An Ethiopian teen’s principled refusal to join the IDF

Y.E.S. – Young Ethiopian Students” have published a letter from one of their readers, an 18-year-old  about to join the IDF. The story of the Ethiopian community in Israel is one of the most profoundly shameful chapters in the history of the state, which deserves a separate post; but I will only say the Ethiopian community is among the worst discriminated minorities in Israel, competing in underprivileged only with the Bedouins of the Negev (the situation of the community of migrant workers and refugees is quite beyond comparison on any local scale). Nevertheless, the state has no qualms about recruiting young Ethiopians to the IDF – almost exclusively as grunts to the military police, border police and the infantry, presenting it as a first step on the scale of social mobility – more often than not a bare-faced lie. The letter is also remarkable in how it distills so many horrors of the Ethiopian experience in Israel into a handful of lines: The contemptuous housing company, the violent police, the racist teachers, the parents – in all probability, the first-generation immigrants – forced to rely on the help of their 18-year-old son; and everywhere, the ever-present racism.  A separate mention needs to be made of the draftee’s pondering  over  suicide, a chilling reminder of the state’s unforgivable presumption of placing the “value” of military service on so high a pedestal killing yourself appears as viable option. In the past decade, Israel lost more soldiers to suicide than to conflict.

To Y.E,S,
My name is _____, and I live in ______.
First of all, I wanted to say I’m a fan and this is why I’m writing to ask you a question. I’m about to be drafted. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I used to think about which role I should serve in, [but] now I’m confused. I actually think I don’t know whether I should serve. If the duty to serve applies to me.
If I go to the army, there’s chance I could die. If I die, who will take my parents to ask Amidar [public housing company] to fix the stairs, the cracks in the roof and the leak that we suffered from for years? If I join the army and then die, who will go and talk to my brothers’ teachers? Who will protect my family if police decide to kick in the door of our house? Who will protect them from racism?
If I die in the army, who will listen to my little brother, who’s already being picked on by his preschool teacher, that he should go to a special needs school?
Now I’m scared to death just thinking I could die in the army. I don’t know what to do, should I join or not? I think more and more it might be better for me to kill myself. On the other hand, if I kill myself, who will defend my parents and brothers? Who will fight for them?
So I’m getting this thought out of my head. I’m saying right now I’ll stay and I’ll fight for my home. For my family. Right now I’m not strong enough to defend others. I’ve made up my mind, this is it. I don’t want to serve in a racist state.
And anyway, if I’m taken captive nobody will know, they’ll barely notice I”m gone.
And if I die in the army, who will help my family, who’ll protect them from racism? Who’ll protect them from letters by teachers, by police, by the bailiffs, the court and all of these. No, I don’t want to serve in the army. I don’t have the luxury. I’ve been fighting for 18 years already. Now I’m a product of open and covert racism. I feel my duty is to stay and help my parents, I’ll find a proper job. I’ll finally be able to buy my family what it needs and finally fix the roof. And the door kicked in by the cops.
My greatest enemy is racism. It threatens every day. Not just me, it harangues my entire family. I don’t [help from] a social welfare office. I want to help myself now, without assistance. After all I survived 18 years of concentrated racism.
I also don’t want to go to a military (skills) training program. Now they remember, just to get me to go and die in the army? And besides, why don’t they make programs for fixing the roof instead of encouraging me to join the army through a special program for Ethiopians?
And if I die, who will defend my parents and my brothers? No. I feel it is my duty to stay home, or in jail, it really doesn’t matter. I will dedicate my struggle to fighting for my home. My own home, my brothers and my parents, because we’ve been at war for many years.
Am I selfish? No way, if I was, I would have joined, but then I might die in the army. And if I die, there won’t be anyone to fight for my family, and they are suffering from racism a lot.
And If I live through this war – I wonder if they let me light a torch on Independence Day?

Update: Here’s one example of discrimination faced by young Ethiopian Jews in Israel. According to Yisrael Hayom, last year only 0.17 percent (!!) of the student body at Hebrew University were Ethiopian (40 out of 23,000). Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva has 56 out of 18,000, and statistics elsewhere are as grim. The lead belongs to Haifa University with 146 students out of 18,000 – just under 1 percent. All in all, only 2,198 students out of Israel’s 196,000 are Ethiopians – and that’s including the less prestigious private colleges. (h/t Itamar Taharlev)