus]

Of course I don’t for a moment believe that by refusing to be part of the military system I am relieved of responsibility for what is going on here and blameless. But the IDF is the main active tool used by the government in carrying out the above crimes and in continuing this insufferable occupation. And now I am called upon to take active part in that system. I consider every military role – whether it is doing combat service at the checkpoints or working in military offices in Tel Aviv – as complicit with the crime that is being committed here. The army’s basic substance disappears when its huge power is put to use to oppress another nation. The army today is a criminal army and I am unable to enlist and become part of such a criminal and oppressive system. I bear, however, no ill feelings toward the soldiers who do currently serve in the occupation army. I am aware that refusal or draft dodging are actions not easily taken in a society that is educated on military values. I am aware that there are several reasons due to which I, today, have the option to take my stand on the side of morality and not on that of injustice, one of which is an economical one. I have had the opportunity to face reality and I know that I have the support of my family. Sadly, I know, not all future conscripts have this opportunity, but since I have been in this position, and since I believe I made proper use of it, I am obliged to refuse enlistment.

This is why I think that IDF soldiers are victims of the occupation, too, and that Israel’s government causes them to be partners in the crimes of war it is committing. The State of Israel makes them complicit in the crime of occupation by forcing them to be part of Israel’s currently criminal military system.

[Camus]

It is for the above reasons that I request to be exempted from enlistment in the IDF and to be allowed to perform national service by way of an alternative.

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