“Nobody is allowed to go to war. There is a higher law behind the laws of rulers: “Thou shall not kill.” It is the moral duty of all courageous people to refuse war service… It is an honor to refuse war service. Live this honor until everyone recognizes it.”
“If you’re not fighting you meet the humaneness within the system. And they want to be in contact with you because they have a channel to something different.”
“Imagine war was declared and nobody showed up.”
The first war I remember was the first Gulf War; I was two or three years old. Israel-Palestine is always in this situation of a war, at least in some kind of a ceasefire. I remember always seeing soldiers stepping into the buses and minibuses with weapons. From the age of eleven, also the age that I really understood myself as a sexual being, I knew that I would not comply with military service. From the age of eleven I was telling people that I will not go and they would comment, “You will see when you grow up,” or “It’s good that you have these thoughts, but you need to do it.” Sometimes there was a naïve thought from people, “By the time you’re 18 you will not have to go to the army – we will have peace.” How can we even have this thought if the actions that we do now are not contributing to this. “How can people expect to have a peaceful death if they don’t have a peaceful life” (Tibetan Book of Living and Dying).
At the age of 17 all Israelis receive a letter to report to the army to take tests to position you in the military. I decided to play by the rules, to go for the tests, to see the psychologist. And when I went to her I told her, “I will not wear a uniform. I will not hold a weapon. I do not agree with war. I will not join the army.”
She said, “Great. So you can go protest, and when you’re 18 you will join the army.”
Some people act like they’re schizophrenic or bipolar or suicidal or they cheat the test to refuse service, but I thought, ‘No, I will just come with the truth and it will succeed. I will not join the army.’
Usually to prepare for your service you go with your mother or with your family and you buy the white t-shirts and socks… as if before going on a trip or something – a bad trip.
My Mama was in some kind of illusion, thinking that in the end I will just go, because it’s simply too much that I wouldn’t; it’s too extreme, too far from the norm and she didn’t support it at all. Think about a culture where my mother pushed me to join the army! My mother is not a bad person, she loves me, and she wants the best for me. And when we see such a contradiction it’s clear how deep this illness of militarism in Israel goes. It’s subtle – it’s like living in a compost toilet and always smelling this stench but you think the smell is just part of life. You clean everything, but you’re in the shit; you’re just polishing this shit.
I told my Mama, “Okay, let’s go shopping. But you know we go shopping for jail. You know I will go there, say ‘no’ and they will put me in jail. You’re with me then?”
There’s an army prison really close to the my family’s home where I was living and I thought that I don’t need to take my things. I arrived at the army base with my long dreadlocked hair and a plastic bag with a sandwich, my cell phone, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
I arrived there with the plastic bag. I looked at the officer and asked, “Where do the people that don’t go to the army go?”
“What do you mean? You go to this line, they cut your hair and take your photo…”
“No, where do the people that don’t join go?”
They sent me to the area of the “misfits,” the unusual cases… Like I was reporting a UFO sighting. I went there and waited hours and hours, really trying to keep my spirit high. The woman finally called me and said, “Why are you here?”
“I don’t want to go to the army.”
“Are you sure?”
And that was it. Hours for this kind of “sure”-“sure.” I could have told them “sure-sure” at the age of eleven. They arrested me. I was still at the base and I called my friend Ram who also refused. He had said he was suicidal and also his father lost his arm in the army. It’s much easier for people whose father died or lost a limb. I told Ram, “I’m going now”; I knew that at least my friends were supporting me.
They couldn’t put me in jail until I was tried in front of a judge. If you’re Palestinian you often do not have the privilege to go to trial; it’s called administrative detention.
The judge sentenced me to ten days in jail. I was put into the cell at the base with some other people and they called us out at one in the morning to go to jail. On the bus I realized, this is not the way to my house. They put me in a jail on the other side of the country and I only had my plastic bag. I didn’t have my sandwich anymore and they took the cellphone. We arrived really late and they put us in a line and I noticed these are not the same kind of people I’m usually with. It was mostly people that just didn’t show up when the army called them, so the army went to their houses and arrested them. So now they will sit in prison, and then upon release will have to start the process with the military.
There are three units – A, B and C. A and B are big tents, and they’re generally quite open. Unit C is cells with beds and the dungeon for solitary confinement. There are shade roofs so you cannot see the sky. And you sit there with people that committed sexual assaults and really high degrees of violence – big crimes. You could see that all the people I was lined up with don’t want to go to the military, but when the officer looked at me, maybe from the way I stood or the confidence and conviction with which I knew I would not join the army, she sent everyone to A and B, and sent me to C. They put me in a uniform – the uniforms in Israeli prisons are the old United States military uniforms; the United States sends them to Israel for their prisoners. We were wearing oversized camouflage, and I couldn’t let my hair down.
This is one of the most horrible things you can do to a person, or to any being, like when I connect to water or when I see animals in a cage, a bird in a cage. I really felt like a bird in a cage. And with 15 guys in the same room I really needed to hide my identity; I needed to act in a certain way. At least one thing I could feel with them was that we are all against the army so we all kind of support each other.
I called my mother crying and she couldn’t really support me. Yes, she was “there for me” with my pain and “yes, she knows” but she felt that in a way, “this is what I deserve.”
I spoke to the high-level commanders there and one sergeant took me aside and said, “You’re very intelligent. Why do you do it?”
I told him, “It’s my soul; I cannot. I don’t want to hold a weapon…”
He told me, “I also was a musician; I also had long hair, but this is what we do.” Then I could see that he really gave something from himself, not in a noble or courageous way, but he really had to separate himself from himself and then he could do this step of being part of the military – and many, many people do it.
I was sent to see the psychologist officer; every prisoner has to see this person. It was the first time I left the cell – and suddenly I could see the sky. It was only four days, but think about not seeing the sky for four days… I was walking very slowly to give myself time outside. Then I sat in this waiting room; there was a guy that just got back from solitary. He shared really horrible experiences of nearly losing his mind. People really do go crazy there. These are such young people, 18-year-old young men.
So, I was in the waiting room and there was music. When I heard the music I just started crying. She asked me how I’m doing and what my background is…
I don’t come from a fairytale story; my father used to beat me up as a child, but I didn’t make any drama out of it. I told her, “I’m not going to kill myself. I love life. And because of this I don’t want to join the army. I’m sane and because of this I will not join the army.” I asked her to see reality. Then she said, “Okay, I will recommend that you will be released from jail… but it’s not for me to decide, but the psychiatrist.” This was the fourth day and it felt like four years.
I went to the psychiatrist and there wasn’t much speaking because he was reading the report from the psychologist. Then he looked at me and asked, “What kind of music do you want to hear?”
“Ah, Led Zeppelin… you don’t belong here, huh?”
“No, I don’t belong here.”
“Okay, so I will recommend that you will be released, but it’s not for me to decide, it’s the committee.” So much bureaucracy…
I went back and didn’t want to be too excited because it wasn’t a clear ‘yes,’ but I was excited and the other prisoners were excited for me.
The next day they took me to the military hospital. Before we left the jail they cuffed my hands and then they cuffed my feet. From this I could’ve gone crazy. To whom am I dangerous? They said I’m a risk, that I’m dangerous and they need to cuff me so I don’t try anything. What a horrible feeling to go like this! I don’t wish it on anyone.
I arrived at the hospital and there were three or four mature men looking at me, looking at my file.
“So, you don’t want to go to the army.”
“You know what it means?”
When they say, “You know what it means?” it means that we can’t get a discount on our mortgage, some places will not employ us, often you can’t get a drivers license… There are many difficult things for people that don’t join the military. So, “You know what it means?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
Then I signed and he said, “Okay, you are ultimately done. You have to stay the whole ten days, but then you are out.”
It felt like I won my life back.
Coherency is belonging to the matrix of life – the military was so incoherent with my soul. I felt that I really need to break something in order to fit into this box; to let something in my soul die. I know many men and women that do this to themselves and it was a long healing process after the army to bring this broken part alive again.
I went back to the jail and I still had to finish my days. An officer pulled me aside and I told her, “They said I’m free to go.”
And she said, “Way to go!”
What? Before she told me I could be a really good soldier. I really was a good soldier. I really picked my battles. When they said ‘March,’ I was marching in this small cell, and I folded the blanket really good and they said, “Oh, you could be such a good soldier.”
And I said, “No, I’m picking my battles. I just want you to like me and help me get away from here.”
And there she was shaking my hand and telling me “Way to go! Good luck.”
“Yeah, good luck to you too.” She was a female officer and there was nothing showing her femininity.
I was supposed to have four or five more days in the cell. The only time you could leave was to pray and to go for food. So I started to pray more.
The high commanding officer called me to her office and said, “I heard you’re a painter.” I had been designing tattoos for the prisoners. “What about drawing the big sign for the prison with the five ethics.”
If this is the only way I can be creative, I’ll do it. They were also good ethics. So I drew. The paint they gave us was sidewalk paint, not artist paint. And there weren’t brushes, so we used disposable toothbrushes. I did the layout then I took two prison friends with me to help painting. On day eight, while they painted my design, the commanding officer came to me and said, “When you finish this, you can go home.”
I didn’t expect it at all. After they said I’m free and that I just need to finish the five days I could’ve said, “Forget you all, I’m done in some days; I won’t draw for you.” But she saw that I’m open, that I’m not fighting.
Shaky, I took my things and got on the bus. I didn’t call my mother, and when I knocked on the door she was shocked. In Judaism we have the 8 days of Hanukkah – this auspicious number and the sign for infinity – it seemed another sign that I’m on the right path. I feel that one of the bravest things that I ever did was to say no to the army, to get so much criticism from society and still to know this is my decision. It was a turning point in my life and I’m happy for it. I want to send it as support to everyone to say no to war. And to know that in order to go this path of war, also war in love, we need to break something in our soul; it’s not natural in our souls. Do not only say no to outside war, but to also say no to the wars inside of us.