Moriel Rothman on why he refused Israeli military duty — ‘The Occupation is cruelty and injustice manifest’

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From Moriel Rothman’s blog The Leftern Wall

New Profile sent out the following announcement:

Moriel Rothman, 23 year old from, Jerusalem, arrived yesterday morning, Wednesday, 24 October, to the Induction Base in Jerusalem, where he declared his refusal to serve in the Israeli Army as it is an occupying force. He was sentenced to 10 days of imprisonment for his refusal.

In his refusal declaration Moriel Rothman wrote:

“But it cannot be said lightly, the time has long passed for gentle language and “hear-able” rhetoric: The Occupation– which is the IDF’s primary function these days- is cruelty and injustice manifest. The Occupation is anti-God, anti-Love and staggeringly, constantly violent. The Occupation is based on a system of racial/ethnic separation that does, in fact, resemble South African Apartheid and segregation in the Southern United States until the 1960s. And this “temporary” Occupation is not “on its way out,” but is rather growing in strength every single day. There is almost zero political will within Israel’s government to end it, and the Israeli public has largely accepted the status quo, in which the occupation is basically a theoretical question, and one of which many have grown tired. But the occupation can only be theoretical if you are not occupied, and thus my refusal to support the occupation by serving in the IDF is also an act of solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation.”

Rothman has a great blog where he documented his decision to refuse military service. Definitely check it out, including his dialogue with himself debating whether to refuse. I’m struck by the fact that he spent most of his childhood in the U.S. which clearly influenced his views on Israel/Palestine, and I’m moved by how openly he talks about being scared of the decision he’s making. 

Yesterday he blogged “Live from IDF Military Court“:

We get off the bus, are told to stand in formation, and I think: Ok, now or never. (now or later, really, but drama is fun).

Soldier: Everyone in formation!

Me, quietly: I refuse to enlist.

Soldier: Fine, we’ll deal with that later. Now get in formation.

Me: Why? I refuse to enlist.

Soldier: Get in formation!

Me: What are you going to do, put me in jail? (thanks, Sahar!)

Soldier walks off to find someone to deal with me. The other draftees seem shocked, are giggling. One gives me a thumbs up.

I am sent to the “Ta Harigim,” the weirdo room, in loose translation. I go to the desk.

Me: Hello. I refuse to enlist.

Clerk: Why don’t you want to go to the army?

Me: Because I am against the occupation.

Clerk: You’re against the occupation, so what are you for?

Me: I’m for nonviolence and peace.

The clerk mumbles something about peace shmeace, and then says: It’s clear to you that you’re going to jail, correct?

Me: Yes. It is.

And then I am sent to wait. In the weirdo room I meet a great fellow who is also not into this whole system, and we went to wander around this place, agreeing that the fence and the seriousness are as real as the grass here (not real). We were told we could go to lunch, but the two of us were turned away (“this cafeteria is for draftees only”). We laughed and agreed again that we’d rather miss lunch than join the army.

The other folks here are a bit different (including one who told about sneaking into Joseph’s Tomb. Eep), but everyone’s friendly, we all want out. This is going to be wild. And maybe even a bit wonderful. And weird.

Meep, I’m being sent away, I think they’re going to take my phone, so I’m going to post this now, as is, and hopefully will know and somehow publicize how long I’m sentenced for and in which jail.

Moriel’s brother Jesse has taken over the blog while Moriel is in prison. He reports that Moriel is being held “up North in a military prison, where he will be detained for the next ten days.” Rothman will then most likely be given a chance to enter the military and if he refuses he will sentenced to another prison term. This cycle will continue until Rothman either enters the military or he is released from service.

Jesse has been arguing Moriel’s case, and responded to a piece in the Daily Beast criticizing Moriel’s decision to refuse. Here’s an excerpt from Jesse’s response:

Second, Stein says that the IDF doesn’t actually need to be transformed. The military, he says, is primarily a defense force and, therefore, an admirable, if regrettable thing. This, in many ways, is the crux of the argument. A remarkable amount of military energy is spent controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians. It is not, as Stein, claims “cheap.” The article that he links us to defend this assertion holds no proof that the IDF spends most of its resources on combatting nuclear war, rather than on the occupation. I do not know the numbers (although the article he linked us to did state that 2/3 of the military budget is spent on personnel, and the majority of army personnel deals with the occupation), but I do not doubt that the Occupation is not a throwaway line-item in the budget. The IDF is largely, if not primarily, organized to control the lives of millions of civilians who wish not to be controlled. This is not a defense force, this is not a matter of national security. Stein says confidently that the IDF’s central purpose is defense, but this is an assertion based upon a wishful projection. If only… Defense is a worthy goal, but Stein isn’t willing to look at the IDF as it is currently organized. This is the central argument, probably, between the center-left and hard-left in Israel. The center-left continues to believe wishfully that the IDF is organized only to defend and protect Israel despite the facts on the ground, while the hard-left is, I believe rightly, skeptical of these assertions. If you believe that the Occupation is a form of self-defense or that the IDF is primarily a “defense force” today, then the burden of proof is yours. Because the evidence that I have seen – settlements, and administrative detention, and the separation wall, and army divisions in Palestinian cities and homes, and child arrests, and transportation barriers – does not lead me to this conclusion. Too often, it seems, the mission of the IDF is to protect Jewish expansionism and settlements, privilege Jewish people, and harshly control the lives of Palestinian subordinates. This is all justified under the banner of “security.” National security is used as a red herring in these debates – you cannot simply assume that the IDF’s mission is solely (or even primarily) to defend the Israeli people, you must prove that assumption. You must prove it because the army (by definition) is violent, and the Occupation is horribly oppressive to millions of people. National security is an important goal; unfortunately that and the mission of the IDF seem only sometimes to line up.

New Profile has posted how to get in touch with Rothman to send him a note of encouragement and recommended actions to take in solidarity.

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hopefully rothman reflects a trend among US-raised enlistees and more will follow his brave example … doubtful many or any israeli-raised recruits will … he’s swimming against the tide but we can hope his message resonates

What amazes me about Israel is that there are so few conscientious objectors.

Even Breaking the silence has only 350 members. How many people serve in the IDF? 180,000 or so and say 30,000 come on stream every year and then maybe 50 are thinking about how it all fits together?

Rothman does have a great blog, both him and his brother are wonderful people. I only wish there were many many more like them.