Earlier this week, 18-year-old Israeli Noam Gur publicly announced her intention to refuse mandatory service in the Israeli army. Set to be drafted next month on 16 April, Gur stated in an open letter: “I refuse to take part in the Israeli army because I refuse to join an army that has, since it was established, been engaged in dominating another nation, in plundering and terrorizing a civilian population that is under its control” (“I refuse to join an army that has, since it was established, been engaged in dominating another nation: An interview with Israeli refuser Noam Gur,” Mondoweiss, 12 March 2012).
The Electronic Intifada contributor Jillian Kestler-D’Amours spoke with Gur about what influenced her decision to refuse military service, what the response has been so far and what she wants other young Israelis to know about the realities of serving in the Israeli army.
Jillian Kestler-D’Amours: Why have you decided to refuse your military service?
Noam Gur: Israel, since it was established, is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, from the Nakba [the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48] until today. We see this in the last massacre in Gaza, we see this in the everyday life of Palestinians under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, and we see this in Palestinians living inside Israel in how they’re being treated.
I don’t think that I belong in this place. I don’t think I can personally take part in these crimes and I think that we have to criticize this institution, these crimes and go out publicly saying that we will not serve in the army as long as it occupies other people.
JKD: That leads to another question, which is why did you decide to publicly state your refusal, instead of — as Israelis who get out of their military service often do — using some other kind of excuse?
NG: Ten years ago, there was a huge movement of refuseniks and in the last two or three years, it’s kind of disappeared. I’m the only refusenik this year, so for me it was trying to let people know that it still exists, first of all.
Second of all, I don’t want to be silent. I feel like [since] high school, we’ve always been silent. We always let our criticism be known only in small circles. The world doesn’t know, Palestinians don’t know. I don’t know if it will change anything, but I can only try. I feel better with myself knowing that I tried to make even the smallest change.
JKD: Did your family or upbringing have any influence on your decision to refuse military service?
NG: My parents are really not political. Both of my parents went to the army. My father took part in the first Lebanon war and was injured there. My mom, the same thing. My big sister was in the border police. My story was that I would finish high school and I would go to the army. That was the path for me.
I guess from the age of 15, I started to take an interest in the Nakba of 1948. I started reading and seeing the whole picture. I don’t know really why, but it just kind of happened. Then later, I started reading testimonies from the West Bank by Palestinians and former soldiers. I started to have Palestinian friends, and then eventually taking part in protests in the West Bank and seeing what’s going on through my own eyes.
At the age of 16, I decided I wouldn’t serve in the army.
JKD: What reaction have you received after you publicly announced your refusal?
NG: My parents are really not supportive. I guess my mom knows and my dad knows that they don’t have an option to resist [my refusal] because it’s my opinion and I’m 18 years old. I did not remain in contact with most of my friends from high school; most of them went to the army.
I received a lot of good feedback in the last few days, but also I’ve received really not friendly comments.
JKD: How have the negative comments made you feel?
NG: It’s made me feel that I should keep on with what I’m doing. Most of the comments made me feel … even if they were bad and not supportive, really made me see that it’s the right thing to do because I’m following what I believe in. It’s what I think is right and I don’t really care what other people might have to say about it.
JKD: What will happen when you formally submit your refusal to serve?
NG: On 16 April, I will have to be in the recruiting center in Ramat Gan. I will go in and I will have to declare that I’m refusing. I will stay there for a few hours and then later I will be sentenced, for [between] a week to a month. I will serve my time in one of the women’s jails, then I will be released. When I will be released, I will have to go again to Ramat Gan. Again, [I will receive] a judgment from [between] a week to a month, and this will continue until the army decides to stop.
JKD: What needs to change within Israeli society for more young people to refuse their military service?
NG: I’m not sure if it’s possible. I think we’re at a place of no return. I really do think that if we want to change anything in the Israeli society, the pressure needs to be really, really strong from outside. That’s why I support the boycott, divestment and sanctions call. It’s really going to be hard to change it from within. I think it’s kind of impossible.
JKD: What would you say to other 18-year-old Israelis who are about to start their military service?
NG: I think it’s important that everyone look into what they are doing. I think that most of the 18-year-olds, from my personal experience, don’t really know what they’re going into. They don’t really know what’s going on in [the West Bank and Gaza Strip]. The only way they will see Palestinians for the first time will be once they will be soldiers.
It will be really smart move to start, before getting enlisted to the army, to see what’s really going on. Try to realize, talk to people … it’s not that scary. Try to read what people have to say. I think it’s really important to see what you’re going into.
Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http://jkdamours.com/.