by Luciano Bertozzi

“I’m trying to influence Israeli society by refusing to take part in the occupation and the massacre that is going on in Gaza. I mean that it is not in my name. I am expressing my solidarity with the innocent people of Gaza Strip. I know they want to live, they do not deserve to become refugees for the second time in their lives,” said Tal Mitnick, 18, the first Israeli conscientious objector since the Hamas massacre on 7 October. He was first arrested on 26 December for refusing to serve in the Tel Aviv army. He declared his objection at the Tel HaShomer recruitment centre and was sentenced to thirty days in prison. At the end of January, he was detained again for another thirty days for the same reason (on 25 February, his sentence was extended for another 45 days and he will thus serve a total of 105 days, ed).

In September, Tal drafted a letter signed by hundreds of young people in which he wrote: “We, the young people who are about to be drafted, say no to the dictatorship (Netanyahu’s government, ed.) both in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories – and announce that we will not serve until democracy is guaranteed for all, for all those who live under Israeli rule.” The boy’s courageous decision was followed by 18-year-old Sofia Orr, who publicly declared that she would refuse to wear the uniform on 25 February, the day of conscription: “I refuse to take part in the political violence,” she said in an interview with France 24, “in the oppression and apartheid that Israel has imposed on the Palestinian people, especially now with the war,” (she is now serving an initial 20 days in Neve Tzedek military prison, which is likely to be extended if she continues to refuse to enlist, ed).

She called for the military option to be abandoned and for negotiations to take place. For these positions, she was called a ‘traitor’ and suffered death threats and sexual violence. Nevertheless, she chose the path of non-violence by not taking part in the fighting. The army is considered one of the pillars of national identity, so those who do not enlist for political reasons risk having no career and being marginalised in society, and these young people are often estranged from their families. Furthermore, conscientious objection for political reasons is not recognised in Israel. On the other hand, the situation of the seven hundred reservists who resigned during the protests against the government’s judicial reform is quite different: for them, the occupation of the territories is legitimate and not in question.

Einat Gerlitz, a 20-year-old who refused to serve in the army last year and was imprisoned for 87 days, also expressed solidarity with Tal Mitnick. “We say we support human rights and want two peoples to live in peace. But how do we achieve that? Certainly not by slaughtering thousands of people and dropping bombs on civilians.” This is the voice of Yuval Dag, interviewed by the weekly Left, another 20-year-old Israeli who opposes the occupation of Palestine. He too was imprisoned for two months because he decided to object. He belongs to Mesarvot (we refuse ed.), a network that supports, even legally, those who do not dare to serve in the army.

Although few, there are young people who have the courage not to collaborate with the war machine. Over time, during the hot years of the two intifadas, there have been small waves of refusniks (conscientious objectors). The most striking case occurred ten years ago when 43 left Unit 8200, which was dedicated to spying on and monitoring the Palestinians. It is therefore very important to argue that they refuse to kill and to remove the rhetoric that excludes any means other than weapons. As these boys pointed out, the policy of an eye for an eye only leaves everyone blind.

On the cover photo, Army (Tsahal IDF) spokesperson Daniel Hagari (from the official website)