Yael Fisher is a sophomore at Wesleyan University, active in Hashomer Hatzair and J Street U. She grew up in New York but is a dual American and Israeli citizen. This summer she is in Israel as a PPI intern at Windows: Channels for Communication. (PPI has always supported Israel’s right to defend itself against attack; it has not taken a position for or against service refusal.) These are the concluding paragraphs of Yael’s second post from her personal blog on her experiences as an intern:
Between 1948 and today, only four formal “refusenik letters” have been released by groups of draft-aged Israelis banding together to refuse to serve in the Israeli army because of opposition to policies that the army actualizes—and writing an open letter to the government. In March 2014, close to 50 teenagers signed such a letter to Benjamin Netanyahu, citing “opposition to the military occupation of Palestinian territories.” The letter caused an upheaval and made front-page news; the teens were called “spoiled” and “dishrags” by politicians and public personalities alike.
Something is wrong when only fifty voices of dissent—none delegitimizing the right of the Jewish state to exist or defend itself—are shut down in anger, disgust, and fear by mainstream society. These fifty individuals refused to serve due to “the construction of settlements on occupied lands, administrative detentions, torture, collective punishment and the unequal allocation of resources such as electricity and water.” They refused because the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is inhumane and a violation of international law.
Last week, a group of alumnae of the youth programming at Windows had a mini reunion at our office. Eight recent high school graduates from Beit Ummar, a town in the Hebron area of the West Bank, a handful of Jewish Israelis from the Tel Aviv area, and a few Palestinians from Yafo gathered around a large table. Before their official activity began, we interns were encouraged to sit with them and chat. One of the girls spoke slowly and quietly at first, as if she was ill. Her friend explained that she was very weak after fasting in solidarity with Mohammad Allan, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad detainee who was in critical condition after sixty days of a hunger strike. Her friend, a Jewish girl, had been one of the students to sign the refusenik letter a year prior. Now, she was asked by her friends from Beit Ummar what she was up to these days.
Timidly, she told them she was soon enlisting. Her friends became visibly angry. “Why?”, asked the girl who had just finished fasting in solidarity with her fellow Palestinian. Later that afternoon, the Israeli girl explained to some of the interns that she realized not joining the army would prevent her from being able to follow any career she might want in the future. She assured us that she would not be doing an assignment that had anything to do with the occupied territories.
When even one among the already-tiny minority of the Israeli populace that speaks out against serving in the army—and does so because she does not want to be a part of perpetuating the status quo in Israel and the occupied territories—goes back on her declaration, something is very wrong. The institution of the IDF is so deeply engrained in Israeli life that it is nearly impossible to successfully assign blame where it is due. The blame due here is for blinding smart, hardworking, and kind men and women from seeing where “defense” ends and “occupation” begins. The blame due is for shaming all those who see that distinction. And, most importantly, blame is due for a society that makes it more and more difficult to dissent against the mainstream and still have access to the workforce and lead a successful life.
If every Israeli individual who opposed the ongoing occupation became a refusenik, perhaps fear of criticism would be replaced with a re-invigoration of self-awareness. Perhaps the sitting government would be replaced with one that actively works together with a willing Palestinian government to end this ongoing nightmare. When I decided not to join the IDF, I resigned myself to the fact that I would probably never become fully integrated into this society. In many ways that is heartbreaking to me; I love this land, this language, and these people more than almost anything else. But, above that love is a pain that comes from seeing this nation I hold dearly turn a blind eye to tragedies its government is committing. I gave up on donning the olive-green uniform. If all who see injustice choose to act instead of conform, maybe one day that won’t mean to this country that I also gave up on being a proud Israeli.
[Selected above is approximately the last third of Yael’s post entitled “Repoliticizing Israeli Army Service.”]