A letter from an Israeli teenager refusing to go into the army
About three years ago, as a youth of 18 years, I was facing the same dilemma facing most Israelis today: Do I go to the army like most people, do I go to the army psychologist and play crazy to get out of the army like so many Israelis do, or do I refuse to go to the army and to the shrink and go to prison? I want to look at these three options again, the way I did three years ago.
The first option is going to the army. This is the “normal” thing to do. This is what most Israelis do. This is what people in the whole world do, and have always done, when there is a war, a danger to their society. But is it the right thing to do? In order to answer that question I had to take a very careful look around me. I had to think of my experience with this conflict, and what I know of it.
When I was in the 9th grade, a teacher, asked me to join a new project called "The NIR School", introducing students, across national boundaries, to the field of biotechnology. I thought it would be interesting to go school with Palestinians, so I agreed. I found myself, in the summer of '99, on a two-week long program, with 60 youths from Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, living in youth hostels in Israel and Jordan. It was the first time I got to meet Palestinians. We didn't talk about current affairs. We got to know each other through study groups, social activities and music lessons. Rarely one of the Palestinian members would share a check-point story, but mostly it just didn't come up.
When the Intifada broke out, I talked to my NIR School friends on the phone and on the internet. The staff put together a special reunion for us. Almost all of the Israelis were there, but only 6 of 20 Palestinians came, in spite of heavy objection from their friends. Nu'ha from Beit-Jalla cried when talking about the shelling of her neighborhood, Muhanad from Tul-Karrem spoke of three days of detention in very harsh terms, and Sari told us of his friends who were shot dead during a demonstration.
This set me on a long road, traveling among the villages and towns of the West Bank in special convoys of the “Ta’ayush” movement, an Arab – Jewish partnership. As I rode in the convoy bringing food, water, and basic necessities to Palestinian villages, I found out that the state of Israel commits war crimes and tramples on human rights, destroying Palestinian cities, towns and villages, stealing land, detaining and executing people without trial, demolishing houses, businesses, and public institutions; looting, imposing closure and curfew on Palestinians, using torture and prevention of medical care, and all the time continuing with the construction and
expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. All this made me realize that I could not be a part of an army that engages in this kind of oppression.
I was left with two options. Going to the army psychologist is easy. Many people get a release from the army because they “don’t sleep well at night”, “think of killing themselves” and so on. Everybody knows how to do it.
But this too is oppression. Because it means you have to say something is wrong with YOU, not the army. You have to go quietly to ask for this release – and not proudly state your beliefs. Worst of all – it takes out most of the meaning of not going to the army. Because this means that a few people more don’t go to be occupiers – but many others will go. In order to make a change you have to go public – and if you go public they won’t let you go.
So I was left with prison. Of course prison is a very hard thing to go through, and of course it is also oppression. But going to prison is also one of the only things anyone in Israel can do these days to make a difference nonviolently. It is a moral step to take, a way of talking to people. Going to prison means you really believe in what you do, and you’re willing to pay a price for it. Going to prison was a way for us (me and my friends) to start talking to more Israelis and to tell them about the Palestinians we met, about the occupation, and about the responsibility we think we have to change things. It gave us a chance to reach Palestinians and show them that there are Israelis you can talk to and build something positive with. Most of all – it was the oppression I had to suffer from, in order to help lessen the oppression against others.
That is why I choose prison – and that is why I am still glad I made this decision, even after a long and hard two years behind bars.
2 days ago