On Sunday, Feb. 10, Natan Blanc, a 19-year-old Israeli, was sentenced to a term of 18 days in military prison camp for his refusal to serve in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). This is his sixth consecutive term, starting in Nov. 2012. Blanc, who by now has served more than 75 days in military prison, first started thinking about refusing to join the IDF during the ‘Cast Lead’ operation in Gaza in 2008, when he was 15.
In his statement, Blanc explained that the wave of aggressive militarism that swept the country then, the expressions of mutual hatred and the vacuous talk about stamping out terror and creating a deterrent effect were the primary trigger for his refusal.
Blanc states that after four years full of terror, without a political process towards peace negotiations and without quiet on either side of the border between Gaza and Israel, it is clear that the Netanyahu Government is not interested in finding a solution to the existing situation, but rather in preserving it, thus preparing the ground for a new generation full of hatred on both sides.
“… We, as citizens and human beings, have a moral duty to refuse to participate in this cynical game. That is why I have decided to refuse to be inducted into the Israeli Army on the date of my call-up order, November 19, 2012,” Blanc said.
I have a special affinity for Blanc, who I have known since he was born. He is the grandson of Judy Blanc, one of the most highly respected (by both Israelis and Palestinians) peace activists and a dear friend, and of the late Haim Blanc, a well-known professor emeritus of Arabic languages and literature at Hebrew University, who was blinded in Israel’s War of Independence.
Both Haim and Judy Blanc were U.S. educated immigrants to Israel. Judy Blanc, who is now 82, has been a part of the Women in Black Jerusalem vigil since it first began 23 years ago.
Women in Black hold vigil every Friday at a Jerusalem intersection, just a block from the residence of the Israeli Prime Minister. It is their own testament to nonviolent resistance as a way of ending Israeli occupation of Arab lands captured in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
“It’s clear the violence that was taking place was a result of the fact that Israel was occupying the people,” Blanc said. These women are mostly elderly, having been keeping vigil for nearly a quarter of a century, and most are involved in other nonviolent resistance organizations.
Through Judy, with whom we have worked for several years on non-violent opposition to the occupation, my wife first met Blanc’s parents, when she was pregnant with our first son, and while I was in military prison for refusing reserve military service in Lebanon in 1985 for reasons similar to Blanc’s – opposition to occupation, to unjust use of power and to a lack of pursuit of peace.
Our two families have been close ever since, and our children spent several years together. Our two boys, who grew up mostly in the U.S., did not have to face this decision and could pursue their higher education immediately after high school.
As a reservist I only served one short sentence in military prison; enough to identify and admire what Blanc is doing for his principles and for the good of Israel.
Recently, when we took foreign visitors to the Martin Luther King National Historic Site, we thought how MLK’s words ring true for a young man who cares enough about his country to resist peacefully when he thinks his country is in the wrong.
Uriel Kitron is a professor of Environmental Studies in Emory College and a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel.