Two Israeli teenage refuseniks on hunger strike

The two teenagers Hillel Goral (18) and Noam Bahat (19) are conscientious objectors to compulsory military service. At present they are serving their second prison sentence for refusing to enter the Israeli army. Israel has no alternative civilian service and Hillel Goral and Noam Bahat are currently on hunger strike.

Hillel Goral was sentenced to 28 days for refusing to serve in the Israeli army and his second sentence was for the same duration. Noam Bahat was initially sentenced to 28 days for refusing to serve in the army and his second sentence was for 42 days. Both began their hunger strike on 16 January 2003, in protest at the imprisonment and mistreatment of conscientious objectors. They are also protesting Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories. They refuse to wear military uniforms in prison and as a result, are being held in isolation wards at Military Prisons. Hillel Goral is in Military Prison No. 6 near the coastal town of Haifa and Noam Bahat is held in Military Prison No. 4, near Tel Aviv.

When Hillel Goral’s lawyer recently visited him in prison, she noticed that his fingers were turning blue and that his body temperature was dropping. At her insistence he was examined at the prison clinic. He consented to an infusion, but otherwise refused several pleas to stop his hunger strike, and declared he would continue as long as he is held in prison.

In 2002, Hillel Goral and Noam Bahat were amongst 300 signatories of the “High School Seniors’ Letter” in which teenagers shortly to be conscripted for army service wrote to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. They stated that they would not take part in the oppression of the Palestinian people by serving in the Israeli army. Some of them declared their refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories, while others expressed complete objection to serving in the Israeli army.

Background information

Amnesty International is concerned about the number of Israeli soldiers and reservists detained because of their refusal to perform military service or to serve in the Occupied Territories. In Israel, conscripts who make it known that they are unwilling to serve on grounds of conscience and because they believe that the army is committing human rights violations are imprisoned. However, other conscripts are routinely granted deferral or exemption from performing military service on religious grounds.

There are approximately ten conscientious objectors currently imprisoned in Israel, although the numbers fluctuate daily. The total number of objectors imprisoned since September 2000, when the current Palestinian uprising (intifada) began, is more than 180. Some of those imprisoned are young conscript conscientious objector (COs), while others are army reservists. Recently, the Israeli army has hardened its position towards the conscript COs, and they have been sentenced to repeated terms of imprisonment of between 14 and 42 days each. Some of the young COs are now serving a sixth or even seventh consecutive prison sentence.

A person who for reasons of conscience or profound conviction arising from religious, ethical, moral, humanitarian, philosophical, political or similar motive may refuse to perform armed service or any other direct or indirect participation in wars or armed conflicts. If imprisoned as a result of his/her refusal and denied an alternative civilian service of comparable length, Amnesty International would consider this person to be a prisoner of conscience. Israel has no such alternative civilian service. Amnesty International believes that all conscientious objectors should be given the opportunity to present the grounds of their objection to a decision-making
body, which is established by law and is impartial and independent.