Dozens of Israeli teenagers publicly refuse to serve in 'racist' government's forces

Dozens of Israeli teenagers publicly refuse to serve in 'racist' government's forces
"We have decided not to take part in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people," Israeli teenagers stated in open letter to Netanyahu.
3 min read
03 January, 2018
The group criticised the ongoing occupation and oppression of their neighbours [Getty]
A total of 63 draft-age Israeli teenagers have penned an open letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, publicly refusing to be conscripted into the Israeli army.

In the letter addressed to Netanyahu as well as the forces'
chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennet, the 18-year olds slammed the army and the Israeli regime, stating, "We have decided not to take part in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people."

"The 'temporary' situation has dragged on for 50 years, and we will not go on lending a hand," the group went on to declare in their damning criticism of the ongoing occupation and oppression of their neighbours.

They were not afraid to call out the racism and apartheid-nature underpinning the Israeli regime and its occupation, writing that, "the army is carrying out the government's racist policy, which violates basic human rights and executes one law for Israelis and another law for Palestinians on the same territory."

Referring to the 1949 armistice line dividing Israel and the West Bank, the high school students criticised "intentional institutional incitement against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, and we here - draft-age boys and girls from different areas of the country and from different socioeconomic backgrounds - refuse to believe the system of incitement and to participate in the government's arm of oppression and occupation."

The letter went on to appeal to fellow Israeli citizens, asking them to rethink their decision to join the armed forces.

"We refuse to be drafted and to serve in the army out of an obligation to values of peace, justice and equality, with the knowledge that there is another reality that we could create together," they wrote. "We call on girls our age to ask themselves, will army service work toward this reality?"

One of the signatories was Matan Helman, a 20-year-old student currently imprisoned for refusing to be drafted into the Israeli army.

Israeli regulations dictate that when citizens reach 18 years of age, men must serve two years and eight months in the army, and women two years.

The issue of conscription has been an ongoing point of contention in Israel. In September, the exemption of the ultra-orthodox from the draft was ruled "discriminatory and unconstitutional" by the Israeli Supreme Court.

Israel's ultra-orthodox community have been exempt from compulsory military service since 1949, in a bid by founding father David Ben Gurion to restore the practice of Yeshiva study. Exemption was made official by the Tal Law which stipulates that citizens may postpone their military service if they are studying the Torah full-time. 

However the current government continue to practise the Tal Law, as Netanyahu relies on ultra-orthodox support to sustain his premiership.

Conscientious objectors however, who refuse to serve on political or ideological grounds, are met with much more resistance from the Israeli authorities.

An ideological refusal to maintain the occupation of Palestine strikes in the heart of the current Israeli administration's policies of annexation of Palestinian land, usurpation of Palestinian resources and oppression of the Palestinian people.

These objectors, dubbed 'refuseniks', are often met with multiple jail terms, as in last year's high-profile case of Tamar Zeevi and Tamar Alon. Zeevi spent 115 days in military prison, and Alon 118.

Zeevi was eventually released on grounds of moral objection, as a small number of army exemptions are granted due to objectors holding pacifist views. Alon however, was not granted exemption on these grounds, as her objection was deemed 'political'. She therefore received a longer jail term and was eventually released on grounds of unsuitability.

Despite both women rejecting the Israeli occupation on political grounds, the authorities only granted them exemption on grounds of 'conscience', seen as an attempt to remove their cases, and thus their voices from the political debate.

No government response to the letter penned by the group has been reported as of yet.

Agencies contributed to this report.