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A Letter from a Refusenik

I am imprisoned, but yet feel freer than most of the Israelis I've met, for one simple reason: I don't bear the burden of vindictiveness and the perverse gratification attending it. I don't bear the burden of denial and callousness.

David Chacham Herson

5 Aug. 2001, Military Prison No. 4

Of the terrible reports appearing daily in the press, I read here in Military Prison 4. No pictures, no soundtrack. I see only barbed wire fences, but the pain from outside goes deep. Revenge in return for revenge, killing in return for killing. Why, I ask, does the Jewish people generate so much suffering, why do we inflict - on others and ourselves - so much pain.

What is the source of the Israeli sense of pride, why is the act of killing considered so great in our eyes.

I am a soldier in the Israeli army, imprisoned for refusal to take part in repression, arising from a sense that it is out of the question to be a Jew, the son of a people of refugees, and yet repress a people of refugees (there's no disagreement in the Israeli public regarding repression of the Palestinians, merely over whether or not it's justified). I am a God-fearing Jew, and as such forbidden to take part in denying freedom and serving in occupied territory. I am imprisoned, but yet feel freer than most of the Israelis I've met, for one simple reason: I don't bear the burden of vindictiveness and the perverse gratification attending it. I don't bear the burden of denial and callousness. I am concerned for humans as such. For those denied the right to live like me, with food and clothes and fun and good health and dreams of success and a car. I am concerned for people who are humiliated every day, who are denied the right to work, who are imprisoned within their towns and villages. I am concerned for those whose homes have been demolished and their fruit groves devastated.

I am concerned because I know that the terrible hatred towards me is justified. This hatred has led to horrifying and perverted manifestations, like the young suicide bombers, but we create the conditions that lead to this monstrosity. I am concerned because I know that the cries of exultation over the killings drown out the sobs of the numerous victims, Jews and Arabs, of the widows and orphans, of the cripples who will suffer for the rest of their lives because of that pride and callousness.

This is a concern unlike that of most of the Israeli people. For this concern demands correction [tikkun] whereas the other concern merely calls for more destruction. I am a prisoner yet free, but the pain runs deep. I hope my imprisonment, and that of others, will lead many in our society to contemplation - contemplation of the Palestinians, and by way of them, contemplation of ourselves. I regard my imprisonment as the true way to participate in present-day Israeli society. I don't think my imprisonment releases me from responsibility. Even if I weren't serving in the army, I'd continue to share responsibility for these actions. I'm not the victim. On the contrary: precisely because I regard myself as sharing responsibility, I refuse to take part in the repression.

I am a soldier and wish to serve my country. I am a part of Israeli society: that is where I find people I love, including some who act contrary to my convictions. They include right and left. I just want us Israelis - strong, triumphant - to look into the eyes of those we repress, and try to understand them. For the victory of might is no victory. Our fears will leave us only when we consent to equality between peoples and between individuals. We too shall continue to live in fear as long as we implement oppression and deny elementary rights.

Instead of justifying suffering - that which we inflict, and our own - we should try to solve it by self correction [tikkun atzmi]. Faith in tikkun is a weapon more powerful than tanks. I regard my imprisonment as a foundation for tikkun, and hope that by way of thinking about it, others will look at the reality about us, and contribute to change.

 
 

David Chacham Herson was finally relieved of military service. In a recent book, Breaking Ranks (Other Press, LLC 2003, reviewed on oznik.com, buy from an independent book shop, buy from Amazon) he is interviewed by his mother, Ronit Chacham.