By Ross Carney
For most teenagers in Israel, once you turn eighteen, your next few years will be spent serving in the Israel Defence Forces.
However, for a small majority of these teens, this time will be spent in and out of military prison for refusing to join the army.
These conscientious objectors, who are more commonly referred to as “refuseniks”, are prosecuted under Israeli military law and receive what Amnesty International describe as “unfair summary trials in disciplinary hearings”. They are usually prosecuted and imprisoned on more than one occasion.
This was the case for Einat Gerlitz, a 19 year old from Tel Aviv who was just recently released from military prison over her refusal to join the army.
“I could not serve in an army that actively occupies the Palestinian people”
Gerlitz spent 87 days overall in military prison on four separate occasions. Following her most recent release the teen was officially exempt from completing military service.
She described her time in prison as very tough, and said it gave her a glimpse of what life looks like under complete military control.
Gerlitz said that she refused to partake in military service as she “could not serve in an army that actively occupies the Palestinian people”.
By refusing to join the army publicly, these conscientious objectors risk facing widespread condemnation as serving in the army is viewed as being a significant part of Israeli identity, thus, refusing to serve is widely unpopular and punishable by law.
Gerlitz said that she publicly refused to join the army in order to show solidarity with the people of Palestine, and that she wanted to highlight her reasons for refusal to a wider audience.
There are many support networks for these refusers who aid them with the repercussions of their decisions
A spokesperson from one of these organisations, Mesarvot, described how they face constant backlash from the Israeli public for aiding refusers, however, they hope to question the publics views on the actions of the army.
This support group for refusers has said that “the Israel Defence Forces is not a defence army, but an army that serves political agendas, like occupation and settlement.”
The other refusers
Einat refused mandatory service back in September alongside 3 other conscientious objectors, Shahar Schwartz, Evyatar Moshe Rubin, and Nave Shabtay Levin.
Both Schwartz and Rubin were released earlier this month, having both served over 5 months in military prison each.
Both were officially exempt from serving in the army.
Nave Shabtay Levin, however, was sentenced to an additional 45 days imprisonment.
Barcelona cuts ties with Israel
The release of the two refusers comes in the same week when international pressure has been put on the Israeli government.
The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, announced in a letter addressed to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that she would be suspending institutional ties with Israel and ending the twinning agreement between Barcelona and Tel Aviv.
The two cities have been twinned for over 25 years, however Colau has temporarily put an end to this due to what she described as the “systematic violation of the people of Palestine’s human rights”.
This announcement was prompted by a petition in the city which was signed by over 100 organisations and over 4,000 people calling for action against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
In her address to the Prime Minister, Colau stated that “I have decided to temporarily suspend relations with the state of Israel and with the official institutions of that state -including the twinning agreements with the Tel Aviv City Council – until the Israeli authorities put an end to the system of violations of the Palestinian people and fully comply with the obligations imposed on them by international law and the various United Nations resolutions. We cannot be silent”.