Chipping away at the core

IssueJune - August 2002
Feature by Ruth Hiller

My son Yinnon Hiller is the first young Israeli to appeal to the Israeli High Court for his human right not to serve in the military on the grounds of his pacifist beliefs and he is one of a fast-growing group of Israeli conscientious objectors.

At a hearing held in February 2002, the panel of judges decreed a second court injunction in favour of Yinnon. The first hearing, held six months earlier, ordered the state to present valid reasons why the military did not accept Yinnon's grounds for refusal - his pacifism. This time the state was ordered to establish a compromise that would exempt Yinnon from military service and allow him to continue his work with children.

The importance of such a ruling by the courts is significant as it indicates a possible breakthrough in Israeli military policy. The state has been given time to negotiate a suitable compromise for pacifists requesting to perform civilian service. The judges made it clear that the state must find an alternative to military service. In addition to Yinnon's case, there are three other appeals to the court by pacifists which are pending.

A question of conscience

The recent military actions in Israel and the Occupied Territories have brought to light questions of conscience and with them the varied forms of draft avoidance, refusal to serve, refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories or refusal to obey orders.

While it is very difficult to obtain exact statistics and data about how many of the new conscripts and reservists called up for military service are actually resisting, New Profile, the Movement to Civilise Israeli Society, is witnessing a sharp rise in the number of young men and women who have chosen or are deliberating draft refusal and are requesting information and support.

Israel is a highly militarised country. Society is completely inter-locked with the military. Our educational system is such that we gradually groom our children for war. We aid in forming their identity by teaching them to serve in the army. We believe that the militarised social order is the major mechanism to keep all Arabs, the disabled, homosexuals and particularly women in their “place”. This military order serves to benefit the male elite.

In such a militarised culture, being a pacifist is an unpopular but very courageous act. Today's governmental policies, strengthened by the media, emphasise nationalistic and militaristic slogans such as “Bleeding Nation” and the “Need to Protect a Homeland” which are used as calls to mobilise reservists as well as to convince young conscripts to volunteer for frontline duty. But in spite of this more popular belief, the onslaught of vicious criticisms directed towards draft avoidance and refusal indicate that this kind of civil disobedience is chipping away at the core of a very strong social mechanism that allows Israel's government to execute a murderous policy of war-waging.

Women Refuse!

Contrary to the popular call to bolster faltering nationalistic resolve, the surge of this new resistance movement has generated a feminist refusal movement. Women Refuse, initiated by New Profile, calls for women to stop cooperating with the Israeli government and its military policies. Women Refuse wishes to emphasise that by quietly standing by, as partners, fathers, brothers and sons and daughters are drafted into army service, women are being actively submissive and are supporting the continual execution of government policies at any cost.

Women Refuse calls upon all women to stop being traditionally silent and to dare to raise their voices by opposing their loved ones' participation in military action. This new form of protest opposes a deeply rooted national tradition of unquestioned support for the Israeli military and may also be considered an act of national disloyalty and personal betrayal.

This new voice goes beyond family, spousal and parental responsibilities in their traditional senses. It calls for the sanctification of life in the broadest way possible. It calls on the Israeli public to refuse to be the enemy and to develop a new national dialogue. By starting within our homes and then moving out into wider public domains, Women Refuse is attempting to create a new national agenda.