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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.

Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Executive Editor of

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16 Responses

  1. radii on October 26, 2012, 10:51 am

    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

  2. seafoid on October 26, 2012, 12:46 pm

    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?

    • tripledobe on October 26, 2012, 3:58 pm

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

      Even if one ignores immediate negative consequences on them and families, the objectors have to put their own legitimacy on the line where the land rights they and their families live on, would be in doubt and make it possibly up to somebody else (the world?) to decide again whether they have to move. The fact that they all might find other solutions is still up in the air, meanwhile they would make themselves (as in all Israeli Jews) very vulnerable. I wonder how many people in this country would come ahead stating that the real just solution for all Non-Native emigrants is for them to just leave and let Natives to take care of this land. I know that this analogy is not perfect but I think it works to explain the most important nuance: Israeli Jews are no more immoral than we all are. And I agree that this is not a reason for anyone to stop exposing crimes of Apartheid regime of Israel or historical truths that brought them to this point. I also think that there are solutions to this problem.

      • Mooser on October 26, 2012, 7:34 pm

        “Israeli Jews are no more immoral than we all are.”

        Nobody has any complaint about “Israeli Jews” as such. It’s the Israeli Zionists which are the problem. It’s the intransigence and illegality of Israel in many situations and contexts which is the problem. What religion they follow is irrelevant, unless, of course, you want to argue that being a good Jew requires allegiance to Zionism and embracing its actions. Would you like to do that?

      • tripledobe on October 27, 2012, 3:08 pm

        To do what? Argue about allegiance to Zionism? No, not really. I am Jewish only ethnically and am not an expert on Judaism. But I am quite convinced that Zionism was a huge mistake. And my point was more or less about ‘people can afford to be moral only when they feel safe’ and most Israeli Jews could not feel completely safe if they admit that Zionism is evil. I can explain why I think that if you’d like.

      • Mooser on October 27, 2012, 4:51 pm

        “I can explain why I think that if you’d like.”

        The rest of your comments were clear to me, thanks for explaining. I think I understand your point about how difficult it would be for most Israelis to oppose Zionism on any level, and the confusion any questioning of Zionism would bring them.

      • talknic on October 26, 2012, 10:21 pm

        tripledobe October 26, 2012 at 3:58 pm

        “Even if one ignores immediate negative consequences on them and families, the objectors have to put their own legitimacy on the line where the land rights they and their families live on”

        Uh? Israelis have Israel. It’s a sovereign state. Occupation for the last 64 years has been outside of Israel’s sovereign extent.

      • tripledobe on October 27, 2012, 12:54 am

        Palestinians have never agreed (none of them officially and a lot of them even unofficially) with the fact that Britain and UN can take away any part of their land and give to anybody. If Jews agree that what they are doing with West Bank is theft than it does not take a huge induction to figure that what was taken in 1948 is also theft. Since that first nice gesture from UN they have ignored all its resolutions if I am not mistaken. More to the point, I think it’s about the right to return. Like: If we don’t fight Palestinians because it is immoral occupation of the people that fight for their just rights than we have figure out what to do to stop them from fighting… well if they fight because they think we stole something maybe we have to return it… And here goes the great idea to save Jews from anti-Semitism for ever and ever. Something like that I think. But it is all programmed in subconscious layer of most Israeli kids.

      • talknic on October 27, 2012, 3:42 pm

        tripledobe October 27, 2012 at 12:54 am

        Apologies. I’ve apparently misunderstood the intention of your first post.

        Fear of a demographic threat is a calculated propaganda ploy, deceptively propped up by citing the irrelevant figures from UNRWA. The Palestinians claim RoR according to UNGA res 194 … UNRWA didn’t even exist when UNGA res 194 was adopted so it is impossible that the UNRWA figures apply even if they were relevant … which they aren’t. The UNRWA mandate doesn’t extend to final status

        The demographic threat canard is even propagated by those who should know better forgoing honor for deceit on behalf of the Jewish State. Rather at odds with the basic tenets of Judaism

        Under UNGA res 181 Israel was guaranteed a majority of Jewish folk and a sovereign state controls its own immigration. A demographic threat didn’t exist to the State of Israel in 1948.

        Simple maths and the natural attrition rate of Palestinians over 64 years of age tells us it certainly doesn’t exist today. Under UNGA res 194 there was no RoR for lineal descendants.

        The demographic threat DOES however still legally exist to the territories Israel has illegally acquired by war and illegally annexed since declaration and recognition. Territories now populated with Israeli citizens living in the deep ‘facts on the ground’ hole purposefully dug over the last 64 years by consecutive Israel Governments, in complete contravention of the UN Charter and Customary Laws of War

        In the propaganda war, Israel can’t be seen to be the rouge faced rogue it’s shown to be by numerous UNSC resolutions. All blame is shifted to the Arabs/Palestinians.

        The harsh reality no one is willing to admit is: that faced with the consequences of the Law, the UN Charter and UNSC resolutions, all of which fall in favour of the Palestinians, Israel would be sent bankrupt paying reparations and likely erupt in civil war in territories outside the State of Israel. As such the other Regional Powers would again have a right to intervene under the UN Charter Chapt VII, as they did in 1948.

        Under the consequences of the law, millions of Israeli citizens living in territory never legally annexed to Israel who refuse to take or might be forbidden to take Palestinian citizenship, would be required to relocate into Israel’s actual internationally recognized territory. The Jewish State would be plagued for decades with enormous housing shortages, lack of infrastructure etc and fiscal failure. Unfortunately the Jewish State has dug itself into a corner from which there is only one escape without becoming a failed state. It must negotiate a settlement to circumvent the consequences of the law. A settlement which will depend on the generosity of the Palestinians in foregoing their actual legal rights.

        However, every generous offer on the part of the Palestinians and Arab States has been rejected or ignored. Israel is relentless in pursuing only one goal

      • Mooser on October 27, 2012, 5:05 pm

        “Israel is relentless in pursuing only one goal”

        You know, the more I wonder about it, the more I wonder if the present ruling coalition in Israel wouldn’t be happier with Israel as a failed state. Not, of course, that they wouldn’t scream at anybody who called it that. And with nuclear weapons, too.

      • tripledobe on October 27, 2012, 7:00 pm

        While I agree with the most of your conclusions and learn much by looking at the references you suggest, I don’t see much disagreement between them and my ideas. However I see one assumption underlying all your hypothetical possibilities: it’s 2 vs 1state solutions. There is a separate discussion for that and probably for a very good reason. But for the sake of this one I am assuming just the opposite of you – the only possibility I see possible long-term – 1state. With that in mind I disagree that demographic threat is just a ploy, even if it has been used as such by propaganda. I think it is not just real but also inevitable. Now, this is not the end of the world in my (and probably yours) opinion but for people who think they hold all the cards now it would certainly feel as very high and not inevitable risk. I also think that Israel has come to this point because that ‘one goal’ has been programmed into its fiber by the ideas of Zionism. All their consequences were clear to very few people and the rest just got sucked in step by step like by a swamp. Historical context of the time when Z started was quite different and colonization seemed ok even for people who considered themselves moral.
        P.S. are you assuming 1947, or 1967, or 1967 + land exchange borders for 2state?

      • seafoid on October 28, 2012, 2:46 am

        It all depends on how much money they could control, same as with any other ruling clique. Maybe a failed Israel would be more profitable for them. This seems to be the way the Republicans think in terms of the US.

      • talknic on October 28, 2012, 5:31 pm

        “the only possibility I see possible long-term – 1state. With that in mind I disagree that demographic threat is just a ploy, even if it has been used as such by propaganda. I think it is not just real but also inevitable.”

        Inevitable in 1 state. It’s not inevitable within Israel’s self acknowledged borders May 22nd ’48 in 2 state scenario Sovereign states are permitted to shape their demographic according to their majority wish (sans breaking International Law)

        ” assuming 1947, or 1967, or 1967 + land exchange borders for 2state?”

        Self determination…. Abbas twice now at the UN has made a very generous offer.

        Thus, we agreed to establish the State of Palestine on only 22% of the territory of historical Palestine – on all the Palestinian Territory occupied by Israel in 1967.

        We, by taking that historic step, which was welcomed by the States of the world, made a major concession in order to achieve a historic compromise that would allow peace to be made in the land of peace.

        I see no reason for land swaps. Adhering to the UNSC resolutions should suffice for a law abiding UN Member. There would tho, be need for a change of citizenship for foreign citizens in Palestine

  3. annie on October 26, 2012, 2:08 pm

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

    • Mooser on October 26, 2012, 2:33 pm

      “I only wish there were many many more like them.”

      If I’m not mistaken, some Mondoweiss commenters have identified themselves as refuseniks. Perhaps they will notice and add to this post.

    • seafoid on October 26, 2012, 2:45 pm

      I guess there are probably many more people with the potential to be like him in Israel but that they are too afraid to speak out. Or they don’t want to think about it because it would be too awkward. Easier to be like everyone else. Like that Japanese thing. You don’t want to be nail sticking out of the wood.

      They can’t all be indoctrinated 100%.

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