Israeli Teens Refuse to Serve in Military, Take Part in Occupation

Palestinian demonstrators scuffle with Israeli soldiers at the Huwara checkpoint, south of Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on December 27. Dozens of Israeli teenagers have written a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling him that they will refuse to enlist for the military as they do not want to serve the country’s “occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.” Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty

Dozens of Israeli teenagers have written a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling him that they will refuse to enlist for the military as they do not want to serve the country's "occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people."

The letter, published in one of Israel's highest-selling newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth on Thursday criticized the government and the military for their policies both against Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza and against members of Israel's own minority of Palestinian citizens.

Israel has a policy of mandatory military conscription, and those who refuse to enlist risk prison. Conscripts can only be exempt from military service for a handful of specific reasons, including psychological, physical or religious impediments. Around a quarter of eligible draftees do not end up serving, and approximately 7,000 male and female soldiers drop out of the military's ranks every year.

The teens' letter was also copied to the Israeli military's chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

"The 'temporary' situation has dragged on for 50 years, and we will not go on lending a hand," the letter continued, according to a translation published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The signees called on other teenagers to reconsider their service in the Israeli military. "We refuse to be drafted and to serve in the army out of an obligation to values of peace, justice and equality, with the knowledge that there is another reality that we could create together," they wrote. "We call on others our age to ask themselves, will army service work toward this reality?"

The letter railed against what the teens said was the "intentional institutional incitement against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line," the demarcation line between Israeli and Arab forces following the conclusion of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

"We here—draft-age boys and girls from different areas of the country and from different socioeconomic backgrounds—refuse to believe the systemic incitement and to participate in the government's arm of oppression and occupation."

Israel captured Gaza from Egypt, and East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, in the 1967 Six-Day War and subsequently founded a series of Jewish outposts in the territories. Although Israel evacuated its forces and settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005, both Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on the coastal enclave since 2006. The majority of the international community considers Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal under international law.

The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state. It is the territory that holds some of the holiest sites in Judaism and Islam, including what Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and what Jews call the Temple Mount.

While the Palestinians have said that the status of Jerusalem and the removal of settlements in the West Bank would be crucial to any peace deal, President Donald Trump earlier this month announced the relocation of the U.S. embassy to the contested city, effectively recognizing it as the capital of Israel.

Trump has also allowed Israel's right-wing government to build thousands of new settlement units and to establish the first West Bank settlement for two decades. The Palestinians, along with Arab leaders, have reacted furiously, stating that they will never strike a peace agreement with the U.S. while Trump is in power.

Like the right-wing Israeli government, the majority of Israelis do not consider the country's control of the West Bank to be an "occupation" as defined by international law.

A poll published in June by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University found that 54 percent of Israelis are "sure" that Israeli control of the West Bank should not be called an "occupation." A majority of Israelis, 51 percent, said that Israeli settlements were not an impediment to a peace agreement with the Palestinians that has eluded both sides for decades.