By the age of 21, Tair Kaminer had been in and out of prison six times. For a total of 160 days, she stayed in a jail cell after refusing to fulfil her mandatory military service in the Israeli Defence Forces, or IDF. Kaminer is considered to be the longest-serving female conscientious objector in Israeli history.
In Israel, once a citizen turns 18 years old, he or she is obligated to serve in the military for a period of 32 months for men and 24 months for women
For Kaminer, the decision to refuse came after years of consideration. However, it was her time volunteering in Sderot, a border town with Gaza, that made a lasting impact.
“I arrived in Sderot during the last Gaza War in 2014. That year, I met the people and families, heard their stories and fears.” She also spent time with children traumatised by constant rocket fire.
“Every chair that makes some noise reminds them that there might be an alarm. It strikes fear in their hearts,” she said.
At least 2,104 Palestinians were killed in Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, the vast majority of which were civilians.
At least 495 children and 253 women were killed, while 11,231 were injured and 18,000 homes were destroyed, according to UN figures
“I had to ask myself, ‘how do I stop this?’ Violence and war will only make the situation worse. I wanted to send a message that there is another way. This is what led to my decision.”
So on January 10, 2016, the day of her enlistment, Kaminer arrived at the Tel HaShomer induction base to declare her refusal to serve, while demonstrators gathered outside to show support.
On the same day, she was sent to military jail for the first time.
“At night, I entered into prison. In one moment, the whole energy I had from that day just disappeared. In jail, they take your clothes, give you your uniform, and start calling you ‘soldier’. It was a very hard day, the first day,” she said.
She was kept in jail for 20 days and was then released and then jailed against for failing to enlist.
In total she spent around 90 days in Israeli prison, being rearrested seven times.
Kaminer’s case is one of many. Edo Ramon, a US-born Israeli, has also been jailed seven times, for a total of about 90 days.
“The IDF is the main force that oversees the occupation, so basically, if you are part of the IDF, you are part of the occupation,” the 20-year-old said.
“It puts checkpoints all over the West Bank. It breaks into people’s homes at night. People are being killed without anybody paying the price. In Gaza, people are starving. They don’t have electricity, clean water, and basic necessities because the IDF won’t let anything in. These are crimes that happen every day.”
Kaminer and Ramon are both part of a growing movement among the Israeli youth, who are choosing to go public with their opposition to the occupation and endure the consequences.
Military service is considered a rite of passage in Israeli society. It helps build friendships and opens doors to scholarships, savings deposits, even job prospects. Yet despite these advantages, Kaminer and Ramon chose to object and go to prison.
Although it is possible to be granted exemption on the basis of conscience, exemptions of this kind are rare and follow very specific criteria.
“If you are a pacifist, but you are also against the occupation, it’s not good enough for them,” Kaminer said.
She has faced the committee, but felt that they look for people “who don’t want to change reality” and “don’t hope for change”. In other words, people who don’t seek to end the occupation.
There are a number of reasons why the Israeli government imposes such strict policies on conscientious objectors, indicating the importance of the military for the state, which reserved around $17.8b for defence this year. Jailing teenagers is one way to “make sure people stay in line”, as Ramon puts it.
Kaminer and Ramon are also members of Mesarvot, an objection network that supports refusers and connects them to other anti-occupation groups for joint action.
“People don’t talk about the occupation. [Mesarvot] has been in the media and we talk about it. We’ve been only active for two years, but it has had a major effect,” said Ramon.
Every year, a number of young Israelis are jailed for refusing conscription.
In general, the youth are becoming more vocal about criticising the military.
Earlier this year, for example, Mesarvot organised a petition calling for the release of two conscientious objectors from prison, which was signed by 250 students from a Tel Aviv high school.
Ramon is confident that the anti-occupation movement is only getting stronger.
“The example set by refusers definitely changed the discourse and made refusing a more valid choice,” he said.
“Sympathy and support among teenagers are growing, so my prediction is that we’ll see an increase in the coming years.”
Last year, Kaminer was released after being declared “unfit” for service. She currently performs civil service at an Arab-Jewish school in Occupied Jerusalem, but still maintains her activism.
“There are two girls sitting in prison right now, Noa Gur Golan and Hadas Tal. It is important to know that the struggle is being continued,” she said.
Ramon has also been released. He lives in Tel Aviv and is an active member of Mesarvot.
“The goal is to end the occupation,” he said. “The military is responsible for keeping the Israeli occupation and situation in Gaza. Anyone who joins the IDF legitimises this. I can’t take part in it. Nobody should.”
Source – Gulf News