In ‘Solidarity With the Innocent in Gaza,’ Israeli Refusenik Gets 30 More Days in Prison

"I don't see myself as the hero or anything while people are being massacred every day in Gaza," said 18-year-old conscientious objector Tal Mitnick.

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Undaunted after spending nearly a month behind bars for his conscientious objection to Israel’s war on Gaza, 18-year-old refusenik Tal Mitnick on Tuesday reported for an additional 30 days of military detention.

As Common Dreams reported last month, Mitnick entered the Tel Hashomer enlistment center on December 27 with other members of the Mesarvot Network – a group of young conscientious objectors – and announced his refusal to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), citing the war on Gaza and Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

“My refusal is an attempt to influence Israeli society and to avoid taking part in the occupation and the massacre happening in Gaza,” Mitnick told+972 Magazine last month. “I’m trying to say that it’s not in my name.”

“I express solidarity with the innocent in Gaza. I know they want to live,” he added.

Nearly 25,500 Palestinians – mostly women and children – have been killed, and over 63,000 others wounded, during the Israeli assault on the densely populated coastal enclave of 2.3 million people, most of whom have been forcibly displaced.

In an interview with The Guardian published Tuesday, Mitnick recounted his first day in military prison, where he was forced to sit in a classroom where notable quotes were posted on the walls. One from Nelson Mandela read, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

“I nearly laughed to myself,” Mitnick said via Zoom from his family’s Tel Aviv home during his short-lived release, noting the irony of the IDF quoting an anti-apartheid icon while South Africa was leading a genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“I pointed out how ridiculous this quote being there was,” he said. “No other prisoners engaged or agreed. I realized how alone I was.”

While the IDF allows some service exemptions for conscientious objectors, they are almost always granted on religious grounds. IDF service is mandatory for most Israelis, including men and women. Exceptions include people with medical issues, certain criminal convictions, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Arab Muslims and Christians, Druze and Circassian women, and pregnant people and new mothers.

Israelis who refuse to serve on politically ideological grounds are usually first jailed for 7-10 days, with the possibility of up to 200 additional days added for unrepentant resisters after their initial release.

Exemption is also possible for people diagnosed with certain mental health conditions.

“I feel like not wanting to serve is not a mental problem and it shouldn’t be seen as such,” Mitnick toldSky News. “I want to show that I don’t want to serve because of my beliefs and because of my values, and that is not a mental problem.”

Mitnick also rejects the platitudes bestowed by some anti-war campaigners.

“I don’t see myself as the hero or anything while people are being massacred every day in Gaza,” he told The Guardian. “And I want to stress I’m by no means the only one. There are other anti-occupation activists. People opting to not join the army. Peace campaigners, young and old. But at the same time, I do think this takes bravery.”

Last year, 10,000 IDF reservists threatened to refuse service in opposition to the highly contentious judicial overhaul launched by the far-right administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hundreds of Israeli air force and cyberwarfare reservists went on strike over the legislation. But opposition dramatically waned following the horrific Hamas-led attacks on October 7th.

“Now the supposed liberals, that protested judicial reform, are pilots massacring people in Gaza,” Mitnick lamented. “People who were speaking out about government corruption are now supporting the far-right leadership, saying there are no civilians in Gaza.”

That sort of incendiary rhetoric has been cited in the South African-led ICJ case as evidence of intent to destroy the Palestinian people “in whole or in part,” a critical component for conviction under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

In an interview with Sky News, Mitnick scoffed at Israel’s ambiguous detention regimen for conscientious objectors.

“I can take another 30 [days] and I can take another 30 after that because I know that a lot of people support me and that I’m succeeding in making a change and showing the world that there’s another way and that we can choose nonviolence over violence,” he asserted.

“I think that for 70 years we’ve been seeing the same policy of occupation, of siege, and of Jewish supremacy between the river and the sea, and I can’t take part in it,” Mitnick continued.

“The war has only strengthened my opinion,” he added. “I feel like we need to stop the cycle of violence. Somehow it’s going to stop and I believe that every person should work to stop the violence from their own position.”

Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

11 thoughts on “In ‘Solidarity With the Innocent in Gaza,’ Israeli Refusenik Gets 30 More Days in Prison”

  1. I saw Tal Mitnick on Democracy Now. He made a good point about not serving in the military. He will protest and go to jail for as long as it takes.

  2. “Refusniks are Peaceniks!”

  3. A true hero ! His stance takes real courage.

    There are hundreds of Refusniks. Plus at least 12% of the population has voted with their feet and left the country.

  4. Jan 25, 2024 Egyptian President Sisi Humiliates Netanyahu; Refuses To Answer Israeli PM’s Phone Call

    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi reportedly refused a phone call fro Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Channel 13 reported. This comes amid ongoing tensions between Israel and Egypt over Gaza war and Netanyahu’s plan to launch an operation along the border with Egypt.

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