Dear Mr. Smith: I'm Wearing Your Uniform in an Israeli Military Prison

Tair Kaminer, 19, from Tel Aviv, was sentenced on May 3 to 30 more days in an IDF prison for refusing to enlist in the Israeli army, after serving 95 days.

Tair Kaminer
Tair Kaminer
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U.S. Army soldiers stand in formation during a ceremony in Camp Virginia, Kuwait, Aug. 21, 2010.
U.S. Army soldiers stand in formation during a ceremony in Camp Virginia, Kuwait, Aug. 21, 2010.Credit: Maya Alleruzzo, AP
Tair Kaminer
Tair Kaminer

Dear Mr. Smith,

You don’t know me, but I feel that we are very close. For the past 20 days I’ve been wearing your shirt. At least it was yours when you served in the American army. See, I’m in Israel’s military prison, and our uniforms — the uniforms of the prisoners in military jail — were donated by your country to my country. Yes, that’s really what we wear, the desert camouflage uniforms of the U.S. Army; some of the jackets still have U.S. ARMY sewn on the left pocket flap and the last name of the soldier on the right flap, in capital letters. This time, I got the jacket with your name sewn on the right side.

I want to tell you why I’m in jail. I’m in prison because I refused to enlist in the Israeli army. I object to continuing the occupation in the territories. I asked to do alternative civilian service, but they won’t let me. This time, when this uniform was given a name, I thought about you. I wondered what you think, how do you feel about my wearing your uniform?

I wonder who you are. Obviously, at the beginning I imagined you as a typical American, watching football, and maybe you don’t even know what’s happening here. You’re not aware that there’s this very complex and sad Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that since the state was founded there have been wars. So it’s important to me to tell you that I’m wearing your shirt. We’ve been in this situation for a long time, a difficult situation of repeated wars. Thousands of people on both sides have died as a result of these wars. The Palestinians live under Israeli occupation. That means they have been deprived of the most basic rights, to life, liberty, security and dignity. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip live under a heavy blockade imposed by Israel, and every two years or so its forces go in and destroys the place. Of course the Israelis suffer from the situation too. The “circle of bereavement,” the families who have lost members to the violence, grows each year. Entire communities along the border with the Gaza Strip have for years lived with running to the bomb shelter due to missile strikes, and not only in wartime but on a daily basis. Large numbers of soldiers and civilians live with trauma and anxiety.

In short, it’s not safe here, not for anyone. The reason this affects you is that your government is very involved. Your taxes fund these wars; we receive allocations for “defense,” and in Israel defense means the occupation, siege and restrictions on the movement of the Palestinians. For the security of the Israelis, of course. In addition, the U.S. administration is very powerful and influential in this regard. You could say that your president is running these wars. Your shirt didn’t reach me by chance, your country does a bit more than just giving us your old uniforms. So now that you know, does it bother you that your clothes and your money are in effect perpetuating the occupation of the Palestinians, the absence of security in Israel? Do you sleep well at night knowing that?

The truth is, I want to imagine you differently. I want to believe that you are socially active, just because it would be nice if the shirt I’m wearing belonged to someone who made a difference in their community. And who was very aware of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and who is even critical of Israel. And who knows that fighting the occupation and supporting the nonviolent struggles against it doesn’t make you an anti-Semite, because Israel does in fact commit crimes and it’s important to you, as a citizen of the world, not to lend a hand to this, you care about how your money is used, and that’s great. But I wonder whether you make the connection, on a higher level, between your activism in your city or your country and what is happening here, overseas. We in the Middle East are also significantly affected by the policies of the United States.

Let me explain. It’s very important that all this criticism of Israel be passed on. But it’s not enough. See, the atmosphere in Israel has become more violent, racist and extremist, and it’s our government that’s leading the way; and your government keeps patting my government on the head. Yes, sometimes there are tensions, and I know that Bibi sometimes screws up in our relations with you, but after all you provide protection for the atrocities committed here, unofficial but very important approval. So please: Stop. Stop cooperating, stop with the funds that pay for the occupation, stop sending us military equipment, stop the hypocritical intervention that in fact also seeks to maintain the status quo.

Yes, as the person who is wearing your old shirt, I am asking you to use a little pressure there in the United States, don’t give your government legitimacy to support the crimes committed here.

It suddenly hit me: You could be dead, after all you too are a soldier, you too served in a violent system and perhaps the power struggles killed you too? Perhaps your life too lost your life to war-profiteering tycoons? Maybe you were married and had children who were orphaned because some pig wanted more money? He wanted to sell more weapons, more ammunition, so he too applied pressure where it was needed so that the war would continue. He never even thought about your mother, who lost her son; he was probably buying a new car at the time. He didn’t think about your sister, who lost her big brother while he was bribing the decision-makers a little to make sure he’d keep getting rich. I’m sure he didn’t think about your best friend either, he probably sleeps just fine.

I’m sorry, Smith, I didn’t think about it and now I feel a little bad. You, like the Palestinians and the Israelis, are a victim. A victim of capitalism, which sells our lives, and of the right wing, which discriminates between us, and of the governments that sow racism, and of injustice.

So Smith, I’m sitting here for you too, because I’m not willing to be a part of the injustice that killed you and that is killing many others. So thank you Smith, for being with me in this fight for the better world that we could have here. For your children, and for my children also.

Tair Kaminer, a 19-year-old from Tel Aviv, entered military prison in early 2016 because she refused to serve in the Israeli army.

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