In Israel’s army, voices rise on the right to serve or desert
Taybeh, Israel - Oren Rimon, 19, is an Israeli Jew who incurred the wrath of her government, family and friends when she refused to sign up for mandatory military service.
Having grown up close to her mother’s leftist-leaning ideology, Rimon refused to serve in the West Bank, where more than 2.5 million Palestinians have endured humiliation, despair, imprisonment and violations of human rights under Israel’s military occupation since 1967.
“I grew up in an anti-militaristic home,” she said. “My mother took me to (pro-peace) demonstrations so, from a young age, I was exposed to the real face of occupation. When I was 15, I decided that I did not want to serve in the army.”
“It would have been a crime for me to serve in an army that is taking basic human rights from and controlling the Palestinians,” she insisted.
Rimon is among dozens of Israelis in the West Bank who have refused conscription or abandoned their military posts. Some complain that they do not want to serve as part of an occupying force ruling other people while others say they do not want to risk their lives for a cause they do not believe in.
Israeli government officials say the rejectionists and deserters are a small number and do not represent a serious threat to Israeli military effectiveness. The officials declined to provide figures of how many people are involved.
Conscription in Israel is mandatory for Israeli Jews, Druze and Circassians.
When the time came for conscription, Rimon said she “ignored” the calls to enlist but she pointed out that due to unspecified “physical disability”, she was excused and was signed up for national service.
“My mother was happy but my father’s family was not,” Rimon said. “My friends, who I had many angry discussions with, felt that I was running away from my duties.
“It was difficult,”
Now, Rimon is a member of Mesarvot — Hebrew for “reject” — a network that deals with the military conscription refusal process.
“We have public events to talk to youth about the occupation and encourage them to learn about their option to refuse to serve,” she said.
Critical of the hard-line policies of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Rimon explained that “it’s not the army; it’s the government’s policy that allows an 18-year-old boy with an M-16 automatic rifle to control a 70-year-old man, break into his house and put him in a terrible situation”.
“It is unbelievable that Israel attacks Gaza every few years,” she said, referring to the eastern Mediterranean coastal strip, which came under three Israeli wars since 2007. That year, the militant Hamas forcibly seized power from the moderate Palestinian Authority responsible for the West Bank.
“Israelis do not seem to see what the government is doing,” Rimon said. “If someone says that a Palestinian child should not be killed, he is considered a traitor.”
“People were silent during the Holocaust,” she said, referring to Nazi Germany, when millions of Jews were massacred.
“Now, we talk about it every year,” she said. “We as Israelis need to ask ourselves this question: ‘How can we be quiet while we are occupying another people?’”
Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War in which Israel seized the West Bank, including the traditionally Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem, and Gaza, the security situation is deteriorating in the absence of a negotiated settlement. Palestinian-Israeli peace talks broke off years ago, with no sign they would resume anytime soon.
Israel has been usurping lands in the West Bank, creating a new status quo in an area that must return to Palestinians under a negotiated settlement.
At least 62% of the Palestinian landscape is filled with an infrastructure of Israeli-only roads, military roads, hundreds of checkpoints and Israeli soldiers, all in place to protect more than 547,000 settlers who live in 125 illegal settlements and 100 outposts, excluding East Jerusalem and the southern West Bank city of Hebron.
Rimon recollects that in 2014, under the slogan Shministim, Hebrew for “12th graders”, a group of 60 students wrote to Netanyahu, declaring their refusal to serve in the military.
“In these territories, human rights are violated and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis. These include assassinations (extrajudicial killings), the construction of settlements on occupied lands, administrative detentions, torture, collective punishment and the unequal allocation of resources such as electricity and water,” the students said.
Khaled Farrag, 35, is a Druze from Rama in the upper Galilee. In 1999, at the age of 18, he was called for military service.
“My family was very politically aware of and connected to its Arab and Palestinian identity,” he explained. “I grew up knowing that I was not going to serve in the army that not only has occupied my nation but has also fragmented the Palestinian population by imposing the army service on the Druze,” Khaled said.
The consequence of refusing was two months in military prison.
Khaled is part of a campaign called Urfod — Refuse, Your People will Protect You. The campaign encourages Druze to connect with their Palestinian identity. Additionally, it offers legal and psychological support.