Israel: From military truck driver to conscientious objector
Roman Levin sentenced to 30 days imprisonment
(10.03.2019) “I have been serving as a truck driver, and many of these drives have been through the Occupied Territories. When I was drafted I thought the military serves the interests of the citizens of Israel, but after serving in the Occupied Territories I have realized that what the army is doing there does not serve the my interests and those of all working Israelis. Especially not after the continuous killing of the protesters on the Gaza fence.”
“I have come to the conclusion that one must choose – you cannot both object to the occupation, racism and capitalist order, and serve in the military that perpetuates these.”
On the morning of Monday, Feb. 25, activists mobilized by the Mesarvot Network and the Yesh Gvul movement accompanied Roman Levin to the gates of the Ben Ami Transport Camp (Bayt Nabala), and held a support vigil there. Inside, Levin made his statement to the officers, and was subjected to an "instant trial" lasting about five minutes - culminating with his being sent to 30 days in Military Prison 6. From past experience it can be expected that at the end of these 30 days, a second such "instant trial" would be held and he would be returned to the prison.
In such "trials" there is nothing remotely resembling due process - the accused cannot have a lawyer or call any witnesses, the procedure is held in camera at the commanding officer's bureau, with no access to the public or media, and as noted it rarely lasts more than five minutes. There is no legal limit on how many times the army can repeat the procdure. Repeated 30-day terms can accumulate into years of imprisonment, with never any real legal process. The only limit is in the amount of solidarity and public attention given to an imprisoned CO. Past practice has shown that, when a prisoner gets public attention and support, in Israel and abroad, the military authorities eventually let him or her go - though it often happens only after numerous repetitions of the "instant trial" routine.
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The topography around Military Prison 6, located at Atlit - on the coastal plain between Tel Aviv and Haifa - gives an important advantage to refuser support activists. Near the prison is a mountain: not very high as mountains go, but high enough that people standing at the top - waving banners and hands, shouting and chanting - are clearly visible and audible inside the prison compound. Thus the prisoner, fellow inmates and prison staff are all made well aware that this prisoner does not stand alone, but has an active support network on the outside; this has direct implication on the military authorities decision on how long they intend to keep hold on this prisoner.
The tradition of support demonstrations on the mountain opposite Military Prison 6 was established back in 1982, when numerous reserve soldiers refused to take part in the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It has been continued for numerous objectors, such as those who refused to take part in suppressing the First Intifada in 1988 and the Second one in 2000. It has now been invoked on behalf of Roman Levin, when dozens of activists climbed the mountain on the morning of March 9, calling out "Roman, Roman, we are with you!" and waving a giant banner reading "The Refusers are the True Heroes". Probably, it will need to be repeated several times before he is set free.
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When Roman Levin was three year old, his family took the decision to move from the Ukraine to Israel. They settled at Bat Yam, a lower middle class suburb of Tel Aviv. A year and a half ago, Roman reached the age of 18 and enlisted in the army. At the time he was highly motivated, believing that by performing military service he would be contributing to Israeli society and fulfilling his civic duty. His experiences during a year and half in the army caused a profound change of mind - leading to his declaring his refusal to continue serving, while knowing that this would inevitably result in going to prisons.
In his refusal letter, which he composed before being imprisoned, Roman Levin wrote: “Currently there is a civil war going on in the Ukraine, and when I visited there a few months ago, I met soldiers who did not know what they were fighting and dying for. I empathized with them because I too have no confidence whatsoever in the Israeli military policy – the focus of which is the preservation of the occupation. This experience made me rethink the significance of my own military service. In the Ukraine I encountered people who disparaged me as a Jew, while in Israel I was disparaged as "a Russian".
“I served in the military as a truck driver, and many of my drives have been through the occupied territories. When I was drafted I thought the military serves the interests of the citizens of Israel, but after serving in the occupied territories I have realized that what the military does there does not serve the my interests and those of all working Israelis. Especially not after the continuous killing of the protesters on the Gaza fence. The Jewish-Nation Law increased my understanding of this. I have come to the conclusion that one must chose – you cannot both object to the occupation, racism and capitalist order, and also serve in the military that perpetuates these.”
“Economically speaking, it would have been better for me and my family if I were to finish my service and gain at the army's expense the expensive truck driver license, which could provide me with decent livelihood in later civilian life. But for most Palestinians, and especially those in the Gaza strip, such option for social and economic advance are not open. While the noose tightens around the neck of the Palestinian people, Inside Israel the gap between rich and poor also grows. The poverty that drains the hope for a better future from working Israelis, the government justifies with war. The state spends 70 billion Shekels a year on the defense budget, instead of investing in education, health and welfare.”
Roman Levin is supported by Mesarvot – a network supporting politically-motivated refusal, and coordinates the activity of refuser groups and the signatories of refuser letters which appeared in last few years. The network supports conscientious objectors who choose to not enlist in the occupation army, and takes into account the gender aspects which compulsory enlistment brings to Israeli society. There is gender discrimination and sexual harassment inside the army, which influence and impact Israeli society as a whole. There is also the army's program of opening to women soldiers greater options of combat service, which leads to their being directly involved in oppressing the Palestinian population, including the oppression of Palestinian women - which is why an increasing number of young female refusers reject out of hand this form of "women's empowerment". The network works in cooperation and assistance from the older Yesh Gvul Movement, whose history goes back to the First Lebanon war in 1982
Dror Mizrahi, Mesarvot: From military truck driver to conscientious objector. March 10, 2019