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My sister is refusing to join the IDF — and I couldn't be prouder

In our childhood we would fight imaginary monsters. Today the monster of the occupation is far stronger — yet Atalya continues to bravely fight on, and is willing to pay the price for her beliefs. 

By Amitai Ben-Abba

Israeli conscientious objector Atalya Ben-Abba. (Yona Benstein)

Israeli conscientious objector Atalya Ben-Abba. (Yona Benstein)

Tomorrow, Tuesday February 6, my sister Atalya Ben-Abba will refuse to join the Israeli army and will likely be sent to prison.

Atalya has seen more of the reality of our troubled region than most Israelis her age. She volunteered for a year of national service with her youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair, to work with kids on the margins of Israeli society in the city of Hadera. She began to witness the occupation with her own eyes when she was 15 years old on a tour to Hebron. Over the past several months she started to volunteer with Israeli anti-occupation group Ta’ayush in the Jordan Valley, one of the various front lines of ethnic displacement in Palestine.

I look on proudly as she joins us to rebuild demolished homes in the West Bank. She says that the military cannot solve a problem that is fundamentally moral and political. “We built a wall,” she says as she picks a still-usable wooden plank out of the rubble. “But behind this wall are people who suffer, people whose reality is a prison. They don’t have the freedom to live, they don’t have things that we take for granted, their land is being taken, their houses destroyed.”

On Monday I will accompany her to her own chosen prison. She will not go alone — two other refuseniks, Tamar Alon and Tamar Ze’evi, will be there, imprisoned with her for their fifth term, after a total of 74 days on the inside. These young women are ready to take more risks for a just peace than any of their government officials.

Of monsters and men

Atalya was only three years old and I was almost 10 when she started taking on larger opponents.

I would pretend that monsters were taking over my body in order to kill her. Every monster had his own fighting techniques, and she would defeat them by figuring out their weaknesses. If she cried, the monsters would get stronger, and sometimes she would sustain quite serious blows — I confess — without a whimper.

I always let Atalya defeat the monsters in the end, even when they were really terrifying. You don’t always win in so-called real life, though. I find myself worrying about that. What if they break her spirit in prison? What risks will I be prepared to take for what I believe in?

It is that very same bravery that drives her to conscientiously object today. Atalya could avoid army service in other ways, but she wanted to make a statement against the military regime that systematically deprives Palestinians of their basic rights. She is prepared to face the consequences.

A Palestinian shepherd herds her sheep, behind her is parked an IDF armored personnel carrier, Jordan Valley, West Bank, December 8, 2016. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian shepherd herds her sheep, behind her is parked an IDF armored personnel carrier, Jordan Valley, West Bank, December 8, 2016. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Life in military prison is boring. Days go by languidly. Prisoners are drilled and marched in circles as they wear surplus U.S. Army uniforms. The guards, soldiers often not much older than the inmates, are expected to be particularly brutal. Yet Atalya doesn’t fear them — she is used to people pretending to be monsters. No, she says she fears the resultant reaction of people she loves more than anything else. There is little support for conscientious objectors in Israeli society.

Atalya wrote the following in her statement of refusal: “I grew up in Jerusalem, so fear is no stranger to me. I know what it means not to take a bus because there’s an alert against an attack, what it means to hear gunshots and later learn of a terrorist attack on the other side of the street. That’s why I know so deeply that we cannot let this situation last.”

It is an uphill struggle against the very big monsters of well-oiled war machines and racist government propaganda. But when I see Atalya’s friends from high school and her youth movement rallying to support her, I feel a rare sense of hopefulness. Perhaps this is already a kind of victory.

Amitai Ben-Abba is a writer and activist from West Jerusalem. He can be contacted via his blog. A version of this article also appears in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Thank you for sharing your pride in a very special sister.
      She in turn must be quite proud to have her big brother’s professional support !
      You are both inspirations.
      Cultivating hope is a rare art. Please continue !

      Reply to Comment
    2. Sohail

      Go with a prayer from a human heart oh beautiful soul!!

      Reply to Comment
    3. David

      Good luck

      Reply to Comment
    4. i_like_ike52

      Although I see no reason someone like her should be imprisoned if she is willing to do alternate national service, it should be pointed out that Israel will survive and the IDF will continue to do its job without her presence. Enough Jews realize the true nature of the situation, as she apparently does not, to do the job that needs to be done.

      Reply to Comment
      • Elisabeth

        She is a Righteous Jew. Good for her!

        Reply to Comment
    5. AJew

      “But behind this wall are people who suffer, people whose reality is a prison. They don’t have the freedom to live, they don’t have things that we take for granted, their land is being taken, their houses destroyed.”

      They would not suffer if their leaders would sign a peace deal with us. But they don’t want to because they are trying to opt for total victory.

      I feel sorry for well meaning kids like these. They think they know better than their elders. They only see the effects of the Palestinians ruthless history against us.They did not experience what the rest of us experienced before the fence was built. Or even how the Palestinian Arabs behaved before the “occupation” and how they treated Jews who fell into their merciless hands. Nor did they hear what they promised to do to us once they would defeat us. So now they only see what we do to the Palestinian Arabs and that appears scandalous to them. But if only they wouldn’t be so myopic about history and what led to this, they would understand what is happening better. Alas, some youngsters always “know better” than their elders, till they learn on their own skin what can happen. I don’t wish them to learn a hard lesson. But alas, it is then a catch 22. They then think that they have better alternatives to deal with a very difficult remorseless and stubborn enemy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Mark

        If only there were a pretence of democratic accountability in Palestinian society! No one can be blind to the difficulties of life in Palestinian territories. Elections would be so helpful to understand what sort of way forward the poor, benighted inhabitants want to see. To all intents and purposes, it’s all hearsay in the media.

        As things stand, any “deal” could be subsequently revoked as the leadership doesn’t have legitimacy if it never renews its mandate.

        I only ever hear of two parties, and the prospects for peaceful transition of power from one party to another, and back again, seems a long way off.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Save your phony, paternalistic compassion for Creative Writing class. If anyone asks me, kids are pretty good at seeing through the BS and smoke & mirrors adults in authority make up (that we condone, because it’s “for the greater good”). They DO know better than their elders, because they aren’t born with their elders’ “wisdom”(i.e. emotional baggage and insecurities).

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          But not if the kids ignore history as you do.

          As for BS, you are not so bad at it yourself. One eyed BS in particular. Know what I mean? It is very fashion nable amongst your kind. It goes something like this:

          ….THE JEWISH PEOPLE OF ISRAEL ARE ALWAYS WRONG – NO MATTER WHAT…

          Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            If anything, they understand history better than you. Well enough to know that mirror-repeating it is a stupid idea that will only perpetuate the cycle they’re in.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Cycle? You mean stop reacting to Arab provocations? Just roll over and play dead? Just give them our arms and legs and hope that the Arabs will take pity on us and end “the cycle”?

            Let me think about it for a milisecond…. NAH!

            Reply to Comment
          • Chris

            “….THE JEWISH PEOPLE OF ISRAEL ARE ALWAYS WRONG – NO MATTER WHAT…”

            Why do you zios hate Jews so much, Anti-SemiteJew?

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            😂

            Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          You mean like all the young Muslims who have been flocking to join ISIS?

          Reply to Comment
          • Chris

            “You mean like all the young Muslims who have been flocking to join ISIS?”

            You mean like all the young Jews who have been flocking to Zionist occupied Palestine to join JSIS?

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Poor old Chris🤣

            Reply to Comment
          • Chris

            “Poor old Chris”

            If the psychotic Zionist Anti-SemiteJew shilling for JSIS says so.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            🤣

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “But if only they wouldn’t be so myopic about history”

        You have the strangest sense of “history” (your contentious, slanted version of it of course) as cancelling out the present and being some kind of free pass to commit crimes in the present, as if there is some celestial ledger book in your mind where “the Jews” get to stick it to “the Arabs” for a good while longer to even up red and black ink you’ve tallied up. 50 years now. Will 100 years do it? What number of dunams are there in your celestial ledger book that you think you are still “owed,” Oh Entitled One?

        These young people–don’t patronize them by posing as “feeling sorry” for them–they are the strongest young people in Israel by far and they don’t need your pity–see through all this and see both present and past much more clearly than you do. You are so stuck, Gussie, it’s just amazing.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          I will patronize anyone I feel like Benny. I truly feel for these youngsters. They have been bent and misguided by idiot wishful thinking adults. I know exactly what Hashomer Hatzair stands for. They still espouse an old discredited ideology. They are to all intents and purposes communists.

          As for my “celestial ledger”, Benny-leh. Yes, in a way you are right. Yes I keep scores and I refuse to ignore history. But it does not work the way you suggest. According to you, no matter what, I just want to retaliate for OLD wrongs. Not so, Benny-leh. I just don’t forget old wrongs so long as I get thevimpression that your precious darling Palestinian Arabs have still NOT CHANGED for the better. And that they are still up to their OLD TRICKS with more up to date and more sophisticated tactics and helped by people like you Benny-leh.

          And that just pisses you off, right Benny-leh? That I and people like me refuse to forget history and don’t fall for your BS. It pisses you off, eh Benny-leh?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​The pissed off patronizer strikes again.
            “I will patronize anyone I feel like!” Patronizer rights!

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Nah Benny. I am not the one who is pissed. You are pissed because I patronise. Weren’t you the one who told me to stop patronizing? You sure sounded to be pissed at me. I could just imagine you pursing your lips and tutt tutting 🤣

            Reply to Comment
    6. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      I hope that she will stay in jail for a long time.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Dave

      Oh come on. Any country that has ever had a draft has had draft dodgers. The fact is that Israel has had extremely few.

      Reply to Comment
      • Oriol

        She is not a draft dodger, she is a conscious objector. To my knowledge it is not the same thing.

        Reply to Comment
        • Tommy Goldberg

          Exactly.

          And Dave, the truth is pretty much the opposite of what you have been led to believe. Today, fewer than half of draf-eligible women actually serve. Since legitimate medical exemptions are not widespread (most women do desk jobs anyway), about half of Israeli 18-year-old women essentially “dodge the draft.”

          Even among Jewish eligible men, the “dodge” rate is as high as 25% or so — higher than among Druze men, incredibly.

          So yeah, young Israelis do dodge.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            What Tommy is saying here is interesting. About the large rot around the edges. It is a telling indicator. In a society with cradle to grave glorification of the military, constant indoctrination from a young age, reportedly 25% of the men dodge the draft? I would like to see a similar statistic (percent of males who draft dodge) from 25 years ago. Did the young people dodge the draft at that rate then? What does this say about the cynicism of the young men and women today? I am not attacking these young men and women. I am asking why such cynicism and lack of esprit de corp would infect such a large percentage of the normal populace.

            Here’s where it gets particularly interesting. Here you have these brave few who don’t dodge but come right out and say “I will not do it” and take the severe consequences. Versus the 25% who won’t serve and take no consequences. And who gets vilified? The ones strong and brave enough to stand up. But both groups are indicators. Canaries in the coal mine.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Benny is salivating again. He reminds me of what Mark Twain said:

            “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

            Except, Benny has Israel in mind when he thinks of death. Poor old Benny. You are exaggerating LOL.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You can’t refute a thing I say. Your only resort is ad hominem.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Ad hominem? Please point out the bits in my last post which is ad hominem Benny?

            Are you going to deny that you wish to see Israel dead? Benny? Are you calling THAT my ad hominem against you? Please don’t insult anyone’s intelligence. You would dearly love to see the Jewish state of Israel dispatched to your version of hell. Stop pretending that it isn’t so. You are just making a fool out of yourself. You don’t fool anyone else, Benny-leh.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​LOL. Yes and I’m going to deny that I beat my wife too, you anti-Semitizing wretch. What’s the ad hominem? Both the “isolated bits” and the clearly stated non wishy-washy conclusion. (Chuckle.)

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Chuckle?

            That says it all. You are amused. You are not the slightest bit offended. Stop trying to play the victim.

            And Benny-leh if I am a wretch then you are a petty little hateful hypocrite. Let it be on the record that YOU were the one to start with the ad hominem.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You’re nuts.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            No Benny-leh I am not nuts. I am just driving you nuts by giving you your own medicine.

            Reply to Comment
    8. Jeremy

      Wow, that’s a writer to keep an eye on.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Shah Nawaz

      Prophet Moses (Peace be Upon Him) always sided wih the oppressed, even if He had to face difficulties af the hands of the oppressor. I congratulate her and pray to God Almighty ti guide her in these difficult times.

      Reply to Comment
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