Independence Day in a Military Prison: “My US Marine Uniform”

Two conscientious objectors were sentenced on Tuesday, May 3, to a new stretch in military prison.  One of them, Tair Kaminer, a 19-year Israeli from Tel-Aviv, who has served 104 days in military prison so far, wrote the following from her cell in Military Prison 6.

Prison uniforms in Israeli military prisons are old American uniforms. I wonder if the American soldier that once wore the uniform I’m now wearing is  aware of his country’s role in the occupation, and would like it to end. But, actually, maybe Mr. Smith is also a victim of the capitalism, racism and injustice that I’m fighting against.

US marines training in Israel with IDF forces

US marines training in Israel with IDF forces (Photo: IDF)

Dear Mr. Smith,

You don’t know me, but I feel as though we are really close. For the past 20 days I’ve been wearing your shirt, at least the shirt that was yours while you served in the American military.  Here’s the thing, I’m sitting in an Israeli military prison and our uniforms here were donated to my country by yours .  Yes, they are really US military uniforms that we’re wearing, the tiger stripe uniforms issued to US marines, and some of them still have the last names of the marine sewed on the right and left sides of the shirts. This time, I received your shirt with your name tag still sewn on the right side of the shirt.

I want to tell you why I’m in prison. I’m sitting in prison because I refused to be conscripted into the Israeli army, because I oppose the continuation of the policies of occupation in the Palestinian Territories. I asked to do alternative community service, but they’re not letting me do that. This time, when the prison uniform had a name on it, I thought about you. I wondered what you would think, how you would feel about me wearing your uniform?

I wonder who you are. As one might expect, at first I imagined you as a typical American, maybe chubby, a football fan who possibly has no idea what’s happening here where I live.  Perhaps you are not aware that there is a very complex and sad conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and that since the founding of the State of Israel there have been horrible wars. So it’s important for me to tell you, because I’m wearing your shirt.  We have been in this situation for many years now, one in which terrible wars keep on breaking out, again and again. Thousands of people on each side have been killed as a result of this ongoing war. The Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, meaning that they are denied basic rights of life, liberty, security and dignity. The Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip have been living under a heavy military blockade imposed by Israeli for some 9 years now, but now and then the Israeli army goes in and destroys the place. Naturally, the Israelis are suffering from this situation as well, and our circle of bereaved families grows from year to year. For years now, entire communities in Israel, in the area around the town of Sderot next to Gaza, have lived with the reality of often having to run to bomb shelters to avoid incoming missiles, not just during active wartime, but daily. Huge numbers of soldiers and civilians live with trauma and anxiety.

If I can summarize, it’s not safe here, not for anyone. And the reason that this is linked to you is that your government is very involved. The taxes you pay support these wars, meaning that every year we Israelis receive “defense” aid from the US that amounts to billions of dollars, and in Israel, the meaning of “defense” is really “occupation,” the siege and closure of the Palestinian population; ostensibly for the security of Israelis, of course.  Additionally, your government has a lot of power and influence in this conflict. You might even say that your government is managing these wars. I didn’t happen to get your shirt by chance; your country is a little more involved in the situation than simply donating old uniforms; again, look at the “defense” aid. So now that you know the situation, are you disturbed by the fact that your clothes and tax dollars are actually contributing to the occupation of the Palestinian people? That they are preserving the lack of security in Israel? Do you sleep well at night knowing this?

Actually, I imagine you somewhat different than what I first wrote. I want to believe that you are a person who takes an active role in your society, simply because it would be nice if the person whose shirt I am wearing is a person of values who cares about what takes place in the world; and that you are very aware of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You may even have some criticism of Israel. And you also know that you are not anti-Semitic just because you are against the occupation and support non-violent action against it, because Israel actually is committing crimes, and it is important for you as a citizen of this world not to lend yourself to this, in addition to you’re being concerned about how your tax dollars are being spent, and this is fantastic.  But I wonder if you make the connection, on a higher level, between what is happening in your city or state and what is happening across the sea where we live; because we too here, in the Middle East, are tremendously influenced by policies there in the US.  I’ll explain.  It’s very important to blame Israel for this whole problem. But that’s not enough. You see, the atmosphere in Israel lately has become more and more violent, racist, and extremist, and our government is responsible for this; but your government continues to pat my government on the head. Yes, I know that sometimes there is tension and I know that sometimes Bibi, our prime minister, does stupid things in his relations with your president. But in the final analysis, your country is providing the atrocities being perpetrated here with protection. True, this amounts to unofficial permission, but is still very significant. So please, enough is enough!  Enough of this cooperation; enough of channeling money to support the occupation; enough of sending war equipment; enough of your government’s hypocritical involvement that is actually interested in maintaining the status quo.

Yes, I am asking you, as one who is wearing your old marine shirt, that you apply a little pressure there in the US. Please don’t just simply legitimize your government’s supporting the crimes that are happening here!

It suddenly occurred to me… it’s possible that you’re no longer alive. I mean, you were a marine, and you also probably served in a violent war, and perhaps the power struggles killed you too?  Maybe you lost your life as well because of tycoons getting rich off that same war. Maybe you had a family and children who became orphans because of some tycoon that wanted more money? He wanted your government to buy more weapons, more ammunition, so he put pressure on whomever he needed to so that this war would just continue. He didn’t think at all about your mother, who lost her child, when he went out and bought a new car. He didn’t think about your sister who lost her older brother when he paid off the decision makers so he could continue to get richer. I’m certain that he also didn’t think at all about your best friend; Mr. Tycoon probably just went quietly to sleep.

I’m sorry, Mr. Smith, I didn’t think about that before, and now I feel a bit bad.  After all, you are just like many Palestinians and many Israelis, a victim; a victim of capitalism which sells off our lives as commodities; of right-wing discrimination; and of governments which  sow racism and injustice.

So Mr. Smith, I’m sitting here in prison for you as well, because I’m not willing to take part in the injustice that killed you and is killing many others. So thank you, Mr. Smith, for being here are with me, accompanying me on this struggle for the better world, for your children and also for mine.

Yours truly,

Tair Kaminer

Related: Posts about the conscientious objector, Tair Kaminer