Israeli military refusers explain their obligations to serving in the army, an obligation which is mandatory for most citizens in Israel.

Jason Ben Nathan / Sun Staff Photographer

Israeli military refusers explain their obligations to serving in the army, an obligation which is mandatory for most citizens in Israel.

May 1, 2016

Israeli Speakers Explain Refusal to Join Army

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Two citizens who refused to serve in the Israeli military spoke about their experiences as conscientious objectors to the country’s service requirement on Saturday in a talk hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine.

Sahar Vardi, program coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee’s Israel Program, said the organization believes militarization in Israeli society is one of the root causes of the occupation of Palestine.

“The way in which soldiers are perceived creates prestige around it,” Vardi said. “They are able to get better jobs, and you aren’t able to criticize the military because in doing so, you are criticizing everyone around you.”

The prevalence of the military in Israeli society creates a stigma implicit with refusal to serve, according to Yasmine Yablonko, one of the speakers, who works with the organization Mesarvot to organize and elevate the voices of young military refusers.

“The Israeli education system indoctrinates students as young as kindergarten to become soldiers when they finish school,” Yablonko said. “You grow up in Israel thinking that everyone is going and you don’t have any other options, so you don’t even question it.”

In reality, Yablonko said less than 50 percent of Israeli citizens serve in the army.

Yablonko, who is half Jewish and half Palestinian, said she chose to refuse her military service for moral reasons. However, she clarified that she officially refused for mental health reasons, as the military rarely exempts citizens because of their personal morals.

Palestinian Druze — a religious minority that stems from Islam — are also not exempt from service for ethnic reasons because the Israeli government classifies Druze as a different ethnicity than Palestinian or Arab, according to Khaled Farrag, the other refuser. Farrag is a member of Orfud, an organization that works to end compulsory military service imposed on Druze men.

“This is an intentional policy to deepen the gap between the Druze and the rest of the Palestinian community,” Farrag said. “It has created a negative reputation for the Druze in the Palestinian community. They see us as traitors.”

Because he was not exempt from service, Farrag said he had to serve time in prison for his decision. Although his family supported his decision to refuse, he had no other support or way to raise awareness about refusing service as a Druze, according to Farrag.

Farrag added that the Israeli government paints the Druze as a model minority who do not refuse military service, but he added that only 48 percent actually serve.

Many Druze are reluctant to enter the army due to the social atmosphere surrounding the military, and face economic hardship while they are serving — even while the army offers benefits to its soldiers after conscription, according to Farrag.

“Many people will not go into the military because it only pays $160 per month, and they need to support their families,” he said.

Despite the difficult nature of their situations, Yablonko and Farrag both expressed hope for the future of Israel.

“It’s hard to be hopeful in a violent situation when the mainstream is shifting to the far right,” Yablonko said. “But this makes my work so much more meaningful. Everything I do will have much more impact and be more powerful.”

  • Abe ’14

    Willing to bet that none of the Jewish groups protested this or otherwise disrupted the speaker. I wonder what would have happened had Hillel hosted two Israeli soldiers who talked about their IDF experience?

    This talk would have been a lot more interesting had SJP brought in someone who did serve in the IDF, or perhaps someone who was not under any compulsion to join but decided to do so anyway (i.e., an American who decided to move to Israel).

    And Israel was force to become militarized because on the day that its statehood was declared, its neighbors decided to go to war and try to wipe it off the face of the Earth. That mission has never gone away, and thus Israel will never become demilitarized (unless it decided to wipe its neighbors off the face of the Earth, which it could absolutely do, but will not, because contrary to some of the nuts out there, the IDF does not exist to torture or occupy or destroy).


      Norwegian Dr Mads Gilbert said he has never seen such fighters,Hamas
      using human sheilds, at any hospital he served at in Gaza. I have
      seen more than once, Israeli soldiers using Palestinians as human
      shields. The latest extrajudicial killing by the IDF was murder,
      they call it manslaughter. The murderer is off the hook for his vocal
      decision to kill the neutralized Palestinian.
      Dr Mads Gilbert lived to tell of the bombing of hospitals, and schools
      by the Israelis. Collateral damage was never a consideration.

      • OneWhoCares

        What a bunch of nonsense. Israelis do not use human shields. On the other hand, it is well documented that Hamas places its rockets and other weapons in schools and hospitals, knowing that Israelis go to great lengths to avoid hitting civilians. Hezbollah is doing the same in Lebanon, placing its weapons in villages.
        Israel is the only army in the world that warns civilians to leave an area targeted for bombing — they drop leaflets, make phone calls, etc., as has been well documented during the war in Gaza.
        Get your facts straight.

      • Abe ’14

        Is this the same Mads Gilbert that said the terrorists had a “moral right” to attack the United States on 9/11? The one who said he supported a terror attack against the U.S.?

        He sounds like a great guy to listen to.

  • SJP = Stabbing Jews for Peace

    The irony is that the speakers study at Tel Aviv University.