Otherwise Occupied: The Conscientious Objector’s Easy Way Out

The conscientious objector Natan Blanc is taking the easy way out. Blanc, who is 19 years old, has refused five consecutive times to be drafted into the army, and just two weeks ago was sent for another 20-day lockup in a military prison. He has already been incarcerated for 74 days, and there is no way of knowing how long the military system will continue to refuse his offer of genuinely serving society − as a volunteer with the emergency medical service Magen David Adom.

By refusing to serve in the Occupation Defense Forces, Blanc is missing many breathtaking vistas and acts of heroism. He won’t experience that masculine, cowboy-like contrast between the grandeur of the boulders and the softness of the green moss, on the one hand, and the dreadfulness of careening jeeps and weapons pointing at a child in a tent or cave, on the other.

In the last two or three weeks, Blanc has missed out on several actions that have brought the country closer to the fulfillment of Habayit Hayehudi’s vision or, perhaps more accurately, the vision of the Israeli consensus. For example, he didn’t participate in the exercise (no live rounds fired) the army held for over a week on land belonging to three villages in the southern Hebron Hills.

This is the very area where the High Court of Justice ordered the state to desist from any action that could result in the forced eviction of its residents, at least while the court is considering a petition against Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s order to demolish eight villages because of what he says is the area’s critical importance to IDF training.

Exactly one week before Tu Bishvat − Jewish Arbor Day, which took place this year on January 26 − military vehicles wrecked cultivated fields, obliterating grain for both human and animal consumption. Water cisterns were damaged, residents’ access to and from the villages was disrupted, and children were traumatized. (Though according to an IDF spokesperson, there was no damage to fields or cisterns, army personnel did not impede access and mobility in the area, and in any case it was all legal.)

It also appears that Blanc missed another urgent, critical military action meant to safeguard the security of the State of Israel. He didn’t join the soldiers dispatched with bulldozers (Man, the power in those puppies!) to destroy 20 tents − home to 60 people, 36 of whom are children − as well as 20 animal pens in two of the three Bedouin communities known collectively as Hammamat al-Maleh, which have for decades subsisted on grazing and dryland farming.

Because of his refusal to be drafted, Blanc was also not one of the soldiers sent, two days later, on the holy Sabbath day, to confiscate the emergency tents the residents had received from humanitarian organizations. And he’s not getting the efficient indoctrination course in which soldiers learn that Palestinians, those sneaky bastards, are disrupting the way of the world by encroaching on fire drill areas. In any case, they have homes in Area A; what the hell are they doing in Area C in the first place?

Blanc will also not hear the other learned explanations the youthful soldiers will hear before being sent to demolish, trample and aim weapons. He won’t hear the explanations of commanding officers who will, on the basis of detailed planning and with the endorsement of the High Court, send their soldiers on missions to destroy Bedouin encampments on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem. He won’t participate in putting the Bedouin on trucks heading for the third or fourth exile (since being evicted from the Negev in the 1950s) that the Civil Administration is plotting for them.

He won’t hear that it’s for their own good because there they’ll be allowed to have those things denied to them now: running water, electricity, a school. He won’t hear that they’re too close to the highway, that their tents are illegal. He won’t see the other soldiers nodding in agreement, who’ll then be sent to guard the Jewish settlements in the West Bank that are equally close to the highway, and to hang out and joke with the residents of the thriving outposts in the same three locations where an eviction is being cooked up and served at this very moment.

The training in the southern Hebron Hills and the acts of destruction in the northern part of the Jordan Valley all occurred during the election campaign and therefore didn’t make the headlines in Israeli papers. But, seriously, who am I kidding? Most of our free press don’t see any of this as newsworthy. So the lower their ratings − that is, the more the news-consuming public demonstrates its lack of desire and obligation to know these facts − the more I’ll continue to write about them.

Neither military training areas nor concern for the Bedouin and their herding communities interest the officers commanding the destruction for which they are responsible. What they are concerned with is the meta-trend of annexing the southern Hebron Hills to Israel, creating Jewish contiguity from Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem without any Bedouin tents spoiling the view, and merging the occupied northern Jordan Valley area with the Israeli kibbutzim and moshavim of the Beit She’an Valley.

So why is Blanc taking the easy way out? Because he refuses to be like other people in their early 20s who’ve destroyed a tent, terrified a child and evicted a family, who’ll wake up at the age of 24 and run to unburden their broken hearts to Breaking the Silence. And he won’t be among those who, after their military discharge, will try to drown their memories with psychedelics in India or South American escapades hairy enough to induce heart attacks in their parents.

And he apparently won’t be part of the majority, who will continue to live perfectly happily with what they did, who will complain at Friday night dinners about “how much the Arabs hate us − you can see it in their eyes,” and listen avidly for every report from our own free press about a stabbing, a group of stone throwers and the third intifada.

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