Abby Martin interviews Israeli activist, Amit Gilutz, about why he is urging young Israelis to reject mandatory enlistment in the Israeli Defense Forces.
The Call on IASA Alumni to Refuse Mandatory and Reserve Duty Service in the Israeli Military
Our Response to Other Alumni’s Critique, 1 Jan 2015
To the extended IASA community,
Following the publication of our letter calling on graduates to refuse military service, much discussion took place among the school community and its alumni. This is definitely one of the main goals of our letter – to encourage the formulation of a clear position on the role of the Israeli army in the occupation and in the government’s policy making, in the political system and society as a whole. Debating is an excellent tool for formulating our positions and our actions and we welcome such discussions.
We would like to address the main arguments put forward concerning our letter and its distribution in order to carry on an honest and fruitful discussion.
1. Claim: The letter represents a handful of graduates from the school.
That is correct. One reason for the importance of refusal within Israeli society is its being a minority position. Most of the population, including IASA graduates, refer to military service as a moral and civil duty, some in silence, while others enthusiastically join the ranks of the army. This is the social reality, which makes the refusal into an action and not an easy action, yet a possible one.
2. Claim: you do not speak on behalf of the school or its graduates.
That is correct. We never claimed to speak on behalf of the school or the entire alumni community. No specific group can compellingly speak on behalf of a whole public. Neither signers of the letter that came in response to ours, nor us. We have chosen to speak out as IASA graduates, because that is the social network through which we met, and because we want to contact students and graduates of a smaller community, to which we feel we belong. Of course affecting the discourse in our school is not a sufficient social purpose for creating a change in the Israeli violent and militant discourse. Therefore, the publicity aspect of our action is so important – so that teenagers facing their military service and those young soldiers who are obliged to perform reserve duty will know – it is not just allowed but also desirable to consider such a significant decision as serving in the army of occupation. We published also hoping to inspire future similar actions by others and indeed, we started getting requests in that spirit.
3. Claim: You have caused damage to the reputation of the school.
In a military perspective, it is true and indeed high schools in Israel are judged according to military standards. In terms of public discourse in Israel of 2014 – taking an initiative and taking a moral stand of disobedience by graduates is indeed an educational failure.
We, however, believe our school can be proud of his students and alumni who hold independent and rational views. It is important for us to note that alongside criticism, we also receive much appreciation from all over the world and even from parts of the Israeli public, both Jewish and Palestinian.
Regarding our communication with IASA, throughout the development of this initiative we have been in contact with the school authorities concerning the letter and its scheduled date of distribution. After all that is our goal – to stimulate dialogue and discussion where there is none.
4. Claim: The Israeli army is not responsible for all the evils in society and Israeli political conduct.
Indeed so. As we wrote, the army is not the only executing contractor of the State of Israel and the Israeli government, however, it is a central executing body in it’s extended policy – the army is the legal authority and actual sovereign of the non-Jewish residents of the West bank. Also alongside with other intelligence agencies it is responsible for collecting private information about people living under its rule and systematically uses such information against them by means of extortion and threats. The army implements in many cases the economic interests of entrepreneurs dispossessing people from their homes and lands.
This is routine practice in the West Bank but also against Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Negev. Al-Arakib village, for example, was demolished dozens of times. The Givat Amal evacuation this week, which is the former Palestinian village of al-Jammasin al-Gharbi and today is a valuable piece of real estate, was carried out with the massive participation of the border police (which is part of the military service possibilities). The very lack of separation between the army and police in the state is a serious cause for concern and a source for many injustices in the ’48 territories.
5. Claim: Why specifically refuse military service? Why don’t you avoid paying taxes to the State of Israel?
This is an important point. We cannot talk about this with absolute generalization but in general, most of us pay taxes in the country where we live. The proposal to not pay taxes is a proposal for civil disobedience, which is important and legitimate, against the use of tax funds to deepen the occupation. However, a general proposal should also be translated into a concrete political action. Failure to pay taxes as a personal action would usually lead to a waiver of privilege, whether in the physical or financial sense. Waiver of privilege without a public impact is indeed a noble act, but its transformative impact on society and government is relatively small. We invite those who offer disobedience of taxation policies to continue and develop the idea into a form of political action so that we may all think in-depth about such actions.
6. Claim: The Israeli army is doing also good things – such as education, social mobility.
Every act by the army is done under its name and with its uniform. There is nothing good in education given by people in uniform who represent, and are also subject, to a military hierarchy that commits crimes against Israeli law and international law. The militarization of education and society is being built through such type of activity. This is the normalization of military presence in the whole civil sphere and as a a result, also the preparation of a whole future generation of recruits.
As for social mobility, the vast majority of military objectors are not conscientious objectors. They mostly come from hard working families and they desert from the military due to socio-economic reasons. There is a huge amount of “gray objection”, 50% of each year will not get drafted or complete their first year of service. Many find themselves in a military prison due to their socio-economic situation, but these stories will not find their way to the media. So much for military mobility.
7. Claim: Why do you call yourselves Palestinians? You are Israeli-Arabs.
Some of us are Palestinians. Even if it’s not too pleasant for everybody to hear, we were born here and are descendants to those who were born here, Historic Palestine. Self-determination is a right of individuals and groups. Our identity does not erase the identity of others who would identify themselves as Jews, Druze, Israelis, Muslims, atheists and so on.
In conclusion, and without detracting from the significance of an internal civil discussion, we are talking about life in a war zone, whether in huge cages or as the bearers of certain freedoms. While we debate and argue, soldiers patrol neighborhoods and conduct censuses during the night as a matter of policy. Children aged 12 and less are taken for interrogation, soldiers commit illegal detentions, torture and extort detainees in order to make them into collaborators against their friends and family. Tens of thousands of children in Gaza will sleep tonight homeless, in temporary facilities or tents, which are the direct results of the 2014 summer massacre, and the list of distortions, injustices and crimes continues.
The mere presence of Palestinians in the political discussion, even that which we conduct inside out school community, is seen by many as a form of demagoguery. The reality of the life of millions in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and in refugee camps in the neighboring countries is anything but demagoguery – this is the heart of the matter. So much work awaits those who seek to act, to change, and to repair the damage. Objection to military service, as significant as it may be, is only the beginning.
We wish you all a Happy New Year,
A year of equality, justice and freedom for all.