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Conscientious objector refusing to serve in IDF sentenced to prison

Noam Gur, a young Israeli conscientious objector, was sentenced Monday afternoon to 10 days in military prison. Once released, Gur is likely to be ordered to enlist again – and sent again to prison, the process repeating itself several times before she is ultimately released.

Gur was accompanied this morning to the Tel Hashomer induction base by several dozen friends and supporters, who said that the Israeli response to the latest “flytilla,” and the attack on the international activist captured on tape strengthened their support for Gur’s choice. After about an hour, Gur entered the induction base, after which she was sentenced by an officer to 10 days in prison for disobeying the order to enlist. She was then transferred to the army’s only prison for women – “Prison 400.”

Also at the induction base was a group of members of the right-wing organization Im Tirzu, who mocked the conscientious objectors and called them clowns and cowards.

Gur (right) and Gurman at the induction base (Activestills)

Gur (right) and Gurman at the induction base (Activestills)

In a recent interview to +972, Gur said that she decided to refuse the draft after learning and seeing the occupation of the Palestinian territories firsthand:

I know my refusal won’t end the occupation or change the world, but perhaps it’ll have some small effect on even a single person or two. Perhaps more Palestinians will hear of it and will be happy to see that not all Israelis are the criminals at the checkpoint or the soldiers shooting tears gas canisters at them in demonstrations. But general goals aside, I just want to feel right about myself. I want to know that I did all that I could, and that I did try to make a difference – or at least that I was not a partner in crime.

Following that interview, three more refuseniks came forward, and announced they too would refuse to join the army. One of them, Alon Gurman, also reported to the induction base today and refused to enlist, expecting a similar punishment as that of Gur. However, for some reason he was sent home, and told that the army is reconsidering his draft. Gur is likely to be sentenced to several rounds in prison before released from the army.

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    COMMENTS

    1. XYZ

      Haggai Matar-
      In your minibio you state that you spent two years in prison for refusing to serve. Could you explain how that happened? I know also Yonatan Ben-Artzi also spent considerable time in prison, but I was under the impression that someone who really doesn’t want to serve is ultimately excused from service by being declared unfit for service (low profile) or some such maneuver.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Haggai Matar

      Basically, when a young man or woman openly declare their refusal to join the army for conscientious and political reasons – the army separates them into two groups. The first is the “pacifists”, who oppose all sorts of violence, personal or organized, in any form or manner. These deserve a conscientious objector status. Those refusing to enlist because of specific reasons regarding the IDF are sent to prison for several weeks or months, and then released, usually on a mental article.
      In my day the army decided it had too many COs in prison, and chose to make an example out of some of us. My friends and I were put on court martial, and ended up in prison for two years.
      Does that help?

      Reply to Comment
    3. the other joe

      Proving yourself to be a CO has always been a tricky task. Most people are unschooled in non-violence and hence if they answer honestly would not discount using violence in some circumstances. Most military forces around the world therefore reject most CO applications.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Michael W.

      Aren’t there posititions in the IDF that are uninvolved in the occupation? A friend of mine was in the Education Corp and she helped kids from troubled homes at a boarding school. What is the objection to doing that?

      Reply to Comment
    5. the other joe

      @Michael – was your friend able to chose to do that?

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      A couple of years ago I asked several people about this issue and understood the following: if you come as an individual CO, especially if you commit to serve the (much shorter) time in civic duty, you have high chances of being granted your wish.
      If, however, you make it into a public show of principle, you’ll be ‘punished’.
      Personally, I think that as long as the Israeli society defines military service a duty, avoiding it should come with a price, and paying for one’s principles is right, though I’d expect a better solution than prison…
      It is worth noting that Israel isn’t alone applying such practices, though many Western countries have switched to professional armies

      Reply to Comment
    7. Michael W.

      @The Other Joe, I’m not sure. Perhaps because she was a returning Israeli from the States. But I don’t see Gur being forced into any combat role so does it matter? If what Max says is true, it’s not really about the occupation (and its morality), but politics. I don’t know enough about this specific case.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Daniel de França MTd2

      Is it easier for a Jehovah Witness to get a CO in Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Michael W.

      A Jehovah’s Witness wouldn’t be drafted.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Daniel de França MTd2

      I mean, a Jewish born Israeli converted to a Jehovah Witness.Is it easier for him? Or wouldn’t he be drafted too?

      Reply to Comment
    11. Zvi

      One of the guys in my basic training was a proclaimed pacifist. He recognized the need for an Israel Defense Forces, but refused to shoot (or carry) a weapon. They humored him during basic training, but at the end told him that either he shoots his weapon or he repeats his training. He shot his weapon.

      And a few weeks later he was discharged from the army. I am not sure if he spent any time in military prison….

      Reply to Comment
    12. Small events can change a life world. Isn’t that what love is, sometimes? I don’t think I would have the strength to do what this woman has done. If she continues to refuse, she will be shunned by many. There is a kind of awe in that she is. It tells me the world cannot be completely controlled, no matter how much the big events people try.
      .
      “I know my refusal won’t end the occupation or change the world.”–mostly true, but a bit false.
      .
      A quote from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass”:
      .
      Oh you people of power
      your hour is now
      you may plan to rule forever
      but you never do somehow
      .
      Been in my head for, lo, 30+ years.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Of course she should be forced to serve. Afterall, your not a ‘real’ Jew until you’ve harassed or humiliated a Palestinian.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Alon Aviram

      Solidarity from London, England.

      Reply to Comment
    15. the other joe

      @Michael, I am not any kind of expert on the Israeli military, but most militaries do not allow conscripts to decide where they will serve. Even if they did, it is a legitimate moral position to decide that peaceful activities of the IDF are undermined by their other activities and so one refused to take part in them. There are a range of pacifist positions from refusing to shoot guns through to full CO status. In the past, such people have been shot, shunned and imprisoned. Not much seems to have changed.

      Reply to Comment
    16. margot K

      Is there an adress where we can write the courageous yong person?

      Reply to Comment
    17. Margot, Noam’s lawyer is able to pass on messages through the e-mail address shministim at gmail dot com.
      .
      Michael W, this is how Udi Nir (one of the 2009 refuseniks) responded when he was asked why he didn’t just serve in a jobnik role: “Some raise the option of serving in a non-combatant role in the military, without taking part directly in the fighting. I view this suggestion as a meagre evasion of responsibility. I shall not cooperate with a system that performs so many illegal, vile and horrible actions; I shall not cooperate with it as a combatant, and neither shall I cooperate with it as a junior clerk. The hangman and the one who constructed the gallows share equal responsibility.”
      .
      I think I know the school you are talking about, by the way. Speaking as someone who works in the field of mental health and special needs education, it puzzles me that anyone could think that the ideal classroom environment for a child with emotional and behavioural problems is one staffed by a succession of nineteen-year-old soldiers who have no teaching experience or qualifications in mental health whatsoever. Children with these difficulties need a lot of consistency, and the high turnover of staff as new conscripts come and old ones leave would be problematic even if they were all experienced specialist teachers. Their lack of experience and skills aside, putting children from troubled homes in an army environment is hardly going to be therapeutic for them. If this is the school I’m thinking of, it’s actually located in a base. But therapeutic education isn’t the primary aim there – the understanding is that those kids will become technicians in the IAF as soon as they graduate, so they are being groomed for a particular military role throughout their high school education. This is also concerning: when you see a child who has special educational needs as a result of a difficult upbringing, is “Hm, one day he could repair our fighter jets!” a natural first thought? The militarisation of society (especially of youth) is sufficient reason to refuse on its own.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Tal

      I have no beef with people refusing to serve in the IDF because of the occupation.
      What bothers me is that some of these people sometimes defining themselves as anarchists deny Israel’s right to exist in any form. I read Noam’s twitter feed. She defines herself as “Living in 48′ Palestine”, she uses harsh words against “zionists” (whoever they are…her parents?) and I wonder. I wonder makes the palestinian nationalism in her eyes any more attractive than Israeli nationalism….

      Reply to Comment
    19. the other joe

      TAL, so you’re saying that Noam does not have the right to speak her mind? Have you ever heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

      Reply to Comment
    20. Tal

      JOE, your reply is strange and condescending. What makes you think I imply that Noam has no right to speak her mind? On the contrary. I very much respect her moral stand and willingness to pay the price for it. However, I am bothered by people like her’s lack of consideration for other peoples national aspirations.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Tal

      JOE, I have a question. Newt Gingrich declared that there is no such thing as “Palestinian People”. If I’d criticize this saying (which i do) would you also send me to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
      Do you now see how strange your reply to me was?

      Reply to Comment
    22. the other joe

      @TAL – well, it appeared from what you said that you believed Noam should be imprisoned for her stand which was ‘deny Israel’s right to exist in any form’. Maybe I misunderstand your position. On your second question, if you called for the imprisonment of Gingrich for having an opinion you disagreed with, then the answer is yes. But maybe you weren’t doing that..

      Reply to Comment
    23. max

      @Vicky, do you really equate COs with people with “emotional and behavioural problems”?
      .
      @the other joe: I don’t see how TAL’s post triggers your comment about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but I’d use the opportunity: what do you see as NOT falling under this category?
      .
      In general – how do you imagine a society where civil disobedience is not paid for?

      Reply to Comment
    24. Max, I was talking about the students at an IDF-run school for children from troubled backgrounds. I don’t know where you get the impression that I was referring to conscientious objectors.

      Reply to Comment
    25. the other joe

      @Max – well my thought process was that in most democracies dissent is tolerated, up to and including wishing for the overthrow of the state. Indeed, such sentiments are protected by the UDHR. I thought that TAL was suggesting that such thoughts/comments should be automatically imprisoned as a threat to the state, but maybe I misunderstood the point he/she was making.
      .
      Democracies usually have clear lines of unacceptable behaviour, which involve violence and the stirring up of racial violence. In that sense, it appears that Israel is not a democracy, or at least not one that upholds the UDHR. I can’t also think of another democracy which forces all young people to join the military or go to jail (as I said above, being a CO is something quite different to refusing to fight). Why, how do you see it?

      Reply to Comment
    26. A

      Vicky, the teacher-soldier program is actually a relic of the days the IDF was not solely a military organization, but also took on itself many civil duties. It was involved in agriculture, settlement, road building, social service healthcare and education. Not in purpose of military control over these, but as part of its definition as the people army. Today, teacher-soldiers serve in many places in civil society, including in boarding school as supportive staff (like youth guides). This is actual more like a civil service, but for historic reasons it is under the administrative umbrella of the IDF. In practice, these teacher-soldiers have very little to do with the army and army life. I don’t know where you got the idea of IDF-run boarding schools. I guess you mix the technological high schools of the air force, which give an HANDESAI degree, and are run (naturally) by professional staff, and has nothing to do with the teacher-soldier program.

      Reply to Comment
    27. max

      @TOJ, have you bothered to read my first post?
      .
      Once you’re done, think Switzerland
      .
      Once done thinking, read http://chartsbin.com/view/1887 (though I don’t know how up to date the map is) and tell us that you indeed have a good assessment of the law in all the countries where conscription in mandatory and your claim wasn’t just out lazy ignorance.

      Reply to Comment
    28. the other joe

      Yes, I read your first post and thought that you have a confused understanding of Conscientious Objection, which I attempted to explain. I don’t know about Switzerland, but I do know how it works in Germany (which had conscription until very recently) and Norway. Norway only theoretically has a standing army – all adults (I think possibly only men but not sure) have to give a certain amount of time in days to the military every year. Mostly these are actually in civil maintenance activities. It is possible to entirely opt out and do totally non-military service.
      .
      In Germany, I had a friend who opted to do civil volunteering – which he did with the Youth Hotels Association. Are you implying this is also possible in Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    29. max

      @TOJ “Are you implying this is also possible in Israel?” – yes, that’s what I wrote above based on discussions a couple of years ago. It may not be as ‘clean’ as in some other countries – it’s not legal – but the practice exists, as long as one doesn’t make it into a public statement.
      .
      For Switzerland, you can look at http://www.zentralstelle-kdv.de/z.php?ID=236 and http://www.wri-irg.org/node/12919 (there’re better sites if you read German) – and yes, people go to jail there, and some go on hunger strike.
      .
      But I consider my other point more important: as long as the society hasn’t changed the law, paying for breaking the law should bear a price, and one should accept it.

      Reply to Comment
    30. A, I’m talking about an Air Force school (physically located on a base). One of my good friends completed his service there, which was how I came across it. He taught history and a couple of other subjects, in uniform, as a class teacher. One of his many criticisms of the place was the way in which it presents itself as a specialist learning environment, especially suitable for young people with problematic backgrounds, when in reality young conscripts do get used to teach class and behaviour management for kids with difficulties consists of rigid discipline. My friend ended up receiving an early discharge on mental health grounds. He did become genuinely depressed there, but his main motivation for wanting to leave was the ethical problems he had with what he was doing.
      .
      I know that soldiers are placed in community settings, but I can’t see this as just innocent civil service that happens to wear khaki. The framework for national civil service already exists with sherut leumi (which interestingly I often hear being disparaged by teenagers as the preserve of orthodox girls and medically unfit weaklings). There is a prestige that accompanies the uniform that is pretty disturbing. Army life is presented as something inevitable, and more than that, it’s glorified. Having soldiers in school only feeds into that.
      .
      I have numerous other concerns about soldiers being used for ‘civil’ tasks, some of them drawn from what I’ve seen in Palestine, but many of them originating from my own experiences with the military in Britain. I can’t talk about those without writing an essay. Suffice it to say that I don’t think an institution that has ‘readiness to kill other people’ embedded at its core is the best institution to foster a good community spirit.

      Reply to Comment
    31. max

      Vicky, you hear from a friend who was obviously dissatisfied with his role, and makes up your judgement about the merits and ethics of Israel’s education system…
      Did you at least ask yourself why the army was running these classes? Is this the level of info quality you typically use?
      .
      “I often hear being disparaged by teenagers as the preserve of orthodox girls and medically unfit weaklings”
      Did you know that these girls and those weaklings volunteer to service? Who are these “teenagers” you’re referring to – those justifying their service dodging for mental reasons?
      .
      I went to the ski world cup races in Switzerland a couple of months ago. Guess what: it was soldiers who prepared the slopes.
      A terrible society, this Swiss one…

      Reply to Comment
    32. Max, you keep misreading my posts. First you asked why I was saying that COs had emotional and behavioural problems, when I was talking about kids from troubled homes who have been identified as needing extra educational help. Now you think I am calling people weaklings. I didn’t say that orthodox girls or people who are declared medically unfit were weak; I wrote that I often hear them being disparaged as such. There is a difference. The teenagers who speak in this way are typically fifteen or sixteen. It’s pretty common to hear them talking excitedly about how they hope to get a really high profile, one that will qualify them to serve in a combat unit. Military service enjoys a prestige that sherut leumi does not, and I think that’s totally wrong. I wish that helping elderly people in a care home did have the same appeal as getting a profile of 97, but it hasn’t. The uniform is valued over the work. This glorification of the army is one of the chief reasons why I oppose its presence in schools.
      .
      I have already given my reasons for objecting to a boarding school that takes teenagers (many of whom come from difficult backgrounds and have additional learning needs) and grooms them for a military role. In this situation, the IAF does have a vested interest: they need more vocationally trained personnel. Is it ethical to begin prepping people for this role when they’re still young teenagers, especially if they need more care and support than their peers? I also gave my reasons for opposing soldiers in a civilian schools, chiefly the presentation of the military as a normal and indispensible plank of everyday life. These arguments are not based on my friend’s experiences, which I mentioned only in response to the idea that educational work in the IDF is automatically and obviously neutral.

      Reply to Comment
    33. A

      Vicky,
      About the IAF schools, there are different approaches to this. In the ideal case you are right: kids should be in civil schools, and kids with problematic background in particular. But life is not ideal. When the alternative is probably not being in school at all, and get a life in the outskirts of society, the IAF school give these kids an education, a profession, a degree and a sense of self value which is the things they mostly lack. Anyhow, these are different places from the teacher-soldier program mentioned earlier.
      I also only partly agree with you about the prestige of the military service vs. national service. I think the main value communicated to kids is the value of SERVICE. So much so, that many now perform both: they volunteer to a year of community service before their mandatory draft. II agree that it might be the time to separate many programs that are civil service in nature from the army, manly in order to allow a wider population, like the arab citizens and Haredi citizens to serve as well. The progrmas offered as natioanl service are too narrow for that. But I must ask myself: do someone like Noam will be willing to serve in a civil service program like social care for needed populations? I think not. I think her problem is with any type of service, not related to weather she wears uniform or not. And on principle she is right: the army is a messenger of the state. There is no difference between serving the state and serving in the army. Also, it will not serve her desire to make political statements and probably get some attention.

      Reply to Comment
    34. max

      Vicky, sorry for the misunderstanding. Let’s try again
      .
      I’m afraid that your statement about army school for kids is factually wrong. There are military prep-schools for teenagers that don’t belong to the army, and schools for conscripted people who lack proper education.
      There are no army schools for kids.
      .
      What’s so unnatural with a bit of exaggerated respect to the army in a country living thanks to its popular army?
      How does your assertion about this glorification fit with the stats proving that a huge number of kids dodge the draft?
      Anyway, how glorious can army service be in a society where every person is supposed to serve?

      Reply to Comment
    35. the other joe

      @Max “But I consider my other point more important: as long as the society hasn’t changed the law, paying for breaking the law should bear a price, and one should accept it.”
      .
      I agree, one should willingly and openly break an unjust law and take the consequences. But be under no doubt – it is an unjust law.
      .
      From what you said above, civil service is only available to CO, which as I have stated is often interpreted in very distinct terms – ie that you blankly refused to use any violence in any circumstances ever. One can be a non-CO, in the sense that you reserve the right to use violence, whilst taking a moral stand against this military in this situation at this time. One would not be granted CO status and thus would not be eligible for the civil service (if I have understood the criteria correctly).

      Reply to Comment
    36. max

      @TOJ, “From what you said above, civil service is only available to CO”
      Sorry, I don’t see how what I said leads to your claim. If it did, it was a wrong phrasing. In any case, this isn’t the truth. Arabs – apart from some exceptions, some religious groups and people with disabilities are not drafted, though unfortunately don’t see it as their duty to volunteer to civil service. It’s a pity – in my opinion – that the law doesn’t require them to, and I find it telling that the Arab MKs don’t push their constituents to provide local civic services (nationalistic motivation before caring for the people).

      Reply to Comment
    37. the other joe

      OK Max, we’re talking at cross purposes. This is how I understand the system:
      .
      1. Certain groups are drafted (ignore for the moment those who are not)
      2. Of those, some claim CO status and are given the option of non-military service
      3. But if denied the CO status, if they refuse the draft they are imprisoned.
      .
      Is that wrong? Can you do the civil service alternative if you are drafted but are not given CO status?

      Reply to Comment
    38. A

      @MAX, Vicky is talking about the technological schools (two of the airforce in Haifa and Beer Sheva, and one of the logistic corp in Zrifin, which are in fact run by the army and have programs starting at the 10th grade. So on the fact level, she is correct.

      @JOE, the answer is no. The civil service option is given only in specific cases, like mental health, special needs and religion. CO is one of these cases, but the drafting authority separate between “real CO” like pacifism and “political CO”. Those who declare themselves as pacifist or CO out of first principles are usually granted the option to do civil service. Those who are political (i.e. refuse to serve because of the occupation, because of anti-zionism etc) are usually court-martialed. These usually will not agree to serve on civil service either, and if they do, they have a logic reasoning problem..

      Reply to Comment
    39. max

      @A, you may be right about Vicky’s reference, but she explicitly states “talking about kids from troubled homes who have been identified as needing extra educational help” – which doesn’t fit with your proposal.
      So I guess you’re right and she received a wrong context.
      .
      “These usually will not agree to serve on civil service either, and if they do, they have a logic reasoning problem” – why would serving in a hospital pose a reasoning problem?

      Reply to Comment
    40. the other joe

      Thanks A, this is what I was trying to tell Max.

      Reply to Comment
    41. the other joe

      But I also agree with Max, there is no reasoning problem if one refused the draft but accepted civil service. I’d be surprised if this was even an option if a person was being court martialed (because they’re not a CO, hence the civil option is not open to them).

      Reply to Comment
    42. max

      @TOJ, sorry, so what’s your point

      Reply to Comment
    43. the other joe

      @Max – a non-CO might reasonably and morally chose a non-military service option. They usually cannot because they are denied CO status. Hence by being honest about her views, Noam has no alternative than prison. This is unjust and undemocratic.

      Reply to Comment
    44. max

      I see, and I’m back to a previously expressed point: why is paying for one’s civil disobedience – for however just a motive – unjust and undemocratic?
      A step further: why would Noam be required to pay taxes?

      Reply to Comment
    45. A

      If you refuse to serve in the army, even as a teacher in rural place, because you have a problem with the occupation, then your problem is not with military service as a concept, but with the state itself and the things done by its name. So the refusal is a refusal to serve the state, not to serve in the army. I don’t think a soldier in the army, any soldier for that matter, has any more moral liability for whats happen in the west bank than any other Israeli. The army is a messenger of the society, and the society is fully responsible for it. Noam’s act was a self exclusion from society because her moral problem with the occupation, and I respect her for that (but still think she need to serve time though). So accepting hospital service is not such self exclusion, does not make you less morally liable for the occupation, it just allow you to not see yourself in uniform.

      Reply to Comment
    46. max

      @A, I can follow your logic, but I doubt that it matches Noam’s case.
      In principle, I think that if a person refuses to serve because s/he thinks that the occupation is immoral and doesn’t want to take a part in it, s/he should be able to serve civic duties; as I wrote above, going further would imply that one also shouldn’t pay taxes, as they also contribute to society…
      The issue is that those we hear about – Noam type – are interested in the public attention, not the personal contribution. They may claim that they hope that their stand (and – ironically – the price they pay: who’d hear about them if they were simply allowed to go home?) will force people to think about it, but then I’d expect them to volunteer on their own…
      In my opinion, chances are high that this people are full of themselves and can’t provide a convincing, coherent justification of their (lack of) actions.

      Reply to Comment
    47. the other joe

      @A – conscientious objectors and pacifists throughout history have taken different stands. By far the majority that refuse and have refused to have anything to do with the military have been willing to serve in other ways. Whilst you see that as a contradiction, many do not.
      .
      @max – because Noam has no choice about where she lives and has been honest about her views. Imprisoning those who refuse to fight is unjust. Arbitrarily deciding who is and who is not a Conscientious Objector is unjust. Insisting that almost an entire society of young people enlist is unjust.
      .
      Interesting that you mention tax – would you say that those people who are forced to pay taxes to the state in East Jerusalem are entitled to the same services as those in West Jerusalem? Or do services only apply to those who vote in the correct way?

      Reply to Comment
    48. XYZ

      Haggai Matar-
      In Europe, in many countries the Left/Progressives supported the idea of universal conscription in order to prevent the creation of an elite military clique controlling the nation’s armed forces that is out of touch with the population. What do you think about that?

      Reply to Comment
    49. max

      @TOJ “…are entitled to the same services…” of course
      At the same time, I assume that you know that much local spending is based on local taxes

      Reply to Comment
    50. max

      @TOJ “Imprisoning those who refuse to fight is unjust”
      1. why is it unjust?
      2. she’s not refusing to fight, she’s refusing to serve. Any service. Like many others you don’t hear about (apart from the occasional stats) she had a choice before she went with her friends to publicly object and get us to know about her

      Reply to Comment
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