Conscientious Objector Deserves a Place in Israel's History Books

While the public has taken an Israeli soldier accused of manslaughter to its heart, it's highly significant that the plight of 19-year-old Tair Kaminer has passed without recognition.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Tair Kaminer
Tair KaminerCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Sometimes an individual becomes a national story. This happens when the person’s story acts as a symbol – of the Zeitgeist; of a political process; a social trend. For example, modern American history reserves a place of honor for Rosa Parks, the black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, one day in 1955.

In Israel, we’ve recently had the case of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier indicted for manslaughter after the fatal shooting of a wounded and subdued Palestinian assailant in the West Bank settlement of Tel Rumeida, Hebron. Azaria was dubbed “everyone’s child,” and there was tremendous public support for him. An entire political camp rolled up its sleeves. In response, the panicked prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hurried to call the soldier’s father at the start of the military legal process. And he hasn’t stopped conveying public messages ever since to those expected to decide Azaria’s fate.

On the other end of the spectrum is Tair Kaminer. At 19, Kaminer is the same age as Azaria and is also being dealt with by the military justice system. On Tuesday, she was given her fifth prison sentence – this time 30 days – for her conscientious objection to enlisting in what she sees as an occupying army. She has already served nearly 100 days behind bars in Military Prison 6. If she serves the latest sentence in full, she will set an Israeli record in this area.

But Kaminer has not become a symbol, and her abuse is of interest to only a limited public. The “center” and “Zionist left” blocs are, of course, avoiding her story like the plague; it’s needless to even explain why. The fact that she hasn’t become a symbol is already symbolic in itself.

I don’t think one has to agree with Kaminer’s ideology to be shocked by the way she’s been treated. At this point, I first ask myself how long the judicial officers will keep sending her to military prison. Perhaps till the end of her life, a sort of life sentence with breaks to go home to do laundry? Do they want to smash her spirit or her soul? Perhaps make her commit suicide? What exactly are they trying to prove, and to whom? To me, at least, they’re proving that there’s no limit to human stupidity, malevolence and obtuseness when you obey orders and serve ideology and bureaucracy.

Kaminer is a young, ethical person who is politically and socially aware. She spent a year as a volunteer after high school, working with traumatized children in Sderot. When the time came for her to be drafted, she had various options to avoid military service.

She could have declared her refusal to serve for religious reasons – like the girls from the vaunted, patriotic, religious-Zionist community, or the entire ultra-Orthodox population.

She could have told them she was a pacifist.

She could have claimed some medical problem, invented or inflated.

She could have declared that she’s crazy, or anorexic, or has suicidal thoughts.

She could have entered into a fictitious marriage with a friend or friend of the family, as Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli allegedly did back in 2003.

All these things would have gotten her exempted with no problem or particular effort. The Israel Defense Forces enjoys large annual draft pools and doesn’t really have enough work for all the mobilized girls. But Kaminer refused to lie and insisted on telling her truth: that she can’t, in good conscience, serve in the army so long as Israel is a state that uses the army to maintain the occupation and settlement enterprise.

Confronted by this truth, the security establishment – through its recruiting officers and military justice system – is not prepared to turn a blind eye. Perhaps it is motivated by vindictiveness. Perhaps there is a deeper fear that after Kaminer, lots of other Kaminers might emerge who will refuse to sacrifice their bodies, souls and entire worlds on the altar of the occupation and settlements as they help to entrench and perpetuate them.

It’s impossible to be impressed by the direction Israeli society is headed right now, or that all the emotions and fears of the system and its representatives are being used to abuse one young woman. Gone is all proportionality and humanity, not to mention a bit of wisdom and common sense.

One thing’s for sure. The current policy makes a mockery of the theoretical possibility of being released from army service for reasons of “conscience and religion.” At the time, “conscience” was established as a sort of counterweight to being released on religious grounds. They wanted to throw a bone to the secular community, so they wouldn’t complain about illogical or unconstitutional discrimination that favored the pious religious-Zionist girls.

But in practice, it turns out that there’s no way to opt out for reasons of conscience. It’s a dead letter in the law books and the compulsory conscription regulations. Therefore, it would be appropriate to change the language of the law to state that one can avoid the draft for reasons of religious conscience, but not leftist conscience.

We could call it the Tair Kaminer amendment. That way, she could at least enter the State of Israel’s history books, along with combat medic Elor Azaria and the civilian security guards at the Qalandiyah checkpoint who allegedly fired 15 times from a distance at a confused, 23-year-old Palestinian mother of two little girls recently, and then at her brother who tried to drag her out of the line of fire, killing them both.

Here’s a final question. Where is it more moral for young Israelis to hang out these days – in Tel Rumeida and Qalandiyah, or in Military Prison 6?

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