One hundred supporters joined two conscientious objectors as they headed to the induction base of the Israeli military in the center of the country on Sunday, February 11, to declare their refusal to be inducted into the army. Saar Yahalom, 18, from the moshav Be’erotayim, and Matan Helman, 20, from Kibbutz HaOgen, say that they will not enlist due to their opposition to the occupation. Among the demonstrators were dozens of young Jews and Arab communists, members of Hadash and the Communist Party of Israel, veteran refusers and MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash – Joint List).
For Yahalom, a leading member of the Young Communist League in Tel Aviv, this is his first declaration of intent to refuse to serve in the army; he is expected to serve an extended sentence. Helman, on the other hand, has already served 50 days behind bars during three separate periods of detention. He is expected to be jailed again.
“I am very moved by the presence of friends who came to support me — Jews and Arabs and social activists, Yahalom emphasized in this speech both in Hebrew and Arabic. “I am part of the movement for change in Israel. The struggle against the occupation, against the deportations, social struggles — they are all part of the struggle for social justice and peace. I am doing my part, which I have chosen to do. Even when I’m in prison, I trust my friends to continue the struggle, because the reality is what’s outside,” he said. After Yahalom’s words, demonstrators sang the communist anthem “The Internationale.”
MK Touma-Suliman said, “The conscientious objectors have made a difficult choice, yet the heavy price they will pay is far smaller than the price involved by those participating in the oppression of another nation. A clear statement has been heard on the northern border, in the south, and in the center of the country. We strongly oppose the continuation of the war, the cycle of bloodshed, and we oppose the oppression of and military control over another nation. We came here today to say that there is another path. There is the path of peace, equality, and social justice. And we have chosen this path.”
Helman and Yahalom, who have been supported by the Mesarvot refusers network, are among the more than 100 young people who signed the “2017 Seniors Letter” addressed to the prime minister, Israeli military Chief of Staff, and education and defense ministers. The signatories will refuse to serve in the army due to their opposition to the occupation: “To improve the lives of all of us living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, we must end the occupation and achieve piece. For 50 years, this ‘temporary’ arrangement has continued, and we refuse to participate in prolonging it.”
In his declaration of refusal Yahalom wrote: “After 50 years of occupation, the army has become a mechanism around which everything revolves. My opposition is not to individual crimes that happen in the occupied territories, but to the occupation itself, which cannot exist without those extreme incidents: the policies of checkpoints, home demolitions, settlements, persecution of political movements, arrests, and arbitrary detentions. I am refusing because I oppose sending people of my age to serve as a colonial police force against Palestinians my age, all in the service of the pro-capitalist and neoliberal government and the settlements.”