‘I refuse to join an army that has, since it was established, been engaged in dominating another nation’: Interview with Israeli refuser Noam Gur

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
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Friend and contributor Dena Shunra put us in contact with Noam Gur, currently undergoing the process of refusing to serve in the Israeli army. Noam is an 18 years old, queer feminist vegan activist currently living in Kiryat Motzkin, near Haifa, but was born and raised in Nahriyya, near Akka and the Lebanese border.

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Noam Gur Hebron Photo:Eshraq Hajo

Annie: When did you first realize you didn’t want to serve in the military?

Noam: When I was about 15 years old I started understanding what was really happening in Palestine and Israel, after years of being told scary stories and lies by the educational system, the family, and Israeli society in general. At that stage, I believed that something like “enlightened occupation” could actually exist – in other words, that I’d go to the army and serve anywhere I’m sent, but that I’d do that with pity, compassion and “a smile”, that I wouldn’t hurt anyone without cause, and I’d refuse to obey illegal orders, etc.

That stage passed pretty quickly, when I understood there was not really any such thing as an enlightened occupation, and that in order to stop the occupation and work for peace I had to decide not to operate in the Occupied Territories. That phase passed pretty quickly, too.

When I was about 16, I understood that the only right way to act was to refuse completely to take part in the military, for the reasons I indicated in the declaration that I have attached.

Annie:  Are your parents activists or are they supportive in your decision?

Noam:  To tell you the truth, my parents are really not activists. Both my parents served in the army, my father was even a warrior and was wounded in the first Lebanon War. My big sister also served in the army, in a Border Patrol unit, at the Erez Crossing. My parents do not support the decision, but they are thoroughly aware of the fact that it is my decision, and that they cannot influence it. I do not know what will happen when the date of my imprisonment approaches and if the issue becomes one of public interest – that could hurt the, and turn them into a target. It is also entirely possible that my mother would decide that as long as I’m refusing, I don’t belong in her household.

Annie: Dena references the process of refusal as “torturous”, can you elaborate? Are you still in this process? It repeats itself from what I understand, is that correct?

Noam: Ok, this is a bit on the long side. The process of refusing is indeed long and tiresome, as Dena said it was. About a year ago I got the first call-up date. That’s a day when youths come [to a draft board-style of location] and the question of whether they are fit for [military] service is determined. It was decided that I am fit for military purpose. Then I went to a thing called a Conscience Board [ethics or conscientious objection board], a committee that on principle releases only radical pacifists, but I thought I should give it a try even if I’m not a pacifist. The army has recently refused my application to be seen by the board.

The date of my enlistment is April 16th. On that day I will go to the Ramat Gan Draft Bureau and declare my refusal to be drafted. In the course of that day I’ll be judged by a minor officer, in a kind of shortened trial that is primarily for show, and I’ll be sent to military prison for a period of between 7 days and a month. Then I’ll be released from prison, and I’ll have to go back to Ramat Gan, declare again that I refuse to be drafted, be judged to serve another week to a month, and again and again, until either I or the army gives up. If I give up first, I’ll have to see a military psychologist, and persuade him that I am not mentally capable of service. If the army gives up force (which is what I hope will happen, of course, but hasn’t happened for quite a lot of time) I’ll be released for “unsuitability” [or “failing to fit in” or “adjustment failure”]. There is a small chance that the army will decide to send me to court, which would mean that I could be imprisoned for a long time (the most time refusers were sentenced two was two years, in 2003). By the way, repeated jailing for the same offense is considered unlawful by the U.N., and it constitutes gross violation of human rights. So yes, we’ve repeated go-arounds in prison, which could take a lot of time. The last of the well-know refusers, a Druze guy from Beit Jan, was sent to seven rounds of prison before the army released him.

Phil: I admire you and want to believe I might have been as courageous as you, in similar circumstances…
Maya and Neta spoke of the incredible social isolation they face. They were making a hugely unpopular decision in a society that believes it needs a strong military to survive. Can you speak at all about your social isolation? Have you lost friends? Who has given you support? Have you been scorned/attacked?

Noam: It’s a little hard for me to respond to this, because I have only recently decided to make a public declaration of refusal, but yes – Israeli society does not greet this with a smile at all. The opposite is true.

I haven’t run into any actual violence, but I did indeed come across silencing, at school, for example. Not serving in the military was a subject that could not even be discussed. I assume that I’ll start running across violence the closer I come to refusing, and if and when the story makes it into the media or the social media. I don’t know if people broke off contact with me, but since everyone in my class is in the army now, or about to be drafted, I did not see much point in keeping in touch with most of them. So yes, there is no doubt that there’s a feeling of isolation from society. I get quite a bit of support from activists, Jews and Palestinians, but unfortunately there are only few such activists, so that the support is limited.
There’s also the organization New Profile, which is important for me to note: it accompanies refusers in the refusal process, and helped me a lot, from the beginning of the road to this day, with lawyers, information, support, etc.

Annie:  Noam, when you say it could turn your parents into a target what do you mean? Is there a precedence for this? Do you mean society shuns them? Your mother possibly deciding you do not belong in her household sounds devastating.

Noam: I think that society will eventually blame them for my refuse, “how could they have a daughter that “betray” her own society”? It happened in past years, families of refusniks received hate letters, hate graffiti on the house walls etc. To be honest, Israel is becoming less tolerance for other views, “price tags” are now common against individuals and that’s something I’m keeping in mind, that someone can choose to target me or my family. My mom basically told me that she’d rather I leave the house if I’m going to get involved with jail and the army police, since she does not support this. That happened two years ago too, one of the refusnik’s was kicked out of the house short while before his jail time.

I used to laugh with mom (she did not find that funny though) that she’ll be so much prouder if I die or be kidnapped during a war. The Israeli society still worship the dead far more the the living. I’m not sure if I mentioned that but the refuse date is pretty bad – it’s the month of the Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day for IDF soldiers and the Israeli independence day. April is always a month when you can see how much Israel invests in the dead.

Annie: The more I know, the more daunting it seems to me, what you are going through.

Noam: I just wanna point out that I’m not going through this process as an heroic action. I really do believe that this kind of public action and support for the non-violent resistance could make a (small) difference. I could, indeed, just go to a mental officer and be released in a few days, but that would mean cooperating with the army silencing system.

Annie: What is the army silencing system?

Noam: The Israeli army is doing everything it can in order to silence any kind of criticism. Sending refusniks to mental officers, for example. People feel like they can just go to a mental officer without jail and it will have the same effect and final result – getting a release of the army. I will not be silenced, I will let people know that I oppose this terrible crimes and make my refuse public, instead of just getting out of the army in the easiest way possible.

Annie: Thank you very much Noam. It’s very brave what you are doing. We look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

  Below is Noam Gur’s refusal statement published here for the first time:

אני מסרבת לקחת חלק בצה”ל, כי אני מסרבת להצטרף לצבא שמאז הקמתו עסוק בשליטה בעם אחר, גזל, והטלת טרור על אוכלוסייה אזרחית הנמצאת תחת שליטתו. ההרס והנישול השיטתי כחלק ממדיניות טרנספר ארוכת שנים, רצח מפגנים לא אלימים, חומת האפרטהייד, “מבצעי” הטבח שצה”ל בוחר לבצע ושאר הפרות זכויות האדם היומיות של הפלסטינים הובילו וממשיכים להוביל למעגל דמים ארוך וסתמי שניתן למניעה.

במשך שנים נאמר לי ששליטה זו אמורה להגן עליי, אך המידע אודות הסבל הנגרם כתוצאה מהטרור המופעל על האוכלוסייה הפלסטינית נשמט מהסיפור. הדרך לפירוק האפרטהייד והשגת שלום אמיתי וצודק היא ארוכה וקשה, אך פעולות אלו של צה”ל רק מרחיקות אותו, לתפיסתי. העם הפלסטיני מתחיל להיאבק יותר ויותר בעשור האחרון בדרכים לא-אלימות מתוך הבנה זו, ואני בוחרת להצטרף לדרך זו, ולפנות למאבק עממי לא אלים בפלסטין, במקום לשרת בצה”ל ולהמשיך את האלימות.

I refuse to take part in the Israeli army because I refuse to join an army that has, since it was established, been engaged in dominating another nation, in plundering and terrorizing a civilian population that is under its control. The systematic destruction and dispossession that form part of a long-established policy of population-transfer, murder of non-violent demonstrators, the Apartheid wall, the massacre “operations” that the Israeli army chooses to carry out, and the rest of the daily violations of the human rights of the Palestinians have led, and continue to lead, to a long, indefinite, and preventable cycle of bloodshed.

For years I have been told that this control is supposed to protect me, but information about the suffering caused due to terrorizing the Palestinian population is omitted from the story. The road to dismantling this Apartheid and achieving true and just peace is long, and hard, but as I see it, these actions by the Israeli army only push it further away. Over this past decade, the Palestinian people have been increasingly choosing the path of nonviolent resistance, and I choose to join this path and to turn to a popular, nonviolent struggle in Palestine – this, rather than to serve in the Israeli army and continue the violence.

أنا ارفض الخدمة في جيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي لأني ارفض الانضمام لجيش الذي عمل منذ قيامه على الهيمنة على شعب أخر, سرقته وعلى فرض الإرهاب على الناس العزل الموجودون تحت سيطرته. وعمل على الهدم, السلب المنهجي كجزء من سياسة التهجير المتبعة منذ سنين, قتل متظاهرين عزل, بناء جدار الفصل العنصري, “حملات” القتل التي يتبعها جيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي والعديد من انتهاكات أليوميه لحقوق الإنسان الفلسطيني التي قادت وما زالت تقود نحو سكب المزيد من الدماء وبشكل متواصل الذي لا يمكن إيقافه.

قيل لي على مر السنين أن هذا هيمنة وجدت لحمايتي, لكن المعلومات عن الإرهاب الذي يمارس ضد الشعب الفلسطيني لم تصل إلى أذني. الطريق إلى تفكيك نظام الفصل العنصري وتحقيق السلام الحقيقي والعادل هو طويل وصعب, ولكن في وجهة نظري, الأعمال التي بقوم بها جيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي تبعدنا أكثر وأكثر عن تحقيق هذا الهدف.

في العقد الأخير بدأ الشعب الفلسطيني في النضال أكثر وأكثر في طرق سلميه انطلاقا من فهمه لهذا الأمر, وأنا اخترت للانضمام في هذا الاتجاه, نحو مناهضه شعبية سلميه, بدلا من الخدمة في جيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي، ومواصلة العنف.

(Hat tip Dena Shunra)

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