Anti-occupation conscientious objector Matan Helman has been exempted from service in the Israeli army and was released from prison on Thursday, April 26, after six stints behind bars adding up to a total of 110 days. The official reason given by military authorities for his release from compulsory service: “Bad and grave behavior.”
Helman had served six sentences in Military Prison 6, near Atlit in northern Israel, where most male conscientious objectors are held alongside soldiers who have been imprisoned for various other reasons.
Helman, 20, from Kibbutz HaOgen, first declared his refusal to be conscripted into the army for reasons of conscience in November of 2017. About a month ago, just before re-entering prison, Helman submitted a statement to the military conscientious objection committee hearing his case, in which he described why he decided to be a conscientious objector, and how learning about the occupation in his youth movement influenced that decision. “I was surprised by the fact that only then was I hearing about these things for the first time” the statement continued. “I was ashamed that I was living my comfortable and safe life, free and independent in the kibbutz where I was born, without even knowing that somebody else was paying the price. After a year of deliberation, I decided to refuse [military service].”
Upon being released from prison Helman lamented the bloodshed on the Gaza border in recent weeks and said it should keep anyone with a bit of humanity awake at night. “I walk out of prison with my head held high and with the knowledge that many youths of conscience and integrity in Israel will refuse to take part in the occupation and in Israel’s policies of oppression of the Palestinians,” Helman said.
Still held in an Israeli military prison is conscientious objector Ayelet Brachfeld, an 18 year old from Tel Aviv, who thus far has been incarcerated for over 60 days. Like Helman, she is a part of the “Mesarvot” refusers’ network. (The word “mesarvot” is the feminine plural of the Hebrew verb to refuse.)
Helman and Brachfeld are two of 100 draft age youngsters from around Israel who sent a letter on December 28, 2017, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennet and the Israeli Army’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, declaring their refusal to be conscripted into the military because of its oppression of the Palestinian people.