Tair Kaminer: Israeli teenager facing multiple prison sentences for refusing military service says she 'won't break'

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, she talked of her hopes for peace and the role of conscientious objectors

Tair Kaminer, 19, will get up on Monday morning, eat breakfast, get dressed and pack a bag. Her parents will drive her to a military base and say their goodbyes before she goes inside.

She will be told to register as a conscript in the Israeli military. She will refuse. She expects be detained, found guilty of disobeying orders and jailed for up to 28 days.

Tair knows what will happen because it the same as it was the last time, and for all conscientious objectors in Israel.

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Tair Kaminer, 19, is facing multiple prison sentences for refusing to carry out military conscription in Israel

The teenager is the latest in a long line of young Israelis jailed for refusing to carry out the country’s compulsory military service.

She knew imprisonment was inevitable the first time she refused and, having served that sentence, the cycle is now repeating itself.

Speaking to The Independent before returning to the base, Tair vowed to continue her objection in protest against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories and settlement construction.

“I'm not going to break,” she said. “I hope they understand that - I won't break.”

Other conscientious objectors have been jailed repeatedly for up to 10 times, reaching combined sentences of around 180 days.

Tair is well-aware of the time she could spend in military prison.

“In a few months I believe they will release me but I don't know how long it will take,” she said. “I hope it won't be too long.”

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Israeli soldiers from the Golani Brigade take part in a military training in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria on July 17, 2013.

Tair is not the first person in her family to refuse but said she did not know what choice she would make until she spent a year volunterring in the town of Sderot, near the Gaza border, with the Israeli Scouts.

“I saw the effect of war on children and adults,” she said, describing the trauma and injuries caused by rocket attacks from Gaza and the evolving “generations of hate” on both sides.

Tair supports a two-state solution and said she hopes for peace and freedom for everyone in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, but believes current policies are not the way to ensure it.

“People are desperate, they don't beleive we have a chance of a peaceful solution so they just don't think about it,” she explained.

“As long as we occupy the Palestinian Territories there is no hope - it's not a moral thing to do and it keeps us far away from peace.

”Whenever they start negotiations between Israel and Palestine there's a problem because we are a more powerful state...we control them.

“I think as long as the occupation keeps going, there will be no place to talk about peace.”

 

Conscientious objector Tair Kaminer does not want to "take part or contribute to hatred and fear" and prefers jail over...

Posted by Jewish Voice for Peace on Thursday, 14 January 2016

Tair hopes that her conscientious objection will inspire other teenagers to think about their role in the army and possible alternatives.

“We want to trust (the armed forces), we want to think that everybody is doing the right thing and it's so hard to think that there are wrong things about your country's army,” she added.

“I think if people did more work to understand what the army does, they wouldn't go.”

Tair believes the attention given to her case in Israel is already making potential conscripts consider their choice, with some already sending letters saying they may refuse.

Among those inspired is Tanya Golan, another 19-year-old who has now announced her objection to “discriminatory and oppressive policies”.

She and Tair were joined by almost 100 protesters as they made their way to announce their refusal together at a military induction base on Sunday.

Instead of being immediately imprisoned, they were told to return to seperate points on separate days in what supporters believe could be a tactic to divert media attention.

Tair was ordered to attend a centre in Tel-Hashomer on Monday, and Tanya summoned to Tveria on Tuesday.

Officers are then expected to jail them both for refusing orders.

Tair described her first stint in prison as “not so bad”, saying her fellow inmates were all female conscripts and soldiers from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Although most of them do not share Tair's views, she said many held grievances towards the Israeli government and authorities who put them behind bars for breaking army regulations.

Military service is compulsory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18, with the exception of groups including Arab Israelis, Orthodox women and anyone unable to serve for medical reasons.

Pacifists can also refuse to serve, according to an Israeli High Court of Justice ruling in 2002, but must prove that their stance against war and violence is unilateral and not related specifically to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

There have also been high-profile cases of soldiers and intelligence officers refusing to perform certain duties, such as operating in the West Bank, bombing civilian areas of Gaza and removing Israeli settlers from their homes.

British MPs from Labour, the Conservatives and several other parties supported an early day motion subitted by Caroline Lucas on 19 January calling for legal exemptions for  conscientious objectors and the “immediate and unconditional release” of Tair and other prisoners of conscience.

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Caroline Lucas raised Tair's case in the House of Commons

Protesters have held rallies supporting her outside prisons and military bases and she has been inundated with letters and emails of support from around the world, while human rights groups including Amnesty International have championed her case.

But support for conscientious objectors is not widespread in Israel, where the recent wave of Palestinian attacks has strengthened public and political support for the armed forces.

Some critics have even launched police complaints alleging that Tair is “inciting” others to dodge the draft - a criminal offence in Israel.

Israelis on both sides have been vocal on social media, with some branding her a “traitor”, naive or stupid in a torrent of online abuse.

"I try not to read that,” she quipped. “I think it's because we are educated so that there's no other choice and the army is only thing that keeps us safe.

"It's like a holy thing for some people and when they hear criticism, they really freak out and go on the attack."

But there is also strong support among anti-conscription activists, including a new group for political refusers called "Mesarvot".

"I get a lot of letters and emails and people coming to the demonstrations," Tair said."”It really helps because I remember that it's not just my struggle - it's bigger than that."

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Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, has condemned refusers in the past

Her lawyer, Noa Levy, said the imprisoned objectors are only a small fraction of those opposing military service, who usually accept conscription but conspire to be discharged as soon as possible.

"To get released from the army is not that hard - if someone wants to  find a way to be excused, everybody knows how," she said.

"So when somebody goes to a base and chooses to tell the truth - that they are against the situation - it's a big step."

Ms Levy said Israel sees regular waves of conscientious objectors following military action in the Gaza Strip but that a new trend appears to be the imprisonment of young women, who were formerly spared jail in most cases and sent to ”conscience committee“ instead.

"Reform is not on the table," she added, saying the public mood made political change impossible.

"International pressure is very important to us because we want a change in policy and the way people discuss and understand what the army does - war crimes are committed every day, the settlements are getting bigger and 18-year-old kids are sent to guard them."

Update:

The IDF has responded to The Independent's request for a comment. A spokesperson said: “Military service in the IDF is mandated by Israeli law, regardless of the political affiliation of an individual. The individual in question refused to be drafted and was therefore imprisoned. She was recently released; we cannot further elaborate on her current status.”