The Abnormal Box: Women against the Occupation are Not Mentally Ill

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 130 days in military prison so far, wrote the following from her cell in Military Prison 6.

I kind of have mixed feelings about this place.  On one hand, this is the place that you usually go through on your way to receiving an exemption from the army.  You sit there until you go through to the department where you get released.  Which is the place that I am hoping to get to?  I am waiting for this in a way that I have never waited for anything before.  When all of this will be behind me?

A demonstration in solidarity with jailed objectors to the occupation, Tair Kaminer and Omri Baranes outside Military Prison 6, last Saturday, May 21

A demonstration in solidarity with jailed objectors to the occupation, Tair Kaminer and Omri Baranes outside Military Prison 6, last Saturday, May 21 (Photo: Yesh Gvul)

But on the other hand, this place’s name causes me a problem.  Not, god forbid, because I have a problem with people who are different, with the essence of being different, or with any kind of differences.  But I have a problem, that there, in this box, I will sit and wait for my release from the army.

The essence of our refusal to serve in IDF is to say that we are not abnormal.  The system is abnormal.  The method is not legal; the continuous policy of “temporary” occupation is not acceptable.  But we, we are just people, normal citizens who are not willing to stay apathetic.

And this is why I do not want to go to the Mental Health Office and say that I am crazy; that I am not fit to serve in the IDF; to put on some kind of act.  Because women who are against the occupation are not mentally ill; quite the opposite.  They are the ones with healthy souls, who see morality for what it is, and don’t leave it at the level of theory removed from actions, that see themselves as equal to every other soul in the world.

Apparently, if I went to the Mental Health Office, I would get released fairly quickly, because that would silence the noise that I am making and would, more importantly, put me in the little square where they want to put me so they can show the world where I actually belong.  But this fight is too important to me to agree to make the army’s life so easy.

There is another way to get to the “abnormal box” and receive an exemption, a conscientious exemption. That is the exemption that I would like to receive, because after all it is my conscience that is not allowing me to serve in the army.  So what’s the problem?  First of all, the committee for conscientious objectors only releases pacifists, in other words, conscience only has one expression, one form that is against all forms of violence. The conscience cannot, for instance, come from a critical examination of today’s reality.  Committees for conscientious objectors require one to display very radical pacifism that speaks of never using force in any situation, and is therefore very disconnected from the current Israeli reality.  In addition, even if you really are against all violence, you wouldn’t shoot a gun, you are vegan, you don’t kill cockroaches, (and I actually am all of those things…) even then, you apparently have to present yourself as even more extreme so that there will be no doubt that you really do not meet society’s criteria of a “normal” person.

Of course, when you stand before the conscience committee, you can’t talk about the occupation.  If you say something about society being chauvinist, racist and violent, or any other viewpoint that does not connect directly to your personal life style, but rather to a broader view of the world, you will lose the recognition that you are a person of conscience.  If you remark, even in passing, that you aspire to a better world, if you speak about a change in society, or god forbid if you speak about Palestinians, you won’t pass the committee.

What this points out again is that the army is only willing to release “the abnormal.” This outlook won’t attract large numbers; it doesn’t offer an alternative to the situation in the Middle East; it doesn’t make a suggestion for a solution. They will release whoever is perceived by them as “abnormal” and therefore does not threaten the legitimacy of their actions or upset their morality.

There’s another reason that the word “abnormal” annoys me. All my close friends accept that I decided to refuse to serve. Beyond that, they don’t think that I should have to be drafted.  They claim they understand what I am saying, that I would fit better doing community service and can contribute more in that way, that I was raised to look at things differently and that is okay.  Some of them even respect my refusal to serve, think that it is important that the topic is being considered, and support me.

But they are all in the army. They oppose the occupation, want peace, want equality, democracy, rights for all, and they’re in the army.  Because that is how it is in Israel.  And somehow, in spite of the fact that we agree on so many things, they think that I should have enlisted, as they did.  To me, that means that they don’t understand what I am saying.  Because I don’t think that I am abnormal. The fact is that it’s not that serving in the army doesn’t suit me; it’s that it doesn’t suit me to serve the occupation that we are all against. If we are all against it, then we all need to fight it, and we all need to speak out against it, no?

My opinions are based on basic values like equality, life, democracy, peace and justice. These are not special or abnormal values, and if they appear to you to be logical values, then the logic of not participating in something that I am against is not something abnormal.

So, in the end, sometime, they will send me to this “abnormal box” that I have only heard of so far, but that I really want to reach.  And after that I will happily go home. But I will know that this is happening only after I have said again and again, and loudly, that I am not willing to participate in what is happening here; and it is not because I am abnormal or strange or crazy. It is because there is a different solution, and it is not imaginary. There is an alternative to war, to pain and to violence. We can live here with respect and real security. There is another solution, and the government is trying desperately to present anyone that talks about this solution as crazy. The solution is peace.  Let’s show them that they are crazy for thinking that they can manipulate us this way.

Related: Posts about and by Tair Kaminer