The Case for Conscientious Objector Tair Kaminer

The army that for nearly 50 years has cultivated injustice, oppression and the killing of civilians should allow people incapable of joining it a way to express their conscience.

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Tair Kaminer and supporters, January 2016.
Tair Kaminer and supporters, January 2016.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

We can relax – the army has vanquished Tair Kaminer. It has expelled her from its ranks due to her “incompatibility,” adding a strong rebuke: “Her discharge was due to very grave and bad behavior.”

Tair Kaminer spent 150 days in a military prison due to her objection to serve in the army, which she defines as “an occupation army.” Instead of military service, she was willing to do civilian national service. The army refused.

Before her induction date she had already volunteered for a year of civilian service in Sderot. It was the things she saw there, the scars inflicted on Sderot’s children living under fire, that made her refuse to serve in the army, so as “not to participate in the cycle of hate prevailing in Gaza and Sderot.”

Tair Kaminer’s case posed a dilemma for me. I oppose refusal to serve in the army because I feel that Israel’s democracy (what’s left of it) is fragile and only loosely holding on, and that breaking its laws endangers it. The army isn’t only an occupying army but also the Israel Defense Forces. Moreover, when the day comes, anyone supporting refusal to serve in the army won’t have complete justification to confront soldiers and settlers who refuse to help evacuate settlements, or even take action to oppose these efforts.

But as time passed, with every extension of her incarceration, I and many others began to feel that the army wasn’t only punishing Tair but was vengefully abusing her in a way that sometimes provoked the feeling that the army was afraid of this determined young woman, and of what she symbolizes. So it was decisive to break her.

Tair Kaminer indisputably broke the law. But the way the military abused her revealed its inhuman rigidity and the injustice it can wreak when facing a principled conscientious stand speaking a different language than its own.

If Tair had entered this world from the womb of an ultra-Orthodox mother, or any religious mother – a womb shielded from the draft through absurd and extortionate coalition agreements – the whole issue wouldn’t have arisen. She would have been exempted automatically.  

But Tair was born into that part of society that shoulders the burden of maintaining Israel’s existence, placing her, as if this were a law of nature, in the realm of the state’s correctional system. For this she sat in jail for 150 days, despite having proposed to serve the state through other channels, civilian ones. That’s 150 days in prison, even though her refusal to serve in the army is no less conscientious or value-driven than the worldview of her religious female peers.

The army’s position is clear. It has no choice – or so it believes – but to project a tough and uncompromising stance in this delicate matter. What will happen, ask its commanders, if after Tair thousands or tens of thousands of others follow suit?

This possibility seems far-fetched given the militant climate in this country, but if things came to that, maybe the country and the army’s leaders would begin to understand that they have a problem facing reality, not with the people objecting to it.

Moreover, the army’s announcement was outrageous: “Tair Kaminer was released due to her grave and bad behavior.”

It’s true, she broke the law. She refused to be drafted. But the army is responsible for so many grave and bad deeds; it’s an army that for nearly 50 years has cultivated injustice, oppression and the killing of civilians and children in the occupied territories. Can the army really confront, with a clear conscience, this courageous, value-driven and peace-seeking young woman? Can it castigate her for her “grave and bad behavior”?

The case of Tair Kaminer can serve as an opportunity for the army, and the person at its helm, to reevaluate its response to those refusing to serve. Maybe it should show more flexibility, offering alternative paths of service. Maybe it should acknowledge that an army that for decades has operated under such a morally problematic situation should allow people incapable of joining it a way to express their conscience. This is the least the system could do.

Even those who oppose Tair Kaminer’s views should acknowledge that she’s one of those young people we want to see growing up here, who can contribute to this society with her personality and free and critical thinking. These are the kinds of people an enlightened human society is blessed with. It’s terrible to think that we’ve come to a situation where the IDF seeks to break the spirit of a woman like her.

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