Moriel Rothman expects to be in an Israeli military prison on Wednesday (October 24, 2012). That’s because this Israeli-born and Ohio-raised 23-year-old will be reporting to the East Jerusalem recruitment office of the Israeli Defense Force to officially refuse orders to report for duty as part of the mandatory draft.
After living most of his life in the United States, Rothman moved to Jerusalem just over a year ago, where he writes and organizes against the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He is refusing the order to report for duty on the grounds that he is a pacifist and therefore will not commit violence. He sees what he is doing as deeply intertwined with nonviolent movements around the world, and he wants others to make the same choice that he is making — particularly the occupation, which he describes as the “worst and most horrific example of violence in Israeli society today.”
Rothman is adamant in highlighting that his awareness of the devastating violence of the occupation and the will to refuse to serve in the military is at least partly due to privilege. He cites his financial security, university education, and light skin as elements that privilege him and have allowed him the space to develop the views that he holds and actions that he takes.
Rothman maintains a grounded view of the gap between his ideals and the current reality, “we are all profiting and benefiting from militarism. I don’t have clean hands. No one can live a pure existence.” While maintaining that total disassociation from violence and militarism is near impossible in our world, he believes it is vital that people in his position stand up and use what he describes as tools “in the diverse toolbox in the struggle against violence, racism, occupation.”
He sees his case as somewhat unique because he is both an Israeli citizen by birth and an American Jew. He is fluent in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. He sees his connection to Israel and American Jewry as a positive element in this struggle. “My voice speaks to and connects to American Jews and Israel,” he says.
Rothman wants to bring the best of American Jewish culture and tradition to his life in Israel; he proudly describes the history of Jewish involvement in the anti-Vietnam war movement, the struggle for civil rights in the Southern US, and the long history of work toward racial and economic justice in America. He laments the “blind support for Israeli institutions and government bodies and the unquestioning relationship vis a vis the IDF” that he views as the dominant voice in the American Jewish establishment these days.
The links between the US and Israel go beyond Rothman’s personal identity and view of the Jewish community. He views Israel’s militaristic culture as “very much on the heels of Western militarism in general.”
The context of this struggle and Rothman’s impending imprisonment is larger than the occupation, Israel, and personal responsibility. Rothman wonders if the very idea of standing armies might not lead to war itself. The culture Rothman describes reveres elite combat soldiers and tends to conclude that since “we have all these bombs I guess we better use them.”
Rothman wants more young Israelis to join him in refusing to take part in violence that he sees as having nothing to do with self-defense - “I don’t think that the IDF is defending me by maintaining occupation, or an extremist Jewish presence in the midst of Palestinian Hebron, building the separation barrier in the middle of Palestinian villages, or demolishing homes in places like Susya in the South Hebron Hills.”
Moriel Rothman knows that his refusal to serve, even if joined by ten thousand others – whether they are refusing to serve in the West Bank or refusing service altogether – won’t debilitate the IDF. He says, “The army won’t fold. It might say wait a minute, maybe we don’t have enough soldiers to maintain the occupation.”
Rothman says that he might have “refused quietly” (as opposed to making public statements such as this and this) had this been a draft order from an army that is not involved in occupation. In general, he is committed to nonviolence as a way of life, but the reality of the occupation has made this particular situation more urgent and in need of public discourse.
As Moriel Rothman prepares for whatever may come on Wednesday, he says that at its core “[this] action is like throwing a handful of pebbles into water and believing in the power of ripples.”