Conscientious objector: ‘I refuse to be a tool of the gov’t’

Hadas Tal is the latest Israeli to publicly refuse to join the Israeli army because of its human rights violations against Palestinians. Before heading to prison, she speaks about her about her family’s reaction, the potential consequences of her decision, and why so many conscientious objectors are women.

Conscientious objector Hadas Tal.
Conscientious objector Hadas Tal.

Hadas Tal showed up to the Israeli army induction base at Tel Hashomer outside of Tel Aviv Monday morning to declare her refusal to be drafted into the IDF. She will likely be sentenced to prison, where she will join Noa Gur Golan, another draft refuser who was sentenced to 30 days last week — her second stint.

I caught up with Hadas on Sunday as she made her final preparations before near-certain imprisonment the next morning. The humor and calm that she exhibited in our conversation surprised me. She’s going to prison the next day, after all. It’s clear to me that she has prepared herself practically and also mentally, including by speaking with other refusers who have been sent to military prison recently.

“I met with both Tamars (Alon and Ze’evi), Atalya and Tair, and also Noa before she went back to prison. I also went to preparatory meetings put on by the ‘Mesarvot’ network, so I feel ready and like I know what’s going to happen. I got a few good tips from the other refusers — mostly to remember that discipline in prison is a game of sorts and that you need to know how to play it; don’t let it get to you, and remember the reason I am there to begin with. Tamar Alon gave me a few helpful tips about how to pack my bag, for which I’ll thank her — those are things I wouldn’t have thought of,” she adds, chuckling.

Conscientious objector Tair Kaminer is greeted by supporters outside the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/
Conscientious objector Tair Kaminer is greeted by supporters outside the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/

Hadas, 18, lives in Kibbutz Yifat in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. She has a twin sister who is supposed to finish basic training in the army on Monday — who tried unsuccessfully to get special permission to see Hadas off to prison — and a younger brother who is about to start the 10th grade.

In her refusal statement Hadas wrote:

Until the 10th grade I did not know there is an occupation. I recently found a map I had drawn in the 9th grade — the occupied territories did not appear there, only empty space. But in the 10th grade I began to develop a political consciousness. I read articles on “Local Call,” testimonies from “Breaking the Silence,” posts on social media, and I was exposed to a reality I did not know previously – the occupation. The helplessness of a population controlled by soldiers. I remember especially the revelation that so close to me there is a world where soldiers who do not speak your language enter your family home in the middle of the night as a routine thing. By the 11th grade I already knew that I would refuse to enlist.

I assume that the high school you went to has a strong military ethos. How did those around you react to your refusal to be drafted?

It wasn’t a big surprise for my family, we’ve been talking about these things for a long time. But the army is very central at school. In 11th grade they were already talking to us a lot about ‘meaningful [military] service,’ to the point that it turned into a kind of joke. They’re proud of graduates who perform ‘meaningful [military] service,’ who serve their country and all that. And there are a lot of activities that are tied to the military in 12th grade, not just at the initiative of the school but also of the students themselves.”

“When I told people at school for the first time that I wasn’t planning to go to the army, the reactions were mostly of amazement. They didn’t understand how I could even dare to say something like that, despite the fact that my classmates already know I’m the leftist who makes trouble during civics lessons.” It’s also possible that Hadas’s friends weren’t completely taken by surprise by her decision: laughing, she tells me that they drew a virtual map of where everyone would be a year from now, and she was put in military prison.

You could have avoided going into the army without refusing in a way that lands you in prison — getting an ‘incompatibility’ waiver or for mental reasons.

I deliberated it for a long time. I thought about getting a psychological or medical exemption. There are a lot of ways to game the system. A few months ago, when the date was really approaching, I knew that I had to decide. In the end I decided —  and my mother played a serious part in my decision making process — that I’m doing something big and I need to go all the way with it. I am capable of doing it, partly because of the support I have around me, and so I decided to make a public refusal. I went to a meeting of ‘Mesarvot’ and that was what finalized it for me.”

Assuming that your refusal isn’t going to end the occupation, what realistic effect do you hope it will have?

“Raising awareness about the fact that there is an occupation. It’s absurd that people, even adults, who have lived their whole lives here aren’t aware that there are millions of people living under our control without any citizenship. The reactions from Palestinians, from peace and human rights activists around the world have been really encouraging, and it’s important for me to show them that there are other voices in Israel. It’s easy for us as Israelis who live in this reality to simply ignore it, to not know, and to go on with our lives. We’re guided toward that from birth. People have to actively stop and think, to be aware, and that’s not simple. I hope that my actions will raise that awareness.”

Again, from her public declaration:

I refuse to accept reality as it is. I refuse to accept that there is “no choice.” I refuse because the problem lies in blind obedience, in the loyalty to the state instead of to its citizens and residents, and in the acceptance of reality as it is. I refuse to be a tool of the government. I refuse because joining the military is not a foregone conclusion, and should not be. Why should I enlist and serve an organization that harms Israeli society, human society, and nature?

How do you explain the latest wave of refusers, and the fact that it’s almost exclusively women?

“It’s hard to explain the broader phenomenon, but as I went over the really violent responses that I got to my declaration of refusal, I noticed that around twice as many men than women sent those types of comments. That’s significant. There are reasons for it, of course. It’s harder for men to get out of the military system; more is expected of them. At school it’s much more expected of boys my age to ‘contribute,’ or in other words, to go to a combat unit. The male brotherhood is much more built on the military. Refusing is viewed as a soft thing, as feminine, not masculine. The social price is much higher for boys in that sense.”

Conscientious objector Tamar Alon holds up her release papers after spending 130 days in military prison. (Courtesy of Mesarvot)
Conscientious objector Tamar Alon holds up her release papers after spending 130 days in military prison. (Courtesy of Mesarvot)

What are you most worried about as you head to prison?

“Firstly the uncertainty. I more or less know how it’s going to work, but it’s different for everyone and I won’t be able to call my mom and dad to consult. I also don’t know for how long I’ll go, and I need to be prepared for any scenario. The conditions themselves aren’t unbearable, but to wake up at 5:30 a.m. imprisoned in a cell isn’t pleasant. My fear is mostly about the unknown and not having any control.

“As far as the other prisoners — from what I understand, there might be heated discussions but there’s respect. The other refusers told me really positive stories about their relationships with the other prisoners, and they also learned about the really different circumstances of the women who were there with them. It’s not the classic image of prison; there aren’t ‘dangerous’ people. Tamar Alon told me that in the last prison where she was, there was a former prison guard. I think it can be a learning experience.”

Have you thought about your plans after you get out?

“Right now I’m entirely focused on my current struggle. I’ll think about what comes after when I get there.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.