An Israeli woman who was jailed for refusing to serve in the Israeli army was released yesterday after serving a total of 110 days behind bars. Atalia Ben-Abba, 19, has served four stints in prison; she said that her conscience would not let her serve in the Israeli military which, she insisted, “hurts millions of people on the false grounds of security.”
The panel which deals with conscientious objectors released Ben-Abba on the basis that she is unfit for army service, after ruling on Monday that she is not a pacifist. Her refusal to serve in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), it claimed, is politically motivated.
In making this determination, the panel asked Ben-Abba if she would prefer a draft exemption or an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Her preference to end the occupation was, in the eyes of the panel, an indication that her decision was politically motivated and not, as she claimed, due to reasons of conscience.
According to a report in Haaretz, Ben-Abba wrote to the panel before leaving prison: “The army can call the exemption it gave me by any name it likes, but in practice it’s an exemption I was given for my simple refusal to participate in a system that uses violent means to oppress another people, imposing an occupation on it for the past 50 years.”
Amnesty International, which has been following Ben-Abba and others in the same position, revealed that it has been working on the issue of conscientious objectors in Israel since 1972.
“The right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of conscience or profound personal conviction, without suffering any legal, physical, or administrative penalty,” said the human rights group, “is protected under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel has ratified.”
Amnesty regards Ben-Abba as a prisoner of conscience, along with others detained for refusing to perform military service for reasons of conscience or profound personal conviction. It called on the Israeli authorities to release her “immediately and unconditionally” a few weeks ago.
According to Amnesty, at least five conscientious objectors to military service in Israel were imprisoned in 2016. On 23 March this year conscientious objector Tamar Ze’evi, 19, was released after spending 115 days in military prison and, on 5 April, Tamar Alon, 18, also a conscientious objector, was released following 130 days in custody.