FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Ordeal of Sahar Vardi, Refusenik

by NEVE GORDON

Eighteen-year-old Sahar Vardi is currently in an Israeli military prison. She is being punished for the crime of refusing to be conscripted into the Israeli military.

A few weeks before her imprisonment she wrote Israel’s Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, explaining her decision to become a conscientious objector. “I have been to the occupied Palestinian territories many times, and even though I realize that the soldier at the checkpoint is not responsible for Israel’s oppressive policies, that soldier is still responsible for his conduct…” She summed up her letter to Barak with the following words: “The bloody cycle in which I live–made up of assassinations, terrorist attacks, bombings, and shootings–has resulted in an increasing number of victims on both sides. It is a vicious circle that is sustained by the choice of both sides to engage in violence. I refuse to take part in this choice.”

While Vardi is the first woman to be imprisoned this year, she is part of a broader movement of Shministim, high-school seniors who refuse to be conscripted due to the military’s oppression of the Palestinians. Two other conscientious objectors, Udi Nir and Avichai Vaknin, were imprisoned earlier this month and a few others are likely to follow suit.

Like many other Shministim, Vardi’s conscientious objection is also rooted in a wider pacifist position, which explains why she refused to wear a military uniform once imprisoned. The prison authorities are not sympathetic to such acts of defiance and immediately placed her in the isolation ward, which, according to existing reports, is a site of abuse.

Vardi is in prison because the military conscientious committee did not accept her appeal. In early March 2008, Vardi testified in front of the committee, recounting her years of activism against the West Bank separation barrier and the dispossession of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the South Hebron hills. She explained to the committee members — made up of officers as well as civilians — that as a pacifist her conscience prevented her from being part of an occupying power. She added that instead of serving in the military she was willing to carry out two years of civil service in Israel and had already secured a position with the Tel-Aviv based rights group Physicians for Human Rights.

Converting military service into civil service is common practice among Israeli women; in fact, it has become routine among religious women. Vardi’s appeal was, accordingly, not exceptional or strange.

The appeal, however, was rejected, because, in the military committee’s opinion, it was based on political convictions rather than a sincere conscientious belief. This spurious separation between politics and conscientious principles was originally formulated by Israel’s two court philosophers, professor Asa Kasher from Tel-Aviv University and professor Avi Sagi from Bar Ilan University. These moral philosophers (Kasher is also one of the authors of the Israeli military Code of Conduct which among other things provides moral grounds for assassinations), have spent much of their time arguing that people who refuse to serve in the military due to its colonial and repressive actions and policies are doing so in order to advance a specific political agenda and not due to conscience. According to Kasher and Sagi, conscientious objection is, by definition, divorced from politics; therefore anyone who refuses to serve in the military because he or she wants to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories (a political position) simply cannot be a conscientious objector.

The military was, of course, delighted to adopt the philosophers’ distinction and has repeatedly used it to reject the appeals of conscientious objectors like Vardi and to put them behind bars. On the day of her imprisonment Vardi told her father that she would not bow down to the powers that be regardless of how the military presents her case. “The occupation is cruel,” she said, “and my conscience will simply not allow me take part in the oppression of another people.”

While she has yet to study moral philosophy, eighteen year-old Sahar Vardi understands something basic that Kasher, Sagi and their cronies are determined to elide: conscientious concern for one’s country and neighbors is intricately tied to action. As Joseph Raz from Balliol College, Oxford, points out, “there is no doubt that [conscientious objection] covers the case of military service, for calling on people to be ready to kill when ordered, or calling on them to engage in activities which perpetrate an occupation with the subjugation of people to the indignities and humiliation which occupations involve are clear cases where the right applies.” It is, after all, the duty of respect for human beings, perhaps the most fundamental of all moral duties, which serves the guiding principle for the Israeli refuseniks. It is also the foundation of the right to conscientious objection.

NEVE GORDON is the author of Israel’s Occupation.

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.

January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail