80 Israeli Teens Refuse Military Service in the Army of Occupation

Eighty Israeli teenagers in their final year of high school published an open letter on Tuesday morning, December 5, addressed to ministers in the far-right government, in which they declared their refusal to serve in the army to protest the state’s policies of occupation and apartheid. The new “Shministim Letter” reported on in Zo Haderech, the Hebrew-language website of the Communist Party of Israel, decries Israel’s military control of Palestinians in the occupied territories, referring to the regime in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem as an “apartheid system.”

“It is our duty to oppose this destructive reality by uniting our struggles and refusing to serve these violent systems – chief among them the military,” reads the letter, which was addressed to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Education Minister Yoav Galant, and the Israeli military Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.

Signers of the latest "Shministim Letter" participate in a demonstration against far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 2020. The placard held aloft on the right reads: "My significant service is refusal."

Signers of the latest “Shministim Letter” participate in a demonstration against far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 2020. The placard held aloft on the right reads: “My significant service is refusal.” (Photo: Mesarvot)

“Our refusal to enlist to the military is not an act of turning our backs on Israeli society,” the letter continues. On the contrary, our refusal is an act of taking responsibility over our actions and their repercussions. Enlistment, no less than refusal, is a political act. How does it make sense that in order to protest against systemic violence and racism, we have to first be part of the very system of oppression we are criticizing?.”

The teen’s letter refer to the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 war: “We are ordered to put on the bloodstained military uniform and preserve the legacy of the Nakba and of occupation. Israeli society has been built upon these rotten roots, and it is apparent in all facets of life: in the racism, the hateful political discourse, the police brutality, and more.” The letter further emphasizes the connection between Israel’s capitalist neoliberal and military policies: “While the citizens of the Occupied Palestinian Territories are impoverished, wealthy elites become richer at their expense. Palestinian workers are systematically exploited, and the [Israeli] weapons industry uses the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a testing ground and as a showcase to bolster its sales. When the government chooses to uphold the occupation, it is acting against our interest as citizens – large portions of taxpayer money is funding the ‘security’ industry and the development of settlements instead of welfare, education, and health.”

Public, joint letters by “Shministim” (Hebrew for “twelfth graders”) is an historic movement of high school students that publicly refuse to serve in the army due to their conscientious objection to occupation and oppression by the Israeli military. They have traditionally chosen to go by the name “Shministim” in deference to a group of high school seniors who, in April 1970, wrote a letter to the then prime minister, Golda Meir, expressing their concern about the Israeli occupation on the eve of their draft into the army. While for decades the letters predominantly referred to opposing service in the occupied territories specifically, the last previous Shministim Letters, published in 2001, 2005 and 2014, included signatories who refused to serve in the army altogether. Among the signatories is Hallel Rabin, who was released from prison in November 2020 after serving 56 days behind bars.

Full text of the latest “Shministim letter” (English translation): https://shministim.github.io/?lang=en

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