Not To Serve
Refusenik was an unofficial term for individuals, typically but not exclusively Soviet Jews, who were denied permission to emigrate abroad by the authorities of the former Soviet Union and other countries of the Eastern bloc. The term refusenik is derived from the "refusal" handed down to a prospective emigrant from the Soviet authorities. Over time the term has entered colloquial English for a person who refuses to cooperate with a system or comply with a law because of a moral conviction, as in the case of a conscienscious objector who refuses to serve in the army. In Israel nowadays a proper term for this is “Refuser”. In the last decades, the term has been used to define the men and women who refuse to obey an order, such as the one of wearing a military uniform and join the Israeli Defense Force when turning 18 years old, or to carry on a military action that has “immoral” consequences. This dissent, coming from a political disagreement toward the authority, can be individual or manifested collectively via a Letter of Refusal. Refusal can result in imprisonment and the final discharge of the soldier expressing his/her political and moral dissent toward the IDF. Not all forms of Refusal are punished with imprisonment though, some that do not manifest themselves in strong, political statements against the government, are often treated as means of mental disabilities and/or physical limitation to carry on the duties of a military services. So, in this case, Refusers are released from the army with no questions asked and are free to join social services if chose to. At the moment, in Israel, there are different kinds of refusers, according to their age, beliefs and political statements. The Shministim, or “twelfth-graders” in Hebrew, are Israeli youth who refuse to serve in the army because they consider it enforces Israel’s “occupation”. Over the years several groups of “graduating class” have been signing letters of refusal in which they express a principled position. The Selective Refusers instead are adult Israelis who are either on duty, enlisted or reserve soldiers who chose to serve selectively and refuse to bring their army services on the “occupied territories” of the West Bank and formerly Gaza. Some Orthodox Jews disagree with the creation of the State of Israel and don’t accept the concept of an Armed Force and military occupation of the biblical land. They define their “service” to the Holy Land in the form of prayers. Also male Israeli citizens of Druze religion have to serve in the IDF. There have always been isolated cases of refusers from this community, but recently some young Druzes who identify themselves more with their Palestinian roots have started a movement calling Druzes to refuse. For the past five months my colleague and I researched, analyzed and interviewed “Refusers” all over Israel from all walk of lives, from the young anarchist 19 year old who opposed joining the military unit, to the reservists who does not longer wanted to serve in the Palestinian occupied territories to the ex-aviation brigadier who signed his first letter of refusal after 24 years in service and 15 in reserved, because he started “seeing too many black flags.” (NOT) TO SERVE is a photography project entirely made of “Refusers’’ testimonies. My intention was not to attribute them the hero nor the victim status, but just investigating their narrative as another form collective consciousness of few among many in a country rich in layer of content and depths soaked in political and ethical controversies.