Refusing to Oppress
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
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
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
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.