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(Image: War Resisters International)

(Image: War Resisters International)

Over 50 Israeli Reservists Declare 'We Refuse to Serve'

Joint letter comes as Palestinian death toll in Gaza nears 800 and UN official warns of possible human rights violations and war crimes

Sarah Lazare

As Israel continues to pummel Gaza, over 50 reservists in the Israeli army have declared their refusal to serve in the army and voiced their open support for "all those who resist being called to service."

In a petition published Wednesday in the Washington Post, the resisters criticize an army that denies the "civil and human rights" of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. "We divide the world into good and evil according to the military’s categories; the military serves as the leading authority on who is valued more and who less in society," reads the statement.

The resisters say the "military's discriminatory behavior" permeates Israeli society, including: "the structural discrimination against women, which begins with the initial screening and assignment of roles; the sexual harassment that was a daily reality for some of us; the immigration absorption centers that depend on uniformed military assistance." They slam the notion that the army is a vehicle for "social mobility," arguing that it "perpetuates segregation" along class, race, and ethnic lines.

According to the letter, "troops who operate in the occupied territories aren’t the only ones enforcing the mechanisms of control over Palestinian lives. In truth, the entire military is implicated."

Yael Even Or, a key organizer of the petition and one of its signatories, told Democracy Now! on Thursday that "the timing and the platform have been chosen because of the urgency of this matter and our call to the Israeli government to stop the attack on Gaza." However, she said the problem extends far beyond the current offensive of Gaza to all of Israeli society, where militarism "is so normal in Israel that it creates the idea that all of us are part of this thing, a part of the army."

It is unclear at this point what consequences the reservists will face. Most Israeli residents face compulsory army service, followed by mandated reserve duty.

The Israeli organization Yesh Gvul, whose name means "there is a limit" in Hebrew,  reports that "dozens of conscientious objectors have refused to take part in the current military operation" in Gaza. At least one reserve soldier has been sentenced to 20 days in prison for refusal, one was sent home, and two others have left their posts, the organization reports.

The joint letter of refusal comes amid warnings from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that Israel might be guilty of violating international human rights law and committing war crimes. Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qudra reported Thursday that so far 784 Palestinians have been killed and over 5,000 wounded in Israel's offensive.

The reservists' joint statement is the latest development in Israel's history of resistance from within the military, including joint draft refusal, which has been waged since 1970, when a group of students declared their refusal of the draft in an open letter to then-Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Draft resistance includes young people from the Druze religious community — a conscientious objection movement that is reportedly growing, as well as ultra-orthodox draft refusers. According to the Committee for the Druze Initiative, a Druze organization that supports conscientious objectors, since compulsory service was imposed on Druze men in 1956, approximately 5,000 have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in the Army.

The organization Breaking the Silence provides a platform for combat veterans from the Israeli army to testify on what they have witness and participated in.

The declaration of refusal places current reservists among this lineage. "[W]e support the resisters: the high school students who wrote a refusal declaration letter, the Ultra orthodox protesting the new conscription law, the Druze refusers, and all those whose conscience, personal situation, or economic well-being do not allow them to serve," the reservists write.

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