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An Israeli Alumna’s Conscientious Objection to Conscription

17th Nov 2016 by Maria Charles - , (0) Comment

Tamar Zeevi (center), a MUWCI alumna (Israel, ’15) declared her refusal to enlist in the Israeli army yesterday, for reasons of conscientious objection. Her story made news in various news blogs and journals.

Update #1 (Nov 2016): Tamar and her co-objector have been sentenced to jail time after which they will be brought back for another hearing & possible sentencing – a cycle which can last for months, as reported by 972 Mag

Update #2 (Feb 2017): Tamar and her co-objectors will be imprisoned for the fifth time this week – more than 70 days cumulatively since this article was first published. Read a moving account from UWC Mostar alumnus, Amitai Ben-Abba (UWC Mostar ’10) whose sister is amongst Tamar’s co-objectors

Tamar’s statement is shared below: 

Hi, my name is Tamar Zeevi, I’m 19 years old and I’m from Jerusalem. I like hiking in Israel and in the world, and I’m interested in sustainability and education. On the 16/11/16, my supposed recruitment date, I will refuse to join the IDF, and choose to pay the price that the army demands that I would pay for my conscience. The choice not to enlist means to take responsibility for my actions and their meaning, drawing a moral line that I’m not willing to cross, and actively resisting a government and a policy that violates human rights and fueling violent and cruel reality.

My process of dealing with the recruitment to the army began few years back, around questions about the meaning of serving in the IDF, the duty and the responsibility I carry as an Israeli, and the difficulty towards the IDF’s policies in the occupied territories and the occupation as a whole. I thought a lot about the topic, often talked and consulted friends, teachers and family, and fluctuated a lot between the different arguments, stories and expectations.

During the last two years of high school I studied abroad in an international school in India (UWCMC), together with friends from around the world, and it was a challenging, enriching and amazing experience. There is no doubt that the distance from Israel has played a meaningful role in the process of questioning the policies in Israel, and mainly taught me that military enrollment is a choice and not necessarily the obvious route. People around me demanded me to critically investigate the reality in my homeland, and in classes I was exposed to texts that planted in me an understanding of my responsibility for this reality, and my power to change it.

On one hand, it is my legal and social duty, the role I was always oriented and expected to perform, and the right to take part in keeping the security of my home and the people who are dear to me. But on the other hand, are a childhood and a life in the shadow of terrorist attacks and wars are real security? What about the safety of people beyond the walls? Am I as a part of the nation that controls their lives also responsible for their safety? Where is the line at which one should stop cooperating, and was it already passed? These questions stirred in me in a hard and difficult way. Sometimes I reacted with defensiveness, and sometimes powerless and frustrated way.

All of this was not enough to convince me to deviate from the expected and the normative route, and the choice to serve in the military was my default. I returned to Israel and started a service year in Sayarut (Green Horizons), the youth movement I was a member of since 6th grade. My years in Sayarut, during which I had explored the landscapes of Israel, tasted its soil and breathed its views, were those that planted in me the feeling that I am the daughter of this land, belong to it and love it. Acclimatizing back in Israel wasn’t easy, and this time, living in this state with more critical eyes, and both international and local points of view, brought back the question of enrollment in a more present and real way.

I came to realize that the recruitment is my first and real confrontation with the occupation and the conflict, this is the place, and this is the point in which I choose, Am I willing to take responsibility for the oppression and discrimination that lives on our land? Am I going to take part in the scary system that differentiates between humans, prefers some over others, and feeds the circle of violence, hate and fear? Thus, in one defining moment, I understood that I won’t. I am not willing to support a situation in which two nations live in fear of each other, and pay such a heavy price for decades. Out of love to the land and to the people who live on it, I want to believe, and believe that there is a different way, and change is possible.

Fear is the hardest disease that exists in this country. It is horribly contagious, passed from generation to generation, and mainly breeds ugly side effects such as alienation, hatred and violence. The fear’s favorite food item is uncertainty, and in the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel and the IDF make sure that nothing in life is to be taken for granted. Getting up in the morning with fear and going to with it is not a way of life that I am ready to take part in conserving, particularly when the meaning of it is increasing and enlarging the problem itself.

We will get out of the cycle of fear and violence only when we’ll open our heart and mind, look at what is happening around us, beyond the physical and social walls and let ourselves feel the reality and pain of all the people that this country is their home. Once we all will agree to understand and accept that this is reality, I want to believe that the way of empathy, tolerance and compromise will be our only choice.

I know, it is a complicated matter, the hatred and the violence in both sides exist and are dangerous, and we shouldn’t be naive when examining this reality. Nevertheless, we must not forget the hope that it could be better here, we must not accept the acts being done in our name behind the wall of the hiding and separation, and this is my responsibility and yours. There is no one way to change, to be honest, there is an infinity of those, and everyone will chose what they can do for our world.

The choice to refuse serving in the Israel Defence Forces is one of the milestones in my path to make life in this homeland life of peace, freedom and fraternity. 
MUWCI’s Global Politics faculty member, Noa Epstein (Israel, UWC Red Cross Nordic ’01), explained that military conscription is obligatory in Israel upon turning 18. “Tamar made a difficult and, in my opinion, courageous choice.” Noa wrote to the MUWCI community, “The amount of peer pressure and social costs she will face in Israel are significant.” 
As an Israeli, Noa also faced conscription when she graduated from UWC Red Cross Nordic 15 years ago, but was able to abstain on the basis of being recognized as a conscientious objector. She describes military service as something that is a forgone conclusion for young Israelis, since serving their country by becoming a soldier was an expectation placed on all from early childhood. 
Noa sent Tamar’s statement to all our students with her own message below: 
As you read Tamar’s refusal statement  I encourage you to think about the question of becoming a solider. For some of you it is mandatory, for others voluntary. But as UWC grads, I hope you will make informed choices in life; ones that you have thoroughly and critically thought about. That is not to imply that all soldiers are bad. The people I love most in this world have served in the Israeli army and I do not view all soldiers as evil people. But to my mind there is something that is structurally fundamentally wrong with sending 18 year old kids to sacrifice 2-3 golden years (or even their life) for the continuation of Israeli occupation over the Palestinian people and lands. Israel has a right to exist as a nation state and home for the Jewish people and the non Jewish minorities within, but the Israeli army is more engaged today with deepening the occupation than with promoting what I understand to be Israel’s national interest: a viable peaceful future alongside the Palestinians. 
As the MUWCI community discusses Tamar’s actions and engages with their faculty member on her own experiences, UWC’s role as an educational institution comes into sharp focus. Both Tamar and Noa ascribe their UWC experience — of being encouraged to question, think critically, develop empathy and fundamentally believe that one person’s action do contribute towards change — as a fundamental influencer in their acts of conscientious objection. From our place on the hill, we wish Tamar, and other young people like her, strength in the difficult task of acting on their beliefs. 

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