Refusing military service in Israel

Gilad Goldshmidt | Why did you refuse to serve in the army?

Hallel Rabin | I refused to serve in the army for reasons of conscience and as a pacifist. I made a conscious decision not to join up. I thought long and hard about whether or not to do that, especially whether military service was appropriate to my ideals. I took part in all the tests related to conscription in the army and then just before I was called up I decided not to do it. Then I wrote a letter to an army committee that I wanted to be recognised as a conscientious objector and not be conscripted.

GG | Is it allowed to refuse military service in Israel?

HR | In Israel there is a compulsory conscription law for men (three years) and women (two years). But there is also a clause that says you can be released from military service for reasons of conscience and pacifist conviction. However, the army makes it very difficult to be released for these reasons. I was the only conscientious objector last year, it is still not a legitimate thing.

GG | Are there no other grounds of refusal?

HR | It is very easy for women to be released from military service; for example, if I were to say that I am mentally disturbed or have suicidal tendencies, or I could fictitiously marry or invent illnesses, then there would be no problem in being released. Anyone who can provide grounds of a mental or physical impairment would be released. But for me it was very important to follow an honest path.

GG | How did you proceed with your refusal?

HR | I wrote a letter, which was not answered for a long time. Finally, a week before I was due to be called up, I was summoned to appear before a committee. It consisted of five military personnel and a scientist from the academy. The committee checks in a very humiliating way whether the person really is a pacifist. The rejection notice came one day before the call-up. One can appeal. I did not do so because I had already declared my refusal.

GG | What happened then?

HR | On the day of enlistment, I arrived at the enlistment office and refused to wear a uniform and participate in the enlistment process. I sat down and said: “I need an officer to tell me what to do and where to go because I’m not signing up.” After a lot of talking, they sent me to prison. I was scared, but I knew where I was going, I knew in advance that I would have to go to a military prison.

GG | What happened in prison?

HR | The treatment was unpleasant, even humiliating. There were ten women to one cell. At first I was shocked but I didn’t feel bad. After the shock, the whole thing looked silly. I soon had friends: girls who were in for violence, desertion, drugs and other things. After some time there was another trial and I was sentenced to 14 days in prison. In the meantime, I kept trying to appeal against the committee and its decision, which eventually succeeded. Another decision was to go to the media. It was important for me to publicise my principles and the possibility of refusing to join the army. Every conscientious objector who turns to the media can influence and encourage others. And so I published articles and short films in various newspapers and on various networks which also appeared in the news, but mostly on alternative channels.

GG | How did public opinion react?

HR | I received many messages and positive feedback from hundreds of people in Israel and from all over the world. That was very encouraging. The response was amazing and today I think I was also prepared to be inside for a few months to generate this media response. Among other things, I received messages from Palestinians who wrote to me that it gave them new hope.

In prison they heard about the articles written about me and even the prison commanders told me how much they admired me and my courage and determination to suffer for the values I believe in. This was despite the fact that they all stressed that they disapproved of my refusal.

GG | You spent 56 days in prison in total?

HR | Yes. I was released three times and imprisoned four times. After the third detention I came before the committee again; it was a difficult experience to sit in front of people who wanted to show me that I was lazy and did not respect the law. I went out and cried. I was sure they didn’t really want to hear me and my opinions. It’s a kind of trial without protection, without a defender. Then I received the news that the committee had released me. That was one of the happiest moments of my life.

GG | How did you endure this whole period?

HR | I knew from the beginning that I would make it and that I was strong enough to get through it. So I guess I also went as far as it took with my ideals and my faith. In good conscience I cannot join the army because it is an organisation of destruction, of death. I cannot identify with such aims. There are departments in the army that do good things but they are still part of a military organisation. Every army has the aim of waging wars, and I am not prepared to contribute to a system that serves such purposes. The army does not end wars, it creates wars, it continues the cycle of war and killing and I cannot go along with that. Israel is indeed in a difficult situation but in my opinion the army is not the solution, it is part of the problem.

GG | What influence did Harduf or the Waldorf school have on your decisions?

HR | I was often asked if there was a connection between what I was doing and the education I went through in Harduf and in the Waldorf School. I was not brought up to refuse and break the law. I was brought up to respect people wherever they are. I was brought up to make my own decisions and take responsibility for my life and principles. I was brought up to be socially committed.

My sister was also called up, my parents were in the military, so it’s also a very personal decision. Yes, the education I went through gave me the tools to think, to decide and to stand strongly behind my decisions. And also to think wider and bigger, to be more open. At school in Harduf we had artistic and social experiences that prepared and strengthened me for this decision. So there is a connection.