Courageous Selfishness

Those who refuse to serve in the army spare themselves the experience of jolting awake one morning with the realization that they were directly involved in a crime

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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File photo: Protesters rally in support of conscientious objector Tair Kaminer outside of the IDF's central recruitment office, January 2016.
File photo: Protesters rally in support of conscientious objector Tair Kaminer outside of the IDF's central recruitment office, January 2016.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Military prison can be a place worthy of esteem and pride, when the reason for incarceration is refusal to become a soldier. This is particularly true when the person imprisoned is openly refusing to take part in the well-oiled machine of dispossession and oppression of millions of people.

On Monday, Hadas Tal of Kibbutz Yifat in the Jezreel Valley joined the too-meager list of Israel’s conscientious objectors: 10 in 2016 and the same number expected this year. (There are more who don’t wish to take part in the occupation, whom the army quietly exempts from service.)

“Enlistment is not a neutral act,” Tal wrote in a Facebook post explaining her actions. “Actually, if you think about it, enlistment is more political than conscientious objection.” How accurate. Participation in denying another people’s freedom is a clearly political act. Even when you are just 18 years old.

Refusal to serve in the army of the occupation is a selfish act. The conscientious objectors spare themselves the experience of jolting awake one morning at age 24 or 30, with the realization that they were directly involved in a crime. Minor or serious. They won’t have to soothe their conscience, repress feelings or recite justifications. They may also be sparing themselves from the discomfort of having to stand trial, locally or abroad, when the era of impunity finally comes to an end, or from painful revelations in something like a “truth and reconciliation committee.”

The parents who with full knowledge send their sons and daughters to persecute and expel people from their land, as they themselves did 20 or 30 years ago, are not altruists. They are very selfish: They’re thinking about the prestige, about the career boost that military background provides, about the shame they would feel if their child didn’t follow in this set path. They know that the chances are very good that their child will return safely from his or her service. The high-tech Israel Defense Forces knows how to kill thousands without being killed. But this is selfishness that sustains injustice and nurtures privilege. Unlike the selfishness of the conscientious objectors that seeks to break the Israeli-settler pattern.

“I am refusing to serve in order to oppose a system that looks after the interests of small groups of people and not of all Israelis. The army is one of the most prominent, destructive and violent arms of this system. The main role of this system is to maintain the occupation,” Tal wrote.

As of Tuesday morning, Tal had not stood trial yet, but had only been sent to detention. Now she embarks on a path of uncertainty. There’s no telling how many times the vengeful military system will choose to send her to military imprisonment.

Waiting for Tal in prison will be another conscientious objector, pacifist Noa Gur Golan, who last week was sentenced to yet another 30 days, after her initial 14 days of detention. The army does not recognize her pacifism as a legitimate reason to exempt her from military service and to permit her to do some kind of social service instead. Our militaristic society demands that these young women pay a price for their courageous selfishness.

Until 10th grade, Tal didn’t even know there was an occupation, she said. The Siha Mikomit website and reports from Breaking the Silence gave her lessons in reality. She attended a school that glorified military service. Her twin sister has already enlisted.

Like most conscientious objectors of the last few years, Tal comes from a privileged sector of Israeli society. But in relation to the Palestinians – all Israeli Jews, even the marginalized and discriminated against – are in a position of power and superiority. Even we, who oppose settler Israel (on both sides of the Green Line) collaborate with it against our will and enjoy all the privileges it creates for us. The question is what and how much we can do to reduce this forced collaboration as much as possible.

Tal and her fellow conscientious objectors offer an example: They are using their dually privileged status to try to crack the regime of privileges. And young as they are, they still hope that many others will follow in their footsteps.

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