After 18 months of service in the Israeli army, Roman Levin told his commanders that he was no longer willing to participate in the oppression of the Palestinian people. ‘When I visited Ukraine, I encountered disrespect toward Jews. This is how my empathy for the Palestinian people developed.’
The Israeli army sentenced 19-year-old Roman Levin to 30 days in prison on Tuesday for refusing to continue serving due to his opposition to Israel’s occupation.
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Levin, from the city of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv, immigrated to Israel with a few members of his family from Ukraine when he was 3 years old. Around 18 months ago he enlisted in the army, believing his service would contribute to society and fulfill his duties as a citizen.
Mesarvot, a grassroots network that brings together individuals and groups who refuse to enlist in the IDF in protest of the occupation, accompanied Levin as he was taken to Prison 6.
In his refusal statement, Levin wrote:
My refusal is an act of protest against the occupation that has been going on for more than 50 years, and an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
When I visited my family in Ukraine, I encountered disrespect toward Jews, and in Israel, too, my friends and I were treated with contempt for our different ethnicity and culture. This is how my empathy for the oppressed Palestinian people developed. There’s a civil war going on in the Ukraine, and when I visited there a few months ago I met soldiers who have no idea what they’re fighting for, and end up dead. I could relate to them, because I, too, don’t believe in Israel’s military policies, which are predominantly about maintaining the occupation. This experience led me to think about the meaning of my military service.
I refuse to keep participating in the oppression of the Palestinian people. In the [occupied] territories, more and more settlements are being built while Palestinians are subjected to policies of land confiscations and home demolitions. Since 2006, Israel has destroyed more than 2,000 homes in the occupied territories. Palestinians have limited freedom of movement, both inside their homeland and when traveling outside of it, as the Palestinian passport is ranked 189th in the world, and in the Gaza Strip this right is revoked entirely.
I served in the army as a truck driver, and a significant part of my duty was to drive in the territories. When I was recruited, I thought the army serves the interests of Israeli citizens, but after serving in the territories I understood that the army’s actions don’t serve my interests or the interests of workers in Israel, especially after the continued murder of demonstrators at the Gaza fence. The Nation-State Law strengthened that understanding to me. I came to the conclusion that you can’t hold both ends of the rope – to resist occupation, racism and the capitalist order, while serving in a military that preserves these things.
Financially speaking, it’s more worthwhile for me and my family if I complete my service, to get a stipend and a valuable license that would allow me to find a high paying job. But for most Palestinian residents, and especially for the residents of Gaza, that option doesn’t exist. Every year, the noose around the Palestinian people tightens even more, and the gap between the rich and the poor grows further. This rise in poverty robs workers in Israel from hope for a better future, while the government justifies war. The state spends around 70 billion shekels a year on the defense budget, instead of investing in education, health and welfare.
For the sake of profit, behind the scenes, Israel sells sophisticated arms to tyrannical regimes like Azerbaijan, South Sudan and Rwanda, as well as India’s persecution of the farmers’ resistance movement – over the past few years around 49 percent of Israel’s arms sales have gone to India.
Military service, because of the oppressive role of the IDF, creates an obstacle to what scares the ruling class the most: a partnership between Jewish and Arab laborers in the struggle against the [business] tycoons, crony capitalism, and nationalist oppression, because only through partnership and solidarity with the Arab population as well as other disadvantaged groups like the Ethiopians, Russians and Mizrahim we can create a future without exploitation, oppression and wars.
A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.