Update: The reservist has since decided to expose his identity. He is Gilad Halpern; the name has been updated here.
An IDF reservist was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport Wednesday upon returning to Israel after fleeing call-up orders to serve in Operation Protective Edge. He was later sentenced to 21 days in military prison.
Gilad Halpern, one of three reservists who spoke to +972 Magazine recently for an article about refusal (before he left the country), spent 15 days abroad following a military order to appear for active duty. When he received the order, just as the ground operation was starting, he communicated with his superiors for several days about his intention to refuse on ideological grounds. But the army insisted he report to his unit, and finally told him he must appear within the hour. Instead, he left the country. An IDF representative came to his house just after he had left the country.
Gilad stayed with friends in the Netherlands, then traveled to France where his family, including his wife and two-year old son, met him. When he returned on Wednesday he was stopped at passport control. Along with the border guards who actually arrested him was a “deserter catcher” – a permanent role within the IDF. It was the same person who had come to his apartment the day he had left.
Because Gilad had communicated his intention to refuse by fax rather than reporting to his unit in person, and then left the country, he was considered AWOL rather than a soldier refusing an order. Gilad says he didn’t realize that the means of communication mattered, and he now believes that had he formally reported and then declared his ideological refusal, the army would have been less likely to give him a severe punishment. He is not an officer, and the IDF might prefer to avoid publicity about incidents of refusal, especially from those in the lower ranks.
From the airport Gilad’s guards took him to a military base in the south. The officers considered transferring his case to a military tribunal, but in the end he was tried the following day by a colonel. Gilad explained that a brief length of desertion warrants a less formal military procedure. Longtime deserters – upwards of a few months – face a full military court proceeding, with an indictment and harsher penalties.
Gilad was sentenced to 21 days out of a maximum of 28, which he will serve in Israel’s Military Prison 4 beginning on Sunday. He told +972 Magazine by phone from the base where he is being held near Beersheva:
The verdict is pretty much what I expected, so I was relieved. I have done this as an act of solidarity with the people who really suffered in Gaza and lost a lot, including loved ones, but also with the other reservists. This is my service. They had to leave their lives and families from one day to the next and go down south and spend weeks here, so I’m doing just the same. I’m not just a ‘mishtamet’ [a deeply pejorative term implying dropout or deadbeat, usually in the context of military service - ds]. This is my service to society.