In Israel, hundreds of citizens of Ethiopian descent are refusing to serve reserve duty in the Israel Defense Forces, citing racial discrimination by the Israeli government in various state agencies, including the police.
As David Sheen reported in the San Francisco Bay View, more than 300 Ethiopian Jews have made the decision to refuse any military order to report for duty, including soldiers from all Israel Defense Forces infantry brigades and specialized commando units. As long as the nation fails to respect their civil rights, these Black “refuseniks” say they will fail to respect their obligations to the state.
“So, let me get this straight: If my rights don’t exist, why should I have to do reserve duty?” asked Avishai Malson Tzaghon, an Ethiopian Israeli, in a video interview with the Bay View. “Our issue is not with the army. We are not saying that the army is the problem. It’s the state. The army is an arm of the state. We say to the state that we are starting off by no longer doing reserve duty.” Tzaghon said he also may stop fulfilling other obligations.
“As long as the policy of discrimination and exclusion and disparaging treatment towards Ethiopian émigrés does not change, don’t bother talking to us about doing reserve duty,” refusenik Jajaw Bimro said.
Like people of African descent in other white-dominated nations, Ethiopian Israelis experience racism in their daily lives. Tebeka, a legal aid society that provides free legal services to Ethiopian Israelis, strives to help in combating it. Racial discrimination affects all Israelis of Ethiopian origin, says Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, Tebeka’s executive director, particularly those who were born and/or raised in Israel, served in the army and now want to be an equal part of Israeli society.
Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, Executive Director, Tebeka
“And with that, there was some grievance, discontent and even anger about why these young people who served in the army should be treated differently than any others,” Assefa-Dawit told Atlanta Black Star, “because in the army, they are committed, they serve the country and fulfill their duties as citizens here In Israel.” He said only a “small number” of Ethiopian Israelis have refused to serve.
In Israel, all able-bodied 18-year-olds are required to serve in the military, men serving for three years and women for two, though there are religious exemptions. While there were very few secular draft dodgers in years past, in recent years, the number of Israelis declining to serve has increased to 28 percent among men and 42 percent among women, according to the Bay View.
Some of those rejecting further service are in fact already in the military. According to the Israeli nongovernmental organization Breaking the Silence, some combat veterans who were stationed in the Occupied Territories and charged with controlling the daily lives of the Palestinian population have refused to return to duty. In an effort to end the racist occupation, the organization has compiled testimony from 1,000 veterans who have witnessed the human-rights abuses that have resulted because of it.
“Soldiers who serve in the Territories witness and participate in military actions that change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting and destruction of property have been the norm for years but are still explained as extreme and unique cases,” the group says on its website. “While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye and to deny what is done in its name.”
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