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Young Israeli conscientious objector sentenced to sixth consecutive prison term

Natan Blanc (19) has been in and out of prison for three months now. On November 19, Blanc informed authorities of his conscientious objection to enlist to the Israeli army due to the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories and the constant militarization of the Israeli society which it entails.

Natan Blanc (courtesy of the family)

Natan Blanc (courtesy of the family)

Since his initial refusal to be drafted into the IDF, Natan Blanc has been sentenced six times, the last being this Sunday, each to a period of two to three weeks in jail. In accordance with military regulations, Blanc is being sentenced by medium-level officers in short disciplinary proceedings, sent to prison, then back to the induction base, and then tried again. There are no real limitations to the number of times this process can repeat itself, in what has already been described by Amnesty International and several others human rights NGOs in other cases as arbitrary sentencing. Blanc is sticking to his refusal and says he won’t consider turning to the military psychiatrist as an alternative route to his declared and principled refusal.

In the statement he released on 19.11.12 Blanc wrote the following:

I began thinking about refusing to be conscripted into the Israeli Army during the ‘Cast Lead’ operation in 2008. The wave of aggressive militarism that swept the country then, the expressions of mutual hatred, and the vacuous talk about stamping out terror and creating a deterrent effect were the primary trigger for my refusal. Today, after four years full of terror, without a political process [towards peace negotiations], and without quiet in Gaza and Sderot, it is clear that the Netanyahu government, like that of his predecessor Olmert, is not interested in finding a solution to the existing situation, but rather in preserving it. From their point of view, there is nothing wrong with our initiating a ‘Cast Lead 2’ operation every three or four years (and then 3, 4,5 and 6): we will talk of deterrence, we will kill some terrorist, we will lose some civilians on both sides, and we will prepare the ground for a new generation full of hatred on both sides. As representatives of the people, members of the cabinet have no duty to present their vision for the futures of the country, and they can continue with this bloody cycle, with no end in sight. But we, as citizens and human beings, have a moral duty to refuse to participate in this cynical game.

In recent years the movement of conscientious objection in Israel has been quieter, as reservists who refuse are usually released without trial or sent to tasks outside the occupied territories, which some of them accept. Most conscription aged conscientious objectors find ways to avoid making public statements of their refusal, and only few like Blanc end up in prison – as reported here last year in the cases of Noam Gur and the refusers who followed her.

Two solidarity vigils with Blanc, organized by Yesh Gvul and his family and friends, have already taken place on the hillside opposite Military Prison 6 in Atlit, where he is being held. More are planned.

Read also:
J’accuse: Israeli youth headed to prison for refusing the draft
Four young Israelis refuse army draft in new refusenik wave
Refusenik sentenced to 20 days in prison on his birthday

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    1. Vadim

      “sixth consecutive prison term”

      You make it sound as if the guy is paying for this with his life…

      “in and out of prison for three months now”

      Wow, those fascist Israelis are really harsh.

      I bet he’ll pay a heavy price for his “brave” behavior, because he lives in such a militaristic society. Yep, like going to the university two years before his fascist friends, or working for two years while his others serve.

      A real hero.

      Reply to Comment
      • JG

        “A real hero.”

        Yes, he is. Something an armchair hasbarist never will be.

        Reply to Comment
        • Vadim

          My requirements for being a “Hero” are a bit higher than spending a couple of weeks in a military prison (which is sort of like an easy boot camp) while having the full support of his friends and family and paying no personal price in the long run.

          I did not say he’s a bad fella, since I don’t know him. But his glorification as a brave hero is exaggerated.

          One more thing – resorting to personal attacks speaks more of you than me. I’m here listen and speak my mind, same as you.

          Reply to Comment
    2. sh

      I was going to wish him courage, but he’s already got that.

      Reply to Comment
    3. XYZ

      I don’t understand why the IDF even wants to conscript poorly motivated people like this. Who wants a soldier who refuses to fight? Fortunately, the large majority of young Israelis who don’t opt out for religious reasons are willing to do their duty and bear the burden of defending the country.

      Reply to Comment
      • Perhaps he has opted out for religious reasons–just a religion you cannot understand.

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          While I certainly respect someone who has the courage of his convictions and who is willing to pay the price for his beliefs, just like I feel about those soldiers who refuse to expel Jews from their homes, if it was up to me, I would simply release him from service and have it marked on his record that he refuses to serve.
          Regarding your comment that “I don’t understand his religion”, I would say I understand it all too well. I remember all the Mennonites and Quakers and other pacificts who refused to fight Nazism and the the consequences for us Jews of such a position. I remember how saint Gandhi said all the Jews should commit suicide for the sake of his perverted world-view of trying to teach the Germans to be better people. Blanc’s view of the Arab-Israel conflict has all the distortions and rewriting of history that we see here at 972 and other “progressive” sites and his refusal to see that the Arabs do no accept any Jewish state within any borders and the lack of peace is THEIR fault, not ours. So I understand his “religion” all too well.

          Reply to Comment
          • XYZ, I think you need to differentiate between pacifisms. I’ve read quite a lot on Gandhi, and some of his work and thought I appreciate, but his concept of ahimsa is politically and philosophically distinct from non-violence as I practise it. There are multiple shades of pacifism.

            Secondly, I don’t understand what you’re trying to say about Mennonites and Quakers. Are you suggesting that the Holocaust was a consequence of their pacifism? (I’m pretty sure you’re just wording yourself clumsily here, but this is how it reads.) Firstly, the numbers of Quakers, Mennonites, and other pacifist Christians are numerically very small – it’s not as if together they made up this enormous battalion that would have brought Nazism to its knees if only they hadn’t been non-violent. Secondly, for such a small group, they have done a great deal historically to help people suffering the consequences of war. In both world wars, it was common for them to enlist as ambulance drivers and medical orderlies. They wouldn’t fight but they provided care for anyone wounded (irrespective of the uniform worn), and during the First World War, they became pretty famous for the way they would go out into no man’s land to retrieve seriously wounded men when no one else dared. I come from a military family, and spent a big part of my childhood living on base – I didn’t grow up in a climate where pacifism was understood or respected. But it was here that I first heard these accounts of wartime ‘peace church’ activity. Quakers were also at the forefront of providing practical support to Jewish refugees, as I’m sure you know. The Association of Jewish Refugees in the UK has given tribute to them for that: “Contrary to contemporary public perception, the doors of the world were usually firmly closed to refugees desperate to escape the fascist regimes of Franco and Hitler in the 1930s…The fundraising, administrative and caring responsibilities undertaken by Quaker volunteers during this period were overwhelming. There were only around 20,000 members of the Society of Friends in Britain in the late 1930s and evidence suggests that nearly every Quaker household contributed towards refugee relief in some way; whether serving on a local refugee committee, fostering a child, contributing to a local hostel, or donating funds.” So I think you’re being pretty unfair by them. For such a small community, they definitely punched above their weight when it came to the rescue of Jews, and this was seen in countries other than Britain too.

            As for pacifism in Israel/Palestine, I know many people who are certainly not pacifists themselves but who are still able to recognise that there is a place and a use for completely non-violent peace and justice work. I understand your fears, but I wish you were able to reflect more of its possibilities.

            Reply to Comment
          • Oscar Shank

            500,000 Jews escaped from Nazism in the 1930s. 10% of them chose to go to Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • XYZ, Gandhi was indeed hysterical when it came to Nazi Germany. When asked what would happen if Germany invaded India, he said that they would be met with complete nonviolence which would stop them. The comment on Jews within Nazi Germany he made as well. One does not have to agree with the admired in toto.

            I think Vicky herein is right to note that Quaker pacifists where also activists in other ways. In politics we generally argue views as if everybody holds a single position, the one I have, or against everybody holding a single position which I disagree with. I, for one, know that if everyone thought as I the world would collapse; that does not mean, though, that my thought cannot be valuable–precisely because it will not be globally shared. To return to the focal young man of this post, his steadfast presence may enable new paths for thrid parties. And this might be a religous sense different from yours. At least a lonelier one.

            Reply to Comment
    4. “…we will prepare the ground for a new generation full of hatred on both sides.”

      A far, far better–and stronger–man than I. Gandhi’s spirit is not gone.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Omer H

      I have a question, though: is it better for someone of conscience to not serve and therefore putting someone of another conscience (as in someone who wouldn’t have a problem participating in Cast Lead _) in his place?

      The structures he is contesting are are still in place, oppressively so. What would a movement to undo the over-militarized status quo look like?

      It seems like even choosing autonomism is still in a way neutral, like removing a Lego piece to be replaced by one of another color. The military has conscription on its side, what can others (even those less willing to risk imprisonment, or those who have served, etc.) do to support this action?

      Reply to Comment
      • The role of extremes is to alter the internal pathways of those not extreme; not to make them as the extreme, but let them move to a place they otherwise might not see at all. So, e.g., perhaps some conscript will remember this man and change his response to the occupied. Yes, it is a little thing, demanding a great sacrifice by another (for this young man has a label now); but little things keep ideas alive. Sometimes, maybe most times, keeping alive is all you can do. Then the future sees you and–who knows?–change is a little closer.

        Reply to Comment
    6. frederich

      It is always a great thing to see such a young person stand by his moral convictions. He, and others like him, are the conscience of a nation that has turned to the dark side of persecutions, intolerance, brutality, and a total disregard of the human rights, and equal rights, of other human beings because they are not Jewish.

      Reply to Comment
    7. klang

      These stories are not particularly newsworthy. He is making some small sacrifices (short stints in military prison), but as long as he retains his Israeli citizenship, he is sitting on the fence. I would have found it more powerful if he renounced his citizenship, and applied for asylum with one of the adversaries of Israel. That would show true commitment to the ideal

      Reply to Comment
      • Susi Fähnle-Gimpert

        Klang, I wonder if you still would be talking of “small sacrificies” if the “short stints in military prison” hit you?
        Things get easyly judged as worthless, especially the ones I never had the strength to stand straight for. And as long as I blame others for their allegedly wrong actions, I won’t have to blame myself for not doing my personal share. Why on earth give up a citizenship to become just as helpless and powerless as so many others? What’s the heck of that? Isn’t it a whole lot harder to persevere where you are and where you belongh to? It takes more than courage to fight what your consciousness reveals to you isn’t right, even if in exchange for that you get singled out and punished. I do believe that, thanks to upright people like Nathan, our only and single world will move a little bit closer towards it’s destination: to be a place for all human beings to live together in mutual respect. As a Christian, I understand such an effort bears the blessing of our only and single G’d. Thank you, Nathan!

        Reply to Comment
    8. Leo

      Is there a way to send a (friendly) message to Natan,
      maybe through family ?

      Reply to Comment