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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Israel: Refusing to Serve

First Person

As told to Sarah Duguid

I first went to prison on September 23 of this year and served 35 days. By the time you read this, I will be back inside for another 21. This is going to be my life for the next two years: in for three weeks, out for one. I am 19 years old now and by the time the authorities give up hounding me, I will be 21. The reason? I refused to do my military service for the Israeli army.

I grew up with the army. My father was deputy head of Mossad and I saw my sister, who is eight years older than me, do her military service. As a young girl, I wanted to be a soldier. The military was such a part of my life that I never even questioned it.

Earlier this year, I went to a peace demonstration in Palestine. I had always been told that the Israeli army was there to defend me, but during that demonstration Israeli soldiers opened fire on me and my friends with rubber bullets and tear-gas grenades. I was shocked and scared. I saw the truth. I saw the reality. I saw for the first time that the most dangerous thing in Palestine is the Israeli soldiers, the very people who are supposed to be on my side.

When I came back to Israel, I knew I had changed. I told my dad what had happened. He was angry that I had been over to the occupied territories and told me I had endangered my life. I have always discussed history and politics with my father but on this subject -- my rejection of the military and my conscientious objecting -- we can't speak.

My parents divorced when I was three and my father has a new family. My mother is an artist and she is very supportive of me. But my father has been horrified by my decision. I think he thought that I was going through a stage that I would grow out of. But it hasn't happened.

In prison, I wake up at five and clean all day, inside and out. It's a military prison so we are made to do ridiculous stuff. They painted a white stripe across the floor, and I have to keep the stripe glowing white and clean. I have to wear a US army uniform. The uniforms were given as a present to the Israeli army by the US Marines. I feel stupid. I am anti-military. I am against the whole idea of wearing the uniform.

The other prisoners are women from the army. They are in for silly things such as playing with their guns, smoking dope, running away from the army. None of them is really a criminal. And then there are five girls like me who are conscientious objectors.

We talk to the other girls, tell them things they have never heard about before. Like that everyone is a human, no matter what religion they are. Some of them are really ignorant. They have never heard of evolution theory, or Gandhi or Mandela, or the Armenian holocaust. I try to tell them that there have been a lot of genocides.

Of course I get scared when I am in prison. Three times a week, I have to help guard the prison at night. But also, it's frightening that my country is the way that it is, locking up young people who are against violence and war. And I worry that what I am doing may damage my future. The worst part is that I have a taste of freedom and then I am back inside, back to my mundane prison life. It's hard to go from being a free girl who can decide things for herself -- what to wear, who to see, what to eat -- and then go back to having every minute of the day timetabled.

Last time I was out of prison, I went to see my dad. We tried not to talk politics. He cares about me as his daughter, that I am suffering, but he doesn't want to hear my views. He hasn't come to visit me in prison. I think it would be too hard for him to see me in there. He is an army man.

I suppose, actually, we have similar characters. We both fight for what we believe in. It's just that our views are diametrically opposed.

This article was published in the Financial Times, November 22, 2008.

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