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IDF reservist sentenced to military prison for refusing draft

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.

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from a position near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Augost 1, 2014 after the proposed three-day truce that began at 0500 GMT collapsed amid a deadly new wave of bloodshed and the apparent capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from a position near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on August 1, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

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.

Who are the Israelis refusing the call of Protective Edge?
IDF to jail ultra-Orthodox Jew for refusing to serve
Israeli teens tell Netanyahu: We will not take part in occupation

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    1. Richard

      Congratulations on finding one person who agrees with you. This must feel like a major accomplishment.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        We’ve given up on appealing to Israelis on the basis of commitment to basic morality or human rights, a long time ago. We’re just happy to know that not all of them are susceptible to establishment brainwashing.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Mary

      So other Israeli fathers go out and risk their lives and die while he goes on a European vacation. And you paint him as a hero! Israel is under rocket fire by an organisation armed by Iran and Qatar which has a stated mandate to destroy Israel. An organisation which would rather destroy Israel then create anything good for the Palestinian people. Hamas which even calls ceasefires, down time to prepare for the next war.
      Get back to Planet Earth. I am a leftist and I want peace and a Palestinian state. But frankly it doesn’t help when these ultra-leftists put their head in the sand and live a virtual reality that has no connection with real life. And look at your bedfellows, anti-Semites, Holocaust denialists, Hamas members and supporters. Yeah, he has a lot to be proud of.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Dahlia Scheindlin

      Konrad, you’re perfectly entitled to your opinions, but I feel compelled to correct you on one thing: Gilad is male, not female.

      Reply to Comment