The end of high school is an exciting time for most students. In many countries it means a journey into higher education and/or the beginning of an adult life. In Israel, students prepare to join the military as part of a national requirement. Even still, can be an exciting experience for most youth as they and their friends become part of the military legacy their parents and relatives also joined. But for Omer Goldman and a few other brave students, the senior year in 2008 was a time of great challenge as they chose to follow a different path.
The outgoing and friendly Omer Goldman grew up in the Tel-Aviv suburb of Ramat HaSharon. Her father Naftali Granot was Deputy Chief for Mossad (Israeli’s CIA). As one might expect, Omer grew up hearing tales of war heroes and believed that dying to protect one’s nation was the highest honor. As a youth, she also learned to value human rights and spent many days dreaming of joining organizations trying to achieve that goal.
For most of her childhood, Omer felt that her efforts to protect human rights would come after her mandatory service in the military. In fact, she had every intention of joining the military just like her older sister. Omer’s father assumed that her new past-time of protesting for human rights was just a stage that she would grow out of. However, Omer’s respect and love towards the military would change permanently after a horrifying experience in the Palestinian village of Shufa.
“In Israel, when you are born, you are a soldier to be… when you challenge them they attack you personally.” – Omer Goldman
At the age of 16 Omer went on a trip to Shufa with a group called Combatants for Peace. Combatants for Peace is made up of former Israeli and Palestinian soldiers who have joined together to demonstrate against the injustices of the war between their people. The group heard about an arbitrary roadblock set up in the middle of the city that was blocking kids from going to school and others from carrying out their daily tasks. While the demonstrators tried to bring awareness about the unjust checkpoint Israeli soldiers had been given the order to fire rubber bullets and gas grenades. They immediately opened fire on the demonstrators. Omer was caught off guard. She didn’t expect the Israeli military to blindly follow orders and attack Israelis and Palestinians over a peaceful protest.
“I often traveled to the occupied territories, and saw with my own eyes, what the Israeli army is there are things which I cannot cooperate.” – Omer Goldman
From this point on Omer realized that being in the military would force her to do unjust things. From simply guarding an unjust checkpoint, or perhaps even killing innocent Palestinian children or opening fire on Israeli demonstrators. Convicted, Omer struggled with the idea of resisting military service, the consequences and even the strife this would cause in her own family.
The challenge at home came when she built up the courage to tell her father of her plans. He was furious, but she continued to hope he could value her for the strength of her convictions for peace, just has he valued his own convictions for war. Omer had joined a movement of over 40 Israeli high-school seniors who were pledging to resist recruitment into the military after their graduations. They modeled themselves after a group of conscientious objectors in 1970 that called themselves the Shministim. Together, the students strengthened each other, talked about their fears, goals and their troubles with friends and family who didn’t understand their choices. They also took steps to prepare themselves mentally for the almost certain imprisonments they would face by speaking with psychologists and former resistors.
On the 22nd of September 2008, Omer showed up on her enlistment date with a declaration of refusal. She was surrounded by over a hundred supporters, a few other resistors and her mother and sister. In an effort to persuade Omer to change her position, the military judge told her “I believe you can change the system from the inside.” Courageously Omer responded, “You are a very important general and you still do some things against your will.” As one could guess, this infuriated the judge and he sentenced her to the military’s prison.
Omer’s Declaration of Refusal:
I refuse to enlist in the Israeli military. I shall not be part of an army that needlessly implements a violent policy and violates the most basic human rights on a daily basis.
Like most of my peers, I too have not dared to question the ethics of the Israeli military. But when I visited the Occupied Territories I realized I see a completely different reality, a violent, oppressive, extreme reality that must be ended.
I believe in service to the society I am part of, and that is precisely why I refuse to take part in the war crimes committed by my country. Violence will not bring any kind of solution, and I shall not commit violence, come what may.”
When she was released a few weeks later, she was again forced to go before a judge and given another chance to enlist. When she refused again, she was issued a second prison term of 10 more days. She was told that this would continue until she decided to enlist. Many of her peers received a third sentence before being officially exempted. To this day, Omer continues to advocate for peace and human rights in Israel and around the world. Omer Goldman, along with the many other Israeli’s like her, are heroes for standing strong with their convictions for peace and courageously and peacefully accepting the consequences they face for their actions.
“My opinions and my views are against violence, not against my best friend who is making coffee for his commander.” – Omer Goldman
In recent years a small contingent of heroic students and soldiers has chosen to become prisoners of conscience rather than join the compulsory military system. Each of them have a unique story, you can read about here: December18th.org and here: Refusal to Serve