‘It’s like we’re born with guns in our hands’: Young Israelis face prison as they resist military conscription

Israel/Palestine
and on 29 Comments

After a total of 155 days inside a cell and over the span of six separate stays in an Israeli military prison, 19-year-old Tair Kaminer was released in July as the longest serving female conscientious objector to the Israeli military service.

Tucked away on a side street off of Tel Aviv’s bustling roads, Tair sits in her family apartment with her 18-year-old friend, Omri Baranes, a fellow objector who served 67 days in Israeli military prison during three separate sentences.

The two friends are part of a small group of Israeli teenagers called “conscientious objectors” or “conscientious refusers,” who have chosen to resist Israel’s obligatory military draft in protest of the nearly half-century occupation of Palestine.

During their intermittent stays in Israeli military prison, they received support from a small network of activists, called the Refusers Solidarity Network, established less than a year ago. Yasmin Yablonko, 23, is the media coordinator for the network. Her father spent time in military prison for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories during Israel’s 1982 war on Lebanon. Yablonko assists new refusers in voicing their political views to the media and consequently challenging mainstream Israeli narratives on Palestine.

While Tair was eventually exempt from military service during her last stay in prison on grounds that the teenager was unfit for duty, Omri will be forced to return to military prison within 21 days since her last release. If she doesn’t turn herself in, she would officially be tagged a “deserter,” risk being detained by Israeli forces, sentenced to a longer prison term, and stained with an irreversible criminal record.

Yasmin Yablonko, the media coordinator for the Refusers Support Network, and Omri Baranes speak with Mondoweiss.

Yasmin Yablonko, the media coordinator for the Refusers Support Network, and Omri Baranes speak with Mondoweiss.

“I had never even seen a map that shows the green line”

Growing up in a politically mainstream household where military service was not only seen as a duty, but also an honor, Omri found herself at odds with what she saw as an inherently violent culture surrounding her. When it came time for her conscription, she refused on the basis of her budding pacifist beliefs.

“Even before I knew anything about the occupation of Palestine, I couldn’t understand why our culture was centered on violence. It’s like we are born with guns in our hands,” she said. “Our society is so militant and most Israelis never learn anything else.”

Four months ago, Omri requested exemption from military service through an ethics committee. But her request was rejected, and she found herself facing prison time.

Leading up to her first stay in military prison, Omri was introduced to Tair and other members of the Refusers Solidarity Network, who gave her an informal, educational lesson on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

After discovering the widespread human rights violations occurring just a short drive away, Omri dedicated herself to reading books about Palestine and stumbled upon a very different history of Israel than what she had learned growing up.

“I had never even seen a map that shows the green line,” Omri said incredulously, referring to the pre-1967 borders recognized under international law as the border between Palestine and Israel. “To this day, I have not been able to find a map of Israel in Hebrew that recognizes any Palestinian borders.”

Tair reiterated Omri’s sentiments, saying, “The maps we are shown in school represent the entirety of the land as belonging to Israel. There are no occupied territories. This is what all Israelis are being taught.”

Unlike Omri, Tair comes from a long line of left-wing Israelis. Her uncle spent 66 days in military prison for refusing conscription during the 1982 Lebanon war, and her cousin refused in 2002 and became one of the longest serving conscientious objectors after serving two years in military prison.

Despite being raised by left-wing parents who encouraged her to be critical of Israeli society, she told Mondoweiss that she still didn’t understand the full reality of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and was unsure whether she would join the military.

“I was never taught about the Nakba or about the everyday realities Palestinians experience under occupation. It never came down to taking a map and showing me what Israel is actually supposed to look like,” Tair said.

But Tair began to educate herself on Palestine. “I learned how cruel Israeli policies are towards Palestinians. I am not someone who can support cruelty, so I decided that I am not someone who can support the occupation.”

“Israelis are educated to know nothing” 

Erica Weiss, a professor at Tel Aviv University whose research focuses on resistance movements among Israeli soldiers already serving in the military, told Mondoweiss that the soldiers she speaks with “express awe at the ability of high school refusers to be so politically aware even before they are personally confronted with the violent reality of the occupation.”

Tair Kaminer and Omri Baranes, two teenage refusers to the Israeli military.

Tair Kaminer and Omri Baranes, two teenage refusers to the Israeli military. (Photo: Mesarvot/Refusers Support Network)

Tair emphasized how uncommon it is for young Israelis to be educated on the realities of the occupation. “Israelis are educated to not know anything. No one is forcing them to get out of their bubble and see that people living just 30 minutes away from them don’t even have basic rights.”

“Joining the army is the easiest choice for people,” Tair continued. “But once you know more about what the government is doing to the Palestinian people, it becomes much harder to shut your eyes and ears and be a part of it.”

A common trend among left-leaning Israelis who decide to join the military is to attempt to “change the treatment of Palestinians from within,” a notion that the young refusers reject.

“If you smile at Palestinians while working at a checkpoint, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a checkpoint,” Tair said. “As refusers we are against the whole system. We are not just against the military. We are against the government. We are against the policies that oppress the Palestinians.”

Yasmin added, “The fact that you are wearing an Israeli military uniform is already problematic. It doesn’t matter if you are a nice soldier. You are still a soldier.”

“Israelis need to understand that this is not our land,” Yasmin continued. “It has been almost 50 years and the occupation continues and continues and has turned into something normal. Israelis have forgotten that what we are doing is illegal.”

Yasmin still remembers the day she was sitting in Tel Aviv watching the news, when a local weather channel began announcing the forecast in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel, located 20 kilometers inside the Green Line. “It’s one example of how our government constantly attempts to normalize all of these crimes.”

She pointed out that even the road signs to the Ariel settlement are being erected farther away from the actual settlement and closer to Israeli cities. “It’s our government’s way of trying to convince us that these illegal settlements are a part of Israel. They are trying to teach Israelis to not understand what is really happening.”

“If you don’t like Israel, why don’t you just go to Gaza?” 

Though their families generally support them through their decisions to refuse military service, the teens often face a different, much harsher reaction outside their homes.

According to Weiss, a strong, supportive social network is essential for military refusers in Israel, in order to help them cope with the isolation that would otherwise be felt in an increasingly right-wing society where military service is considered an important rite of passage.

“Often in their activism, by stepping out into the public arena and challenging political norms they are exposed to strong feelings, including anger,” Weiss said. “However, many activists see this as a price they are willing to pay for the potential of influencing Israeli society.”

Omri likes to call the insults spewed at her “Israeli mantras.” She described how she is targeted with the same verbal attacks from Israelis regardless of where she is, such as “Arab lover” and “self-hating Jew,” and “if you don’t like Israel, why don’t you just go to Gaza?”

Tair told Mondoweiss that Israelis telling her she should “go get raped in Gaza” has been a popular message in her Facebook inbox since she first appeared in the media for her military refusal.

For her, it is not difficult to understand why Israelis get upset at those resisting what is considered an essential part of Israeli national identity.

“It is hard for Israelis to read a story about the horrible things our soldiers do to the Palestinians, because in Israel soldiers are considered heroes. People don’t want to believe it, so they get angry.”

“But we are doing what we think is right for our society,” Tair continued. “We sit in prison because we are fighting for everyone. We are fighting for peace. We are doing everything we can to end the occupation and resist the hatred that exists in Israel.”

About Jaclynn Ashly

Jaclynn Ashly is a journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. You can find her on twitter @jaclynnashly

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About Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is a multimedia freelance journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. You can find her on twitter @yumspatel

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29 Responses

  1. inbound39
    August 17, 2016, 8:19 pm

    Tair Kaminer is a person of principle and honour to be applauded. Basic respectful rules of living state we can do as we please in life as long as we do no harm to ourselves and or others. The fact she states the GOI spends its time normalizing its illegitimacy is no surprise. The GOI has a history of semantics and twisting truth. Inevitable change is coming as an unstoppable global groundswell against Israeli criminality grows. I salute Tair and those who walk the same path as her…..Zionists fear truth and honesty.

  2. lonely rico
    August 17, 2016, 8:26 pm

    I am moved by the courage of these young Israelis. Struggling for justice in the face of such venom, hate, social stigma and personnel sacrifice, which may continue for some time in terms of employment and educational possibilities/choices.

    “Joining the army is the easiest choice for people,” Tair continued. “But once you know more about what the government is doing to the Palestinian people, it becomes much harder to shut your eyes and ears and be a part of it.”

    Unfortunately it doesn’t seem too hard for the vast majority of young soldiers in the IDF,
    who see over and over the cruel violence meted out daily to the Palestinians, but choose to shut their eyes and ears.

    “Bon courage” as one says in French, to Tair, Omri, Yasmin and all the others who take a stand for justice and peace in Palestine.

  3. Raphael
    August 17, 2016, 8:46 pm

    “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”

    John F. Kennedy

    • Mooser
      August 18, 2016, 6:27 pm

      Raphael, what if everyhody in Israel was too chicken to serve in the IDF? The Arabs were living in Judea and Samaria when the Israelites starting moving back mostly after the second war, granted, But, The Arabs were and are a warlike tribe; that would not even consider a debate with the Israelites in the past and even in the present in a democratic humane manner; and they were and are not friendly neighbors; they are warlike and brutal, and, did not, and do not seek to live with their neighbors in peace; so the Israelis were and are justified in the self defense of their land.The Arabs even until this present day refuse to even acknowledge that Israel exists, because, the Arabs are at war with them. http://mondoweiss.net/profile/raphael/?keyword=Arab*#sthash.8Xl4MXKZ.dpuf

      How can any body honor draft-dodgers under those conditions of permanent existential exigency? Shame on you for encouraging Israeli’s to be traitors.

      • philip sommer
        August 20, 2016, 1:03 pm

        As humans we are born human. Our first allegiance is therefore is to humanity, not tribe, religion or state.

        To obstruct, deny or take the life of another is an act of treason, the act of a traitor, the act of a coward.

        The Israeli occupation of Palestine is an act of treason to humanity. Israelis are not special humans nor are they “god’s chosen people”, rather, their tribal ideology is based on war, myth and cowardly lies.

      • Moral Jews
        August 20, 2016, 1:15 pm

        That statement is a perfect example of willful ignorance, malice, and the lack of ANY Moral Compass. Sadly, this is the evil of Zionism.

  4. JLewisDickerson
    August 17, 2016, 9:35 pm

    RE: Growing up in a politically mainstream household where military service was not only seen as a duty, but also an honor, Omri found herself at odds with what she saw as an inherently violent culture surrounding her. When it came time for her conscription, she refused on the basis of her budding pacifist beliefs.
    “Even before I knew anything about the occupation of Palestine, I couldn’t understand why our culture was centered on violence. It’s like we are born with guns in our hands,” she said. “Our society is so militant and most Israelis never learn anything else.”
    ~ Omri Baranes

    ■ “If—” ~ Rudyard Kipling

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

    • JLewisDickerson
      August 17, 2016, 9:35 pm

      P.S.
      If—
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      “If—” is a poem by British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling, written in 1895[1] . . .

      . . . In the posthumously published autobiography Something of Myself (1937), Kipling said that his poetic inspiration for the poem was the military actions of Leander Starr Jameson,[4] leader of the failed Jameson Raid (December 1895 – January 1896) against the Transvaal Republic to overthrow the Boer Government of Paul Kruger some 15 years prior to its publication. The failure of that mercenary coup d’état aggravated the political tensions between Great Britain and the Boers, which led to the Second Boer War (1899–1902).[5][6] . . .

    • Annie Robbins
      August 17, 2016, 10:05 pm

      thanks dickerson ;)

    • Kay24
      August 17, 2016, 10:37 pm

      JLD,

      Thanks for reminding me of this great poem my late father used to read to us when we were little.

      I always liked the last four sentences.

  5. Annie Robbins
    August 17, 2016, 10:06 pm

    these kids bring so much hope for the future.

    • silamcuz
      August 22, 2016, 9:11 am

      Any particular reason for saying that?

      I wonder if the mothers of black kids murdered by the police today in the USA thought the same when they were growing up and seeing white hippies and activists standing up for equal rights and racial justice. I truly, honestly do.

  6. Kay24
    August 17, 2016, 10:34 pm

    Bret Stephens shows he is a racist again.

    http://lobelog.com/bret-stephenss-racist-olfactory-element/

    • Marnie
      August 18, 2016, 12:46 am

      I know this isn’t on track but just in response – I thought that the traditional thing in judo was to bow to one’s opponent, not shake hands.

      That being said, I felt the israeli opponent was trying to start something with the handshake and storming off in anger when rebuffed. Dramarama – a gold medal event. Reminds me of israelis pushing their way onto a bus of Lebanese athletes then whining to the press they weren’t allowed. I guess that saying ‘what goes around, comes around’ is really true.

      Personally, I don’t think it should be required to shake the hand of an opponent anyway, it’s just PC that looks good on TV but it doesn’t mean anything.

  7. DaBakr
    August 17, 2016, 10:40 pm

    There have always been small numbers of conscientious objectors in nations where there is a system of laws and justice, regardless of what ones opinion of the nation I particular.

    Now, in nations like Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Syria, or Chad, when your conscripted, your conscripted. No cushy 6m stay in a clean jail. No recourse. No jury or impartial judge. So, while these kids may be the hope of anti-zionists everywhere, I would assume they knew very well that their lives would be in no danger and only, possibly, their job prospects might suffer.

    But then why shouldn’t Israeli druze, Muslim, Jews or Christians who serve have access to certain national privileges over objectors. The US has veteran benefits as do dozens of other nations. Even the PA pays stipends to those who serve their cause- or are martyred by engaging inactive violent resistance

    • John O
      August 18, 2016, 9:33 am

      “…in nations like Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Syria, or Chad…”

      Why do you never learn? Comparing Israel to these countries does you no favours and wins you no arguments.

      • eljay
        August 18, 2016, 10:31 am

        || John O: “…in nations like Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Syria, or Chad…”

        Why do you never learn? … ||

        Zio-supremacists can’t seem to help themselves: They routinely…
        – praise and promote Israel as a “moral beacon”, a “light unto the nations” and a “Western style democracy”; and
        – defend it by comparing it to some of the worst countries in the world, countries they openly despise.

    • Misterioso
      August 18, 2016, 10:25 am

      DaBakr

      Face reality. Israel is imploding. The Zionist myth is collapsing. Jewish immigration is in free fall and emigration is growing every day. Along with the rest of the world, Jews everywhere, especially youth, are seeing Israel for what it is, a desecration of Judaism and a rogue, pariah, criminal state. It is only going to get worse, much worse.

  8. Marnie
    August 18, 2016, 12:36 am

    “But Tair began to educate herself on Palestine. “I learned how cruel Israeli policies are towards Palestinians. I am not someone who can support cruelty, so I decided that I am not someone who can support the occupation.”

    I understand she didn’t grow up in the average israeli household and had the ful support of her family when she refused, but it seems it really was just that simple for her – she can’t support cruelty, so can’t support the occupation. She didn’t get tangled up (so far) in political correctness or what’s the correct vocabulary wrt to the occupation.

    And the woman most definitely had to educate herself, because nothing in an israeli public school education is going to allow any other narrative than biblical, holocaust and ‘Jewish independence’ and as bad as that is, per Bennett’s (education minister) and Regev (‘culture’ mnister) plans, it is going to get much worse. I’m so glad that Tair reached out to Omri and they are sisters in solidarity against the occupation, part of a larger group of young israelis refusing conscription because they can’t support the occupation.

    • silamcuz
      August 19, 2016, 12:57 am

      Yup, this is why we in the activism circles must be aware that Israelis are just as much of a victim of Zionism as the Palestinians. These folks are being indoctrinated from the moment they are born all the way into adulthood with Zionist ideals and worldview, essentially turning them into pawns of the establishment. And many Israelis simply do not have the privilege to escape from their fate, like Tair does. They don’t have the sufficient support system, safe space, and resources to challenge their deeply-entrenched prejudices and attitudes. So no surprises many of them end up becoming the despised soldiers in the occupied territory, doing the dirty work for the white ruling class who don’t give damn about them beyond their usefulness for Zionism.

      So let us all be clear, our enemy will always be Zionism, not Israelis, not Jews.

  9. eljay
    August 18, 2016, 10:06 am

    I offer my respect to these young women.

    … Tair told Mondoweiss that Israelis telling her she should “go get raped in Gaza” has been a popular message in her Facebook inbox since she first appeared in the media for her military refusal. …

    It says everything about Zio-supremacists – and similarly hateful and immoral people elsewhere in the world – that they wish harm to / wish to harm people who stand for justice and morality.

  10. Froggy
    August 18, 2016, 10:16 am

    Brave, brave girl. You are Israel’s White Rose.

    I’ve printed out this article to give to my children.

  11. oldgeezer
    August 18, 2016, 3:11 pm

    I salute their courage and bravery. The worlds needs more people with such a strong moral fiber and character.

    Good luck!

  12. rosross
    August 18, 2016, 8:05 pm

    Brave young Israelis of intelligence and conscience. If Israel is to survive she needs more of them. The occupation, colonisation and apartheid rot the very core of Israeli society. You cannot abuse others and not be debased. How wonderful that some have managed to grow through it.

  13. David Gerald Fincham
    August 20, 2016, 11:08 am

    From the Mondoweiss email of 16 August: “Omri Baranes is a 18-year-old conscientious objector who served 67 days in military prison for resisting Israel’s obligatory military draft in protest of the nearly half-century occupation of Palestine.”

    The Zionist occupation of Palestine began a century ago with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The 1967 military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza extended the occupation into the remaining 22% of Palestine not previously under Israeli control.

    From this article: “I had never even seen a map that shows the green line,” Omri said incredulously, referring to the pre-1967 borders recognized under international law as the border between Palestine and Israel.

    The Green Line is the 1949 Armistice Line. The Armistice agreements say “the Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary”. The Green Line has never been internationally recognized as anything other than a de facto border. People should please stop using the phrase ‘pre-1967 border’. The Green Line is not a recognized border, and it did not move an inch in 1967.

    The only ‘legal’ border between two states is one they have agreed in a free and fair negotiation. Until there is such an agreement between Israel and Palestine, their mutual border is indeterminate. A fair border would give the Palestinians much more than the 22% of their homeland as envisaged in the Oslo process.

  14. ET
    August 21, 2016, 9:26 pm

    Reason that the 1949 Armistice Line is called the “Greenline” is because the color of the ink pen was green: UNSC 242 addresses State of Israel June 5th 1967 breach of 1949 Armistice
    .
    Palestinians are born into a Sionist War Criminal occupation & Israelis are born into a Sionist War Criminal Enterprise
    .
    Principles of Nuremberg
    Principle VI, (c) Crimes Against Humanity: Political persecution of Palestinians in an attempt to dispossess them from their UNGA 181 National Rights of sovereignty in connexion with
    1 (a) Crimes Against Peace: Breach of 1949 Armistice & non-compliance with Chapter VII Article 39’s UNSC 242
    2 or (b) War Crimes
    2.1 Systemic Breach of I_973 Geneva Convention Article 49 transfer of Israeli Citizenry into occupied UNGA 181 State of Palestine West Bank Territory
    2.2 Genocide Convention: IDF siege vis-a-vis the People of UNGA 181 State of Palestine Gaza Territory
    .
    War Crimes
    https://www.facebook.com/vistavision13/media_set?set=a.512491405507332.1073741828.100002394314450&type=3

  15. YoniFalic
    August 22, 2016, 8:01 am

    Tair Kaminer and her friends are hypocrites.

    There really is no ethical distinction between serving in the OT and in living in pre-1967 Israel, which is the result of white racist European genocidal colonialism.

    Kaminer & friends should be honest with themselves and abandon the State of Israel as I did (or serve in the OT because they really have no problem with genocide when it is committed by Jews).

    As an historian I have to observe that the State of Israel has created the equivalent of the Czarist military service, which existed during the reign of Nicholas I and to which Czarist Jews objected.

    Nicholas I believed that military service and consolidating a modern Czarist state were equivalent. The Czarist government distinguished between groups which had a legitimate purpose in the modern Empire and merited serving in the military — Jews were included — and those groups, which were not fit to belong in the modern Empire and which were excluded from military service.

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