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Nerds, Jocks and Jailed Dissidents: Inside the World of Israel’s High School War Resisters

High school's tough enough without having to face prison time for refusing to serve an occupation you know is wrong.

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In addition to those who publicly resist, an unknown number engage in “gray resistance,” quietly applying for discharges on mental, physical, and religious grounds. As of 2008, about  half of all potential conscripts did not enlist due to various exemptions, according to Israeli army officials.

Sahar Vardi, a shministi from the class of 2008, wants to encourage this type of resistance. She is a member of the Israeli feminist demilitarization group  New Profile, which offers consultation and support to youth questioning military service. The organization reaches 2,000 people who are seeking to resist military service each year, she says.

Saying no to conscription and occupation

Gur, who grew up in Nahariya, a town just north of Haifa, had a sister in the border police in Gaza at the time of her refusal. Despite her family’s objection to her resistance, she penned her  public letter in 2012. In it, she explained her unwillingness to serve in an army that has, she wrote, “been engaged in dominating another nation, in plundering and terrorizing a civilian population that is under its control.” After receiving two successive prison terms for refusing orders, she was finally released after claiming mental unfitness.

The number of public shministim has been shrinking in recent years, with just three 12th graders, including Gur, publicly declaring their draft refusal in 2012. Yet Electronic Intifada  reports that the number of resisters among the Druze, an ethnic minority from the country’s north, is on the rise, with Druze musician Omar Saad publicly refusing conscription last year. Furthermore, New Profile consultants say that the number of gray resisters continues to increase.

Regardless of its size, Israeli anti-occupation organizers insist that the tradition of refusing conscription remains a relevant force, in conjunction with other demilitarization efforts. “Breaking the consensus on occupation is important,” says Netta Mishley, a shministi from the class of 2009. “It allows people to feel more free speaking their minds.”

Gur, who also supports the Palestinian call for  boycott, divestment, and sanction of Israel, says that that draft resistance is one tactic among many, and it is difficult to tell how effective it is. Nonetheless, she argues that refusal is important to encourage. In a society where graduates fresh out of high school are required to participate directly in military occupation at an early age, saying no can be a way of showing another path is possible, and retrieving one's humanity in the process.

Sarah Lazare wrote this article for  YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Sarah is a writer and organizer in U.S. anti-war and anti-militarist movements, and is a member of  The Civilian-Soldier Alliance and War Times. She co-edited PM Press book  About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War, and her work has appeared in publications includingThe Nation, Truthout, and Al Jazeera English.


Sarah Lazare is the Project Director of Courage to Resist, an organization that supports military war resisters.
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